Volume XXVII · Number 1 · Winter 1971-1972
Æsculapius Meets Everard Peck: 150 Years of Medical Books and Learning in Rochester
--DR. EDWARD C. ATWATER
Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Rochester
Two hundred and seventy medical books of historical significance were recently given to the library of the University of Rochester Medical School by the Rochester Academy of Medicine. Used by members of the Academy for the past seventy years, many of these volumes have played an even longer part in the Rochester medical scene, having been owned by some of the earliest physicians in the community. No longer pertinent to the daily work of the practitioner, they now provide that documentation of the thought and practice of an earlier time, essential not only to understanding the evolution of scientific knowledge, but to the equally important social, economic and professional factors that influence the character of health care. In making possible a still wider use of its historical collection, the Academy of Medicine, organized in 1900 to encourage study and research in medicine, continues to fulfill this purpose and adds significantly to the growing resources for studying the development of medicine. Not only the University's Edward G. Miner Medical Library but all those interested in medical history will benefit by the wider availability of these books.
In the half century before the Civil War the city of Rochester grew from a frontier settlement with one log cabin in the woods on the west bank of the Genesee River to a major inland industrial city. This development resulted partly from its accessibility -- first by Lake Ontario and the Genesee River, later by the Erie Canal, and still later by railroads; partly from the waterfalls which provided power; and partly from the grain grown in the surrounding farmland. Central and western New York had the first areas of good farmland encountered by the emigrants from a rocky New England. Tenth in size among the major inland cities in 1860, Rochester had ranked fourth in 1830 and 1840, exceeded by Cincinnati and only slightly by Louisville and Pittsburgh.
Over two hundred physicians are known to have served this rapidly growing community in the pre-Civil War years, though many of them stayed but a short period. In spite of this professional mobility and the problems consequent to it, it would be wrong to think that efforts toward high professional standards and self improvement were lacking among the pioneer practitioners. As more material describing the training and reading habits of these early physicians is made available, it becomes clearer that the practitioners of that day struggled for professional excellence quite as diligently as do physicians today and against much greater odds.
The earliest physicians in the Rochester area settled in the towns along the turnpike whose course is followed today by U. S. Route 20 -- Geneva, Canandaigua, Bloomfield and Avon -- and along the Ridge Road -- Parma, Clarkson and Hanford's Landing (today part of Kodak Park). The first physician in the area now included in Rochester was Dr. Simon Hunt, who practiced at Hanford's Landing and acted as an army surgeon on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812. That very first year he was called to the cabin of Hamlet Scrantom at the Middle Falls of the Genesee River to treat the dislocated ankle of Scrantom's daughter. This is the first recorded surgical procedure in Rochester. The following year Dr. Jonah Brown became the first physician to settle in the area that is presently downtown Rochester. Unfortunately, no group of papers or books of these two pioneers survives.
By 1818, Rochesterville had grown from the one log cabin to a metropolis of 1,049 people, including eight physicians. Though there were without doubt many medical problems -- trauma, an immigrant population not yet immune to local infections, and the medical hazards associated with mobility and poverty -- it is surprising that the community could support one physician for every one hundred and thirty citizens. In fact, it could not. Dr. William B. Collar, having completed his medical training in the East, stopped to look Rochester over on his way West. "An interesting town," he wrote in a letter to his parents, "but no place for me. There are already 8 doctors here, 6 more than the town can support." And on he went to Wyoming, New York, where he practiced the rest of his life.
One of these early physicians was Frederick Fanning Backus, who had settled in Rochester in 1816 and who was the first physician here with a collegiate education. Having earned from Yale College an A.B. in 1813, he proceeded to the Yale Medical School, where he obtained an M.D. degree in 1816. Backus, son of the president of Hamilton College, was certainly the best educated practitioner in the early years. But there were others who were institutionally trained. Backus' classmate, Hartwell Carver (M.D., Yale 1816), came West that same year and soon settled in Pittsford. Between 1820 and 1824 seven more Doctors of Medicine came to Rochester (Yale 4, Dartmouth 1, Pennsylvania 1, New York College of Physicians and Surgeons 1). By 1835, when the first local medical school got under way at Geneva, more than a score of college-trained and degreed practitioners had already come to Rochester; Yale, alma mater to ten, led the field.
Like all of his colleagues, however, Backus, in spite of his learning, was forced to depend on other means of support in addition to the practice of medicine. Their profession was almost a sideline for many of these men. Backus ran a drugstore. John B. Elwood was for many years the postmaster, and he and Anson Colman ran a drugstore as well. Another prominent early physician, Azel Ensworth, ran the town's best tavern, located on the site now occupied by the Powers Building. Simon Hunt was an innkeeper. Three other early physicians -- Mathew Brown, Jr., Levi Ward, Jr., and Orrin Gibbs (who lived on the east side of the river and hence was not, strictly speaking, then in Rochester) -- had virtually abandoned their profession. By the time they came to Rochester in their middle life, they were occupied almost exclusively with commercial activities. Both Brown and Ward had played prominent roles in the formation and leadership of the medical societies in the communities where they had lived prior to coming to Rochester, though even there they had conducted business enterprises as well. The few items in the papers of Levi Ward, Jr., at the Rochester Public Library, deal almost exclusively with land acquisition and other business ventures. Mathew Brown, Jr., was an active partner in the family flour-milling business on Brown's Race.
Books used by Backus, Elwood, Colman and another early physician, John D. Henry, are among those in the recently acquired Academy collection, including the first American book on The Elements of Medical Jurisprudence by Theodoric Romeyn Beck -- member of a remarkable Schenectady family which produced, among five brothers, three famous physicians -- and The Anatomy, Physiology and Diseases of the Bones and Joints by America's greatest nineteenth-century surgeon, Samuel D. Gross.
With the setting off of Monroe County in 1821 from parts of Ontario and Genesee counties came the organization of the Monroe County Medical Society. Of the original twenty-eight members only eight were from the village of Rochester. The only surviving records of the early years of the Society (all others having been destroyed by fire) are the treasurer's account book, started in 1828, and newspaper accounts of the semi-annual meetings. The account book, now in the Regional History Collection of Cornell University, records names of those paying membership dues and lists expenditures, which were mostly for advertising the meetings and occasionally for giving a dinner for participants at one of the temperance hotels after the meeting.
The purpose of the Society was one of professional improvement, and the 1806 state law under which the county societies were authorized provided for up to three dollars a year assessment "for the purpose of procuring a medical library and apparatus and future encouragement of useful discoveries in chemistry, botany, and such other improvements as the majority of the society shall think proper." The educational method consisted of conversation, consultation and the exclusion of less orthodox practitioners from professional recognition. That no library was forthcoming may in part be attributed to economic factors. The treasurer's record shows that it was difficult enough to collect the regular annual dues of one dollar. Professional fees were often paid in produce, if at all, and economic survival for the physician was often as great a problem as treating sickness. Most of the standard medical books of this period cost from three to eight dollars. The fact that the Society had no permanent rooms, that most of the members lived outside the city, and that travel was difficult, may also explain why the Society did not successfully build a library until seventy years after its inception. The loss of manuscript materials relating to this early period must be attributed partly to this late development of library facilities.
Though few papers of the early physicians have survived, Rush Rhees Library was fortunate to acquire in 1935 a collection of letters written between 1820-1837 by Dr. Anson Colman to his wife, a daughter of Nathaniel Rochester. Colman's quest for professional self-improvement is impressive. In the Winter of 1824-25, he left his wife and family, traveled to Boston, where he attended the lectures at the Harvard Medical School and the practice of the new (1821) Massachusetts General Hospital. Except for pest-houses set up during epidemics, there were at this time hospitals only in cities such as Philadeiphia, New York, Cincinnati and Boston, and only a few practitioners had the privilege of learning in them.
In the fall of 1831 Colman went to Philadelphia, where he attended the course of lectures at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, then the finest in America. There he earned his degree in medicine at the advanced age of thirty-seven, after being in practice for fifteen years, and lived with a French family in order to prepare himself for an expedition to Paris the following year. In visiting Paris -- then the world center of medicine and especially in the development of hospital-based medical practice and teaching -- he acquired what was considered the crown to any medical education.
In Paris, Colman learned to use the stethoscope and was probably the first man in Rochester to have one. Another early physician recorded in his diary in 1835 that he had borrowed Colman's instrument for trial prior to purchasing one himself. In 1835, when the Geneva Medical School was founded, Colman was given the chair of Materia Medica and Medical Jurisprudence and became thereby Rochester's first medical professor. Unfortunately, already sick, he was unable to participate actively and died in 1837 of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.
The opening of Geneva Medical College provided the first course of medical lectures in western New York and removed high cost and distance as the major impediments to formal medical schooling for regional practitioners. Among the original forty-two students at Geneva were nine practicing physicians, including two from Monroe County. By the 1841-42 session, there were forty-eight practitioners attending at least part of the lecture course.
Among the many students to whom Anson Colman had been preceptor was Edward Mott Moore. Moore became the best known physician ever raised in Rochester. Graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1838, Moore returned the following year to Rochester, having worked for a year as intern in the Philadelphia Almshouse at Blockley, then as resident in Frankford Insane Asylum. At this time, postgraduate hospital training was an opportunity even rarer than was hospital experience for the younger student. While still in Philadelphia, he published a series of papers on heart disease with one of his professors, Caspar W. Pennock. In addition to a large surgical practice in Rochester, he held positions as professor of surgery, first at Vermont Medical College in Woodstock, where he taught from 1843-52 (it was a twelve-week summer course at this school); then at Berkshire Medical Institution in western Massachusetts for the 1853-54 session; at the Starling Medical College in Columbus, Ohio, between 1854-56; and thereafter for twenty-five years at the University of Buffalo (1858-83). He was surgeon and chief of staff at St. Mary's hospital from the time of its opening in 1856 until his death in 1902. Among his other positions of professional leadership was that of president of the Medical Society of the State of New York in 1873, president of the American Medical Association in 1890, and a member of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees from 1871-1902 and its president for the last nine years. Those interested in medical history are fortunate in having available to them in the University's Rush Rhees Library over two hundred letters and other items related to Moore's career, including several letters written during the years of his schooling.
The clearest impression regarding the reading habits of the early practitioners comes from the meticulously detailed diaries of Samuel Beach Bradley. Doctor Bradley, son of a Congregational clergyman, grew up in Oneida County, was graduated from Union College in 1814, received an honorary A.M. from Hamilton College in 1819, and learned medicine from a local practitioner, Dr. Seth Hastings. Licensed by the Oneida County Medical Society after examination by their censors, he came in 1820 to practice in Parma Corners west of Rochester. Much of his diary, which he started in 1812 at the age of sixteen and continued until his death, survives, some of it in the keeping of his descendants and some in the library at Cornell. At the end of each year it was Bradley's custom to list all the books he had read during the year. The impressive number of medical books mentioned there, especially during the earlier years of his practice, is testimony both to a rural practitioner's effort at professional self-improvement and also, perhaps, to the more leisurely pace of practice in that day. During 1817, for example, he read sixty-five volumes, of which thirty-six were medical. In 1829, no doubt by then busier, he recorded having read only two medical books.
Bradley was a regular customer of Everard Peck, who in 1818 had opened the second bookshop and started publication of the second weekly newspaper in Rochester. In his diary he records many trips into the city, which frequently included stops at Peck's bookshop. To the American Journal of the Medical Sciences, the leading medical journal throughout the nineteenth century, Bradley was a regular subscriber, obtaining the quarterly issues from Peck, in addition to his book purchases.
But Bradley must not have been unique in this, for Peck advertised a large stock of medical books as early as 1820. Throughout that fall he ran an advertisement in his newspaper offering twenty-nine different medical books for sale ranging in price from one to eleven dollars. Though the advertising space was essentially free, the fact that he could carry such a substantial stock suggests that there was a clientele for it.
Nor was it only medical books for physicians which were in demand. The professional works published in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and abroad were more than matched in numbers by the popular books for domestic use published in small towns. In New York State, at least fifteen such books are known to have been published before 1835, and Rochester was a leader. These "how-to-do-it-if-there-is-no-doctor-or-if-you-can't-afford-one" books proliferated, naturally, in the rural and frontier areas. Some were reasonable enough, usually advising a common sense approach and employing the botanical remedies easily available in the yard or countryside. Such books often had testimonial sanction -- the imprimatur -- of local physicians. Though some verged on the quackish, it would be wrong to condemn this entire family of medical books. It played an important role in the medical care of the early nineteenth century.
The earliest known medical work printed west of Utica (where the catalogues and prospectuses of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Western New York at Fairfield had been published since 1811) is dated Rochester, 1823. This book of two hundred and sixteen pages, A Treatise on Bowel Complaints: Intended for the Use of Physicians, Families, Parents, Masters of Vessels, &c. in the United States, was published by Everard Peck and was the work of Dr. John G. Vought. Licensed to practice medicine and surgery by the Schenectady County Medical Society in 1812, Dr. Vought was, in 1821, both the recipient of a patent for a chemical anti-dysentery medicine and a founding member of the Monroe County Medical Society. That Vought was more an entrepreneur than physician is clear; this book was actually a promotion for his products. His remedies, which also included Indian Botanical Ague Drops and Lee's Antibilious Pills, were available at one hundred and fifty-four places as far away as Savannah and New Orleans. The perceptive Dr. Vought dedicated his book to "the married ladies of the U. S. of A." because "curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire for improvement, seems more natural to the female than to the male part of the community."
That Rochester would not long contain the grandiose enterprises of Dr. Vought is foreshadowed in the foreword of this book. "Planted, as I am, in the obscure wilderness of Rochester" (p. iii), he feared that few would heed his words. After a stay of less than seven years he went to New York City, where he opened the New York Infirmary for diseases of the bowels, continued to promote his remedies and promptly became immersed in a controversy with Dr. John Onderdonk. Later he was involved in a lawsuit for libel with professors at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
By 1829, four more medical books had been published in Rochester, a record no other city in the state outside of New York or Albany could boast. Whether it was anticipated sales, the availability of publishers, or unusually unhealthy conditions, the cause of this bibliomania is uncertain.
In 1824, David Rogers offered his book, The American Physician; Being a New System of Practice, Founded on Botany. . . For the Use of Families and Practitioners. Elijah Sedgwick presented in 1827 The Plain Physician, Giving Directions for the Preservation of Health, and the Cure of Disease. Daniel J. Cobb's The Family Adviser; Calculated To Teach the Principles of Botany. Compiled with a Strict Regard to Logick. Containing Directions for Preserving Health, and Curing Diseases (1828) and Joseph Smith's The Dogmaticus, or, Family Physician. Founded on Reason and Experience (1829) completed the pioneer offerings to the Rochester public.
Unlike Vought's book, which was intended to promote the sale of his proprietary remedies, the others appear to be examples of legitimate do-it-yourself home treatment books -- of a type still known today and tracing its ancestry back at least to John Wesley's mid-eighteenth-century book, Primitive Physic, designed by the leader of Methodism to serve his flock, most members of which were too poor to afford a physician.
Smith's book had testimonials from a local Methodist minister and from two reputable physicians, Simon Hunt and George Harral. Hunt thought it "a very good and safe work for family use" and Harral, summarizing nicely the reason that such books proliferated, wrote that "to families in the country, remote, not only from medical aid, but from places where common medicinal articles are to be procured, your materia medica alone, disclosing to them the healing resources of their own farms and forests, will be of high value."
One other book of the period, The Farmers' Materia Medica by Dr. J. C. Merwin, though not a Rochester imprint (having been published in Watertown in 1825), was no doubt offered here for sale. The author, after a month's heralding in the local press, spent three days in Rochester, "having been solicited by a great number of people . . . to come . . . for the purpose of relieving those afflicted with chronic lingering diseases." Dr. Merwin, who called himself a German doctor, claimed to be equally well versed in French and Indian practice.
Similar books were published in Norwich (1826), Canandaigua (1828), Waterloo (1830), Penn Yan (1833), and other nearby towns, demonstrating the tremendous success of botanic medicine under the leadership of Samuel Thomson in the two decades between 1820-40. These books, of course, were popular works for home use and did not help the professional practitioner much. Nevertheless, they should not be looked upon as fraudulent. Though, indeed, many were probably not of high quality, others were honest efforts to provide medical advice for those too poor or too isolated to seek the help of a professional medical advisor. The existence of these books reflects not so much the state of medical knowledge as it does the economic condition of society, especially on the frontier. Their often vituperative jibes against the methods of practice employed by the "regular" profession were probably as much expressions of the resentment felt by those who used them as they were serious efforts to reform the therapeutic excesses of physicians.
By the end of the century great changes in medical practice had occurred. But the discoveries of anesthesia and the bacterial cause of infection were not solely responsible for these changes. Industrialization had brought both great prosperity and, at the same time, a harder form of poverty -- that of the factory worker in the city. Poverty, once accepted as the natural state for most men, seemed no longer quite as justifiable. The idea of providing health care for all began to appear both as a moral matter and as one of good business from the employer's and the community's point of view.
The medical profession, now organized and able to provide an increased number of services essential to the community (in contrast to its earlier service to individuals alone), was able itself to prosper and to raise its own standards. An affluent society wanted health care and thought that the medical profession could now provide it, and that the community could afford it. The medical profession had become increasingly urbanized along with the rest of the populace. This, plus improved transportation, made the setting up of a central medical library feasible.
In 1891, the Monroe County Medical Society appointed a committee of three to investigate the possibility of starting a library. Since the Society still had no building of its own, the logical place to keep books was in the Reynolds Free Library, a privately endowed ancestor of the Rochester Public Library, which had opened in 1886. At the annual County Medical Society meeting in 1892, the committee reported the willingness of the Reynolds Library to house such a special medical division and to match annually, up to $250, whatever funds the Society would provide for the purchase of additional books and periodicals. The Medical Society appointed a permanent library committee, voted an annual contribution of $50 and authorized the committee to accept the Reynolds offer as well as donations of books and money from members. Individual contributions totalled $100 the first year, and most of the original funds were expended for journals. The Reynolds, then on the third floor of the Reynolds Arcade but soon to move to its handsome Italian-style home on Spring Street, became the home of the first medical library in Rochester.
In 1900, the Rochester Academy of Medicine was organized, primarily by that same group of men who had been the supporters of the library fund in the County Society. Since one of the principal purposes of these men was to encourage continuing medical education and research, it is not surprising that the library became a major project. The Academy henceforth assumed responsibility for the support hitherto given the library by the County Medical Society. The Academy-Reynolds Library, by then numbering 2056 volumes, grew steadily through the purchase of standard texts and periodicals and by donation or bequest of classics and books of historical interest. The New York Academy of Medicine was a most generous early contributor of books, as many of the flyleaves attest; so were many local physicians.
With the opening of the University's School of Medicine in 1922, a second medical library was started, and shortly after, the Academy and the Reynolds Library together transferred to it three thousand bound volumes of medical journals. Now, almost half a century later, the second, recent Academy gift adds substantially to the University's collection of rare and important historical works of medicine. These books include volumes published over a period of three and a half centuries (1644-1895), most (205) of them in the early nineteenth century. Though the majority (191) were printed in the United States, only forty-one were by American authors, the remainder being American editions of foreign -- mostly British -- works. In addition, there are forty-seven British publications, fourteen French, nine German, six Dutch, two Austrian, and one Belgian.
In the collection are fifteen titles mentioned in the Garrison-Morton bibliography of medical classics and fifty items of pre-1820 medical Americana listed by Austin in hisEarly American Medical Imprints. Among the authors are many of the great men of medicine, including Rush and Dunglison, Laennec and Louis. In addition to once-standard works on medicine, surgery, midwifery, anatomy, physiology, and materia medica, there are several volumes on fevers, five volumes on the water-cure, two on homeopathy, two on phrenology, and an early work on hygiene, The Art of Preserving Health, by Dr. John Armstrong (London, 1754). Many of the books were originally given to the Academy by physicians who were active at the time the Academy was founded. The names of Edward Mott Moore, Charles A. Dewey, William S. Ely, John W. Whitbeck and E. Vine Stoddard, all founding members of the Academy, appear most frequently among those of original owners. The bookplate of Dr. E. Vine Stoddard, obviously a collector, appears in a thirteen-volume, seventeenth-century vellum-bound set of Hippocratic writings, in the Herbal of Theophrastus (Amsterdam, 1644), and in a book of the writings of Celsus (Leiden, 1785).
But there are also many books which had belonged to physicians of an earlier time. In addition to the names of Backus, Elwood, Colman and Henry -- already mentioned -- are those of Alexander Kelsey, Socrates Smith, Charles Little, Richard Dibble, Ellice Murdock, Philander G. Toby, James Webster, Albert Gallatin Bristol, William Watson Ely, John F. Whitbeck, Henry W. Dean, Henry A. DeForest, H. H. Langworthy and Hilem Bennett.
Kelsey, who was the pioneer physician of Rush, New York (1811) and first president of the Monroe County Medical Society (1821), was the original owner of the library's copy of Nathan Smith's classic A Practical Essay on Typhus Fever (1824). Socrates Smith, Kelsey's successor in Rush, owned Samuel Cooper's two-volume Dictionary of Practical Surgery (1823), one of the first surgical textbooks written by an American. In Avon, Dr. Charles Little apparently preferred Charles Bell's English System of Surgery, which he purchased in 1821, although he later bought Samuel Cooper's First Lines of the Practice of Surgery (1828). An 1822 edition of this last book was owned by Richard Dibble. The high proportion of surgical works among the volumes which still exist from the libraries of these village practitioners (though possibly fortuitous) suggests the nature of the problems which these men faced or felt most able to modify. Surviving books on materia medica and midwifery were also numerous. volumes of a more academic nature also remain, including Andral's Treatise on Pathological Anatomy (1832), owned by John F. Whitbeck, an early Rochester physician and only local graduate of the first "country" medical school in New York State, at Fairfield; Albert Gallatin Bristol's copy of Laennec's Treatise on Mediate Auscultation (1831) in which the use of the stethoscope is first described; and the volume of Louis' classic Pathological Researches on Phthisis (1836), owned by William Watson Ely.
Other books include a presentation copy of Samuel G. Morton's Illustrations of Pulmonary Consumption (1834) given to James Webster, who was professor of anatomy at Geneva Medical College from 1842 to 1849 and who lived and practiced in Rochester during those years. The name of Hilem Bennett, Rochester's first homeopathic physician, appears appropriately in a first French edition of Hahnemann's work. The notebook in which Ellice Murdock recorded during the years 1815-17 his notes on the surgery lectures given by Nathan Smith at Yale Medical School also survives.
Identifying the owners of these old books makes possible some idea of the reading habits, medical problems and practice of the past. It is unfortunate that no more complete record is available.
There have been many benefactors of the History of Medicine Section of the Miner Library; among them a few names stand out. It was Dr. Edward W. Mulligan, himself once a president of the Academy (1903), who between 1926-28 gave the first $15,000, which made it possible for Dr. George W. Corner, the chairman of the Medical School's library committee, to start the history collection. Mulligan, a prominent surgeon and chief of surgery at Rochester General Hospital, was interested in medical history. An admirer of Ambroise Paré, the innovative sixteenth-century French surgeon, Mulligan had expressed to Corner his hope to have certain passages from Paré translated for use in a paper which he was preparing for presentation to the Pundit Club. Doctor Corner, the professor of anatomy at the Medical School (1923-40), and a fellow Pundit, told Mulligan of a 1665 English translation of Paré's works, thinking Mulligan might want to buy it to use and someday give it to the school. Instead, a few days later, the first of three annual gifts of $5000 came from Dr. Mulligan with the instruction that the money was to be used for early books of medicine, especially translations of classics. The gifts stopped only with Dr. Mulligan's death in January 1930. In Mulligan's enthusiasm and generosity and Corner's knowledgeable and imaginative purchases, the history of medicine collection had its start. It was not for two years after Mulligan's first gift that a copy of the English edition of Paré, the book which had started it all, was found and bought.
Several early editions of Vesalius's book on anatomy, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543 and later), now almost priceless, were acquired as a consequence of Dr. Mulligan's expressed desire to emphasize books on anatomy and surgery and Dr. Corner's own special interests in medieval and Renaissance anatomy. The oldest book in the Rochester collection is an illuminated fourteenth-century vellum manuscript on surgery by Roger of Palermo, and many of the twelve books printed in the fifteenth century are on the subject of anatomy or surgery. Ultimately, the Mulligan fund provided twelve hundred books for the history section. Now, one of the volumes in this collection is alone valued at almost the total of the original gift.
Another early gift was the collection of books on yellow fever, carefully gathered together by Edward G. Miner. Including forty-one volumes at the time that Miner presented it in May 1927, the collection has grown to over seven hundred and fifty items, and is now one of the significant collections on the subject of epidemic fevers. Mr. Miner, a Rochester businessman whose career was associated with the Pfaudler Company and later with the Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation, was a trustee of the University from 1910 until his death, at 91, in 1955, and was chairman of the board from 1938-44, and longtime chairman of the trustees' library committee.
Son of a physician and long a book collector, Miner (apparently while on a year-long trip to South America in 1908) had become interested in the psychological effects of yellow fever epidemics on a society -- and read widely, at the same time acquiring his collection of books on the subject. When the first epidemic of poliomyelitis occurred in Rochester in 1915 he recognized, in the panic which ensued and in the often unreasonable medical practices and public policies being instituted, a parallel to public behavior during the yellow fever epidemics he had seen and read about. This further spurred his interest and, in 1917, he spoke on the history of yellow fever to the Fortnightly Club. Even after giving his collection to the Medical School, Miner continued to add to it, often with the advice of Dr. Corner. In 1952, on the day of Mr. Miner's eighty-ninth birthday, the University's medical library was named after him. Several years later his son-in-law, Mr. Thomas Lamont, provided a generous and unrestricted endowment which made possible, among other things, the continued growth of the fever collection.
After Dr. Corner's departure, followed by the makeshift war years, and later the exuberant years of grant-prosperity and laboratory expansion, there seemed to be little time and few people to indulge in the apparently esoteric discipline of medical history. In 1967, the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation provided a substantial three-year grant in the hope of renewing interest in the historical investigation and teaching. Suitable facilities were developed. The books, long scattered, were collected, and a full-time librarian, Miss Alice Creighton, trained specifically in the history of medicine, joined the staff. A large endowment, established in 1969 by the School's first dean, Dr. George Hoyt Whipple, and Mrs. Whipple, has provided an annual income to assure continued development of the history of medicine program, including expansion of the research collections. Among the library's most recent acquisitions, made possible by the Whipple Fund, is an unusually fine, two-volume student pocket edition (1552) of Vesalius's anatomy text.
Rochester's history collection is still small if one compares its 3500 rare books with 20,000 in the library of the New York Academy of Medicine. There are 60,000 volumes published before 1800 in the incomparable collection of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md.; Rochester has about 1700. Nevertheless, though small by comparison, the Edward G. Miner Medical Library collection is representative and broad based, with depth in several areas; and it is growing. Current acquisitions, under the leadership of the new History of Medicine Librarian, Philip J. Weimerskirch, continue to emphasize works on cholera, yellow fever and epidemic infectious diseases generally; and reflect more recently developed interests: mental illness, social reform movements in medicine such as botanic and homeopathic practice, and especially manuscript and printed materials of regional medical significance.
Though a great deal is known about the practice of medicine in places like Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore and Charleston in the earlier days, knowledge of health care in rural areas and on the frontier is sparse, limited by lack of records. Finding and acquiring these materials will be an important goal. History is the study of how and why things change. This is as important to medicine as to other disciplines. Tracing and recognizing these changes will not, of course, provide simple answers to complex contemporary problems. But it can give more precise knowledge of how the present has evolved and make possible a more intelligent prediction of the course ahead. This growing collection of books and manuscripts in the medical history section of the Edward G. Miner Medical Library, provided by the citizens of Rochester and other friends over the past century and a half, is one more means toward a better understanding of problems involving the future health of the community.