Since 1995, the United Nations has celebrated World Book Day on April 23. We hope you’ll agree that the NYAM Library is world-class! Library Team members have each selected a book from our vast collection that means something to them. Perhaps these books will mean something for you as well—so endorse our selections in the comments or use the occasion to name books that mean something to you.
Andrea Byrne, Digital Technical Specialist:
Manuale del dilettante del caffè; ossia l’arte de prender sempre del buon caffè (Venice, 1830), translated from French into Italian and written by “M.H.” attributed to Alexandre Martin, first encountered as part of our project with Adam Matthew Digital on food and drink. “It was such an adorable book. It is in a clamshell, and once you open up the clamshell, there is this other smaller compartment inside where the book is stored, and the book is smaller than my hand. Very cute!”
Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger:
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica … (Basel, 1543). “The publication of this book was a key moment in the study of anatomy, and its illustrations are one of a kind. It’s the starting point for so much scholarship and I think it’s emblematic of the richness of our collections.”
“I’ve chosen this book, rather than one of our early books, because I think it speaks to the experiences many of us have been had during a long period of isolation, without the services we normally take for granted, and how that has prompted people to do things they would not have tried before (so many loaves of sourdough bread!). These kinds of household guides were very popular, and they offered DIY instructions for everything from home brewing to gardening to sewing your own clothing.”
by Angus Fletcher, PhD, 2003–2004 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow
Did you know that after William Shakespeare lost his son Hamnet, he forged a literary invention that can alleviate grief by acting on the emotional circuitry of our brain’s amygdala? Shakespeare tucked it into Hamlet, from where it made its way into modern literary classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
Did you know that there are two types of PTSD—and that literature contains therapies for both? The first was devised by Greek playwrights in fifth-century BCE to help military veterans recover from the psychological damage of battle; the second by the modern American cartoonist Alison Bechdel to help survivors of chronic domestic abuse.
And did you know that ancient fairy tales contain an antidote to the mental malady that modern psychiatrists refer to as catastrophizing? Or that the antidote was removed by the 18th-century French author Charles Perrault when he penned his version of Cinderella—which is why it doesn’t exist in the modern fairy tales of Disney’s magic kingdom?
These remarkable—and even fantastical—claims are backed by empirical research that originated during two summer months that I spent at the New York Academy of Medicine Library back in 2003. I had just completed a PhD on Shakespeare at Yale, but my prior background was neuroscience: devoting four years to studying how brain cells communicated and publishing my findings in decidedly nonliterary venues such as The Journal of Biological Chemistry. And, in fact, my focus on the brain was the main reason I had ventured out of a science lab into a literature seminar. I had discovered that the world’s earliest known work of literary criticism, Aristotle’s Poetics, had hypothesized that literature possessed a psychological—in fact, medical—function: purging trauma via a mysterious mechanism termed catharsis.
Despite my curiosity about these matters, I never found anyone willing to fund my research into literature’s healing properties. Until, that is, I approached the New York Academy of Medicine, which granted me $5,000 to devote to exploring the question: Can literature actually do what Aristotle supposed? Can theater, poems, and novels nurture our mental health and well-being?
In the New York Academy of Medicine Library I began grappling with those questions by focusing on a specific case study: the rebellion launched by a group of early-20th-century novelists—Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf among them—against the “rest cure,” a now discredited psychiatric treatment, chiefly prescribed to women, for “neurasthenia,” or what we might call heightened cognitive reactivity.
To help me understand what the rest cure was—and why Gilman and Woolf found it so repugnant—Arlene Shaner and the New York Academy of Medicine’s librarians took me on a tour of the pseudoscientific works of the rest cure’s inventor, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, including his eerily titled Fat and blood: an essay on the treatment of certain forms of neurasthenia and hysteria (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1888). From there, I was guided through the Library’s collections to consult a first edition of William James’s Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), the textbook that inspired the novelists to replace the rest cure with an alternative literary treatment.
That literary treatment worked by stimulating what James referred to in Principles of Psychology as a “stream of consciousness” whose fluid liquidity gentled the emotional “shocks” of heightened cognitive reactivity.
Prior to Woolf, versions of that stream had been attempted by novelists such as Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce. But while Proust and Richardson had written in a fluid first-person style, and Joyce had written in an atomistic third-person style, Woolf realized that James’s therapy could more effectively be translated into literature by combining Joyce’s third-person with Proust and Richardson’s fluidity. That combination allows our reading mind to flow above a troubled consciousness, observing its ripples without feeling their shock. Consider this passage from Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, where the novel’s innovative machinery encourages our thoughts to register the “something awful” while our emotions glide tranquilly past.
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, ‘Musing among the vegetables?’—was that it?—’I prefer men to cauliflowers’—was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace—Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull. . .
The spirit I found in the NYAM Library was as important as the documents I perused there. A physical library in the halls of medicine can seem an old-fashioned thing nowadays, when JAMA pre-publishes its newest articles online and few physicians can spare the time to ensconce themselves in a reading carrel. But I benefited deeply from the reflective experience of having the Library’s physical books, manuscripts, and papers before me as my guide, providing a respite from modern life’s relentless speed and carrying me back to the dwelling places where medicine began: the mind’s curiosity and the heart’s care.
In the many years since, I have gone on to partner with doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists on collaborative research. Most recently, I have engaged in a three-year longitudinal study with Ohio State’s College of Medicine on how reading novels and memoirs can reduce burnout in medical students. And I have authored dozens of book chapters for university press publishers such as Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and Princeton, and dozens of articles for such scholarly journals as Critical Inquiry, Narrative, and New Literary History on the medical and well-being benefits of literature.
None of this work would have happened without that summer, which became for me, as for the many thousands of seekers who have been given the chance to use the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library, a testament to the power of books. The power age-old but vital as ever. The power to teach, to uplift, and even to heal.
Angus Fletcher is Professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. A popular account of his research into literature’s medical and well-being effects, including the rest-cure alternative invented by Virginia Woolf, can be found in Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature(Simon and Schuster, 2021). This work has been praised by Martin Seligman as “enchanting,” by Dr. Rita Charon as “a tour-de-force,” and by Antonio Damasio as “the perfect counter to our season in hell.”
During Women’s History Month, we at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) are celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women in medicine and health. Dr. Mary Ann Payne (1913–2010) broke new ground as the first woman to lead NYAM, serving as its 63rd president from 1987 to 1988. She stepped in at a critical time in NYAM’s history and successfully led the restructuring of the organization to better serve the health of the public in New York City.
Mary Ann Payne was born on August 29, 1913, and grew up in Braddock Heights, Maryland. She attended Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and then taught high school for four years after graduation. She then went on to further her education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where she received her MA and PhD in endocrinology, and finally to Cornell University Medical College where she graduated with an MD degree in 1945. Her entire medical career was spent at the college (now Weill Cornell Medicine), where she was a clinical professor of medicine and attending physician at New York Hospital.(1) Highlights of her early career included receiving the Major Arnold H. Golding Fellowship, for research on the mechanism of high blood pressure, and having an audience with Pope Pius XII in 1947.(2) Payne rose to become a member of the Board of Overseers of Weill Cornell. She also spent time working with the Communicable Disease Center, caring for members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes with hepatitis and treating tuberculosis among Alaska Natives.(3)
Payne became a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1953 and served as a member of its Committee on Medical Education, vice president, and trustee. In 1987 she assumed the presidency as the first woman to hold that office. Hers was the third-to-last presidency under NYAM’s former structure.(4) Since 1847, the presidency had been a two-year honorary position. The incumbent was a Fellow and chiefly worked with other Fellows. By the early 20th century, NYAM staff reported to an executive director, and William Stubing had taken on that role in 1986. In the words of the official history, upon his hire he “visited a number of Foundation executives to discuss the potential of the Academy as an institution that could make a positive contribution towards alleviating health problems in the City. He was quite candid in his approach to these individuals, indicating the Academy had great potential that was not being achieved primarily due to its financial constraints.”(5) The trustees, the NYAM governing body responsible for fiscal affairs, led by Dr. Payne, secured the services of an outside consultant, Cambridge Associates, Inc., to review the organization’s finances. Its report recommended a series of reforms, which Payne and the trustees accepted in October 1987—a scant 10 days after Black Monday, when the stock market suffered a 25% drop in its value! NYAM’s financial reforms only pointed to a deeper problem within its structure, however. The same day that the trustees accepted the financial report, Payne reported to the Council—the NYAM governing body that oversaw its medical and public health activities—that “in her judgment, the Academy’s existing resources were insufficient to support its present program.”(6) Change was needed.
The Council set up a Committee on Strategic Planning with Payne as chair, tasked to “examine and redefine the Academy’s mission; review existing programs, consider new initiatives and establish new priorities.”(7) Everything was on the table! Cambridge Associates was reengaged to assist in this broader reassessment and provided a sobering report to the Council in March 1989. Addressing a lack of clear management structure, the report called for significant changes, most significantly establishing a full-time president with overall authority for the Academy and significantly reducing the large number of committees that had a hand in governance. The dual structure of a Council and a Board of Trustees would be eliminated, retaining just the Board. Although Payne’s presidential term had ended three months earlier, she continued to lead the process as chair of the Committee on Strategic Planning. Throughout 1989 the Fellows debated the proposals; they were overwhelmingly adopted at a special meeting on August 7, 1989. On July 1, 1990, Dr. Jeremiah A. Barondess took office under the new structure as the first full-time president of the New York Academy of Medicine.(8)
Mary Ann Payne retired in the late 1970s or 1980s—the date is not clear—while retaining attending privileges at New York Hospital. In retirement she undertook voyages to the Antarctic and Tierra del Fuego to help band penguins as a volunteer for the American Museum of Natural History.(9) NYAM honored her contributions with the Academy Plaque in 1991. At his presentation speech, Dr. Martin Cherkasky, former chair of the Board of Trustees, noted that “the very fact that she was able to overcome the conservatism of this body in matters of leadership indicates what a powerful, impressive figure she is.”(10) In 1998 Payne moved to a retirement home in Ithaca, New York, where she died on March 24, 2010.
1. Obituary; “Academy Plaque.”
2. “Gets Golding Fellowship”; “Catholic Information from Abroad.”
Janet Doe (1895–1985) spent 30 years with the New York Academy of Medicine, from the opening of its new building in 1926 until her retirement in 1956. In retirement she continued to shape the profession, as consultant and expert. Her contributions to medical librarianship led to her being honored through the establishment in 1966 of the Medical Library Association’s most prestigious lecture, the Janet Doe Lecture, for “unique perspectives on the history or philosophy of medical librarianship.”1
Doe came to library work right after World War I. A 1917 Wellesley graduate in science, she entered a nursing training program at Vassar, followed by clinical training at Presbyterian Hospital, where she attended the rush of influenza patients.2 At the same time she took up work as an untrained aide at the New York Public Library. After a knee injury cut short her fledgling nursing career, she moved full time to the NYPL library school. With formal training in librarianship and a background in medicine, she was recruited in 1923 to the library of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University). Three years later, she moved to NYAM as head of periodicals; in 1929 she was appointed Assistant Librarian, and upon Archibald Malloch’s retirement in 1949 she became Librarian, as the director’s title was then known. Doe held this position for the next seven years, until her own retirement in 1956. Looking back on her tenure as the first woman to lead the Academy Library, she reported “no special difficulties whatever” because of her gender.3
During her 30-year tenure at the Academy, Doe saw many changes. She began soon after the Academy’s new building opened in 1926, and she was here when the extension to that building was constructed in 1933, with new stacks and offices and its jewel, the Rare Book Room. As head of periodicals and carrying on into her supervisory roles, she oversaw the main work of the Library: meeting the information needs of physicians.4 The Library met these needs chiefly through its extensive medical journal holdings, maintaining subscriptions to some 2,500 titles and welcoming anyone, not just Academy Fellows, to use them.5 All along, the Library continued to add contemporary medical books and reports, building up a “comprehensive research collection . . . its most important contribution.”6 The Library continued to add to the historical collections as well. It purchased the Edward Clark Streeter Collection of rare books in 1928; the Margaret Barclay Wilson collection on food and cookery came by donation in 1929; and the John Greenwood collection, including George Washington’s dentures, came to the Library in 1937.7
In many ways, Doe’s tenure was the last where the Library—indeed, any research library—functioned as essentially a stand-alone institution. Users came to the books; the books—or the information contained therein—did not come to them. Still in the future was the large-scale national and international sharing of information and resources that automation and then the internet made possible. Above all, the country lacked a truly national medical library with coordinating responsibilities for all medical literature. These developments came about after Janet Doe retired. Part of her story is how she helped to them to be realized, through raising the skills of librarians and supporting newer medical libraries, and by helping to establish the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
A great impetus came from the significant expansion of medical libraries that she saw during her career. Some were medical school libraries; many were hospital libraries. Of the latter, Doe reported that “[they] were poor; they had mostly untrained librarians and were only perhaps open half time.”8 As president of MLA in 1949 she shepherded through a certification program for medical librarians as a way of raising the skills and capacities of the profession. While MLA’s continuing education courses helped train a new generation of specialized medical librarians, this was not enough. To supplement those courses in 1942 she developed the Handbook of medical library practice,9 for which she served as editor, as well as co-editor of the 1956 second edition. Doe also supported new medical school libraries. In 1949 she facilitated the donation of 12,000 duplicate medical books and journals to the library of Southwestern Medical College in Dallas, Texas, founded just a few years previously.10
Doe was also instrumental in establishing the Army Medical Library as the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Starting in 1944, she was one of the “surveyors” of the Army Medical Library, leading to The National Medical Library, Report of a Survey of the Army Medical Library.11 This work guided reform at that library and began the campaign to transform it into a national medical library; Doe remained active as a consultant. On April 10, 1956, in her last public appearance before her retirement, Doe testified before Congress on behalf of a bill to establish NLM, and later she worked to secure its grant-making authority.12
Three of Janet Doe’s publications deserve further mention: the Bibliography of the works of Ambroise Paré 13 was her foray into classic bibliography; in a 1953 article, “Opportunities for women in medicine: medical librarianship,”14 she both acknowledged that most medical librarians were women and saw that field as a path for career development; and, in a work done after her retirement to Katonah, New York, a village in northern Westchester County, “The Development of Medical Practice in Bedford Township, New York, Particularly in the Area of Katonah,”15 she provided a survey from colonial times to the present. Doe died in 1985, at the age of 90.
4“The library exists first and foremost for the physicians, their needs are what it is designed to meet, and towards which its major energies are spent.” Janet Doe, “The Library of the Academy of Medicine,” November 15, 1951, talk and broadcast. On November 15, 1951, Doe spoke to a group of physicians in the Academy lecture series “For Doctors Only.” The talk was eventually broadcast on WNYC, the city’s publicly owned station, and NYPR Archives has digitized it: https://www.wnyc.org/story/the-library-of-the-academy-of-medicine/.
5Journals form the bulk of the Library’s collections, and the Library’s catalog contains bibliographical entries for over 22,000 journal titles. The figure of 2,500 active journal subscriptions comes from Doe’s talk on November 15, 1951. Since 1878, the Academy Library has been open to the public.
6Doe, “The Library of the Academy of Medicine”: “This last function, that of the comprehensive research collection, is for certain, its most important contribution. There are many other working medical libraries in New York City, some 60 or so at least, for every live medical institution of any size must have a library of sorts. But the broadly based reference library possessing the seldom called for, but occasionally indispensable report is a necessity for a research center such as New York has become.”
8Here and below the content is from “MLA Oral History Committee Interview with Janet Doe.”
9Janet Doe, ed. Handbook of medical library practice (Chicago: American Library Association, 1942).
10“Medical News,” JAMA 1949 Nov 19; 141(12): 854.
11Keyes D. Metcalf, Janet Doe, Thomas P. Fleming, et al., The National medical library; report of a survey of the Army Medical Library, financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and made under the auspices of the American Library Association (Chicago: American Library Association, 1944).
by Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian
In February of 1847, when the New York Academy of Medicine was just a month old, two founding Fellows of the Academy nominated Dr. James McCune Smith for fellowship, that is, formal membership in what was being set up as an elite medical organization. Smith was the first professionally trained African American physician in the United States, although he earned his degrees at the University of Glasgow, having been unable to gain admission to an American medical school because of his race. An accomplished physician who met all the criteria for fellowship, Smith was denied admission to the Academy at that time. In 2018 the Academy finally redressed that wrong by awarding him fellowship posthumously, 171 years later.
The identity of the first Black physician to become a Fellow of the Academy remained a mystery, though. Puzzling it out required reading a chapter of a frequently consulted resource, Gerald Spencer’s Medical Symphony, in a different way. Spencer was the subject of a blog post back in 2014, and his book, despite its frustrating lack of citations, provides a wealth of information about the contributions of Black Americans to medicine in New York. Chapter VII focuses on membership in local medical organizations, beginning with a section on the various county medical societies, and moving on to NYAM and others. A list of Black Americans who had been elected as Fellows by 1947, when Spencer’s book was published, appears on page 75:
The first name on that list is Dr. Peter M. Murray. While Spencer never states that the names are listed in chronological order of election, an examination of the minutes of the Committee on Admissions confirms that this is the case. Murray appeared on the waiting list of nominees on April 6, 1932, along with the names of his three recommenders, and on January 4, 1933, he was one of 17 physicians who were recommended for fellowship, an offer he accepted. In doing so, he became the first Black Fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine.
When Murray became a Fellow in 1933, most of his major accomplishments lay ahead, although he was at the time of his nomination the president of the National Medical Association, the alternative to the American Medical Association set up by Black physicians who were often denied membership in the AMA because of their inability to join their local medical societies.
The child of a longshoreman and a laundress, Murray was born in 1888 in Houma, Louisiana. His family moved to New Orleans when he was 12, and his mother became a practical nurse at the New Orleans Women’s Hospital and Infirmary. Her experience there led her to suggest a medical career to her son. Murray graduated from New Orleans University in 1910 and got his medical degree from Howard University four years later. He then began his career as an intern at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and continued working at the hospital as an assistant clinical professor of surgery and developing expertise in obstetrics and gynecology. At the same time, he took an appointment as a medical inspector for the public schools.
In his 1967 Journal of the National Medical Association biographical profile of Murray, W. Montague Cobb noted that “while President Woodrow Wilson was ‘Saving the World for Democracy’ and promoting the League of Nations abroad, Negro Federal employees were being discriminated against more than ever at home.” Both Murray and his wife, Charlotte (Wallace), a professional singer and music teacher, felt that more opportunities would be available to them in New York, and moved there in 1921. Murray shared a Harlem medical office with Dr. Wiley Merlio Wilson, whom he had known when he was a Howard student, and initially he practiced surgery at the Wiley Wilson Sanitarium, a private hospital that Wilson opened due to the lack of opportunities to practice in other New York hospitals. Dr. Louis T. Wright, another Howard graduate, had joined the staff of the public Harlem Hospital in 1919, and Harlem Hospital became the only New York institution where Black American physicians stood a chance of finding employment. Murray eventually joined the staff there in 1928 and later worked at two other hospitals, Sydenham and St. Clare’s, as well.
One of Murray’s most important accomplishments occurred in 1949, when the New York State Medical Society elected him as one of its representatives to the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association. He was at that time the only Black physician from anywhere in the country elected to serve as a delegate, and he continued in that role through 1961. He was also elected president of the Medical Society of the County of New York for 1954–55. It is possible that Murray’s support of the AMA’s opposition to the development of a national health insurance program in the 1940s played a part in those elections. He took the idea of broader service to the medical profession extremely seriously, though, accepting seats on the boards of trustees of Howard University, the State University of New York, and the National Medical Fellowships; appointment to the Board of Hospitals of the City of New York; a term as vice president of the Hospital Council of Greater New York; and membership in the President’s National Medical Advisory Committee on Health Resources.
Service to NYAM also mattered to him, and he spent over 20 years as a member of the Committee on Medical Education, as well as serving on a variety of other subcommittees. In acknowledgment of his many accomplishments, both inside and outside of the Academy, he was awarded the Academy Plaque, which recognizes extraordinary service to NYAM, at the April 1969 annual meeting, just eight months before his death on December 19.
 Cobb, W. Montague. “Peter Marshall Murray, MD, 1888.” Journal of the National Medical Association 59, no. 1 (1967), p. 73.
 Louis T. Wright was, in fact, recommended for NYAM fellowship in 1930, two years ahead of Murray, and after a challenge, the recommendation went through on October 1, 1932. Wright must have declined, though, as his name never appears in any of the published lists of Fellows.
Our annual Color Our Collections week kicks off today! From February 1st through 5th libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions showcase their collections through free, downloadable coloring books. A hundred books or so are gathered at ColorOurCollections.org. Follow #ColorOurCollections2021 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to participate.
The NYAM Library’s coloring book presents images from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Here are a few coloring sheets to help while away your hours; for more, check out our whole coloring book.
The modern Anglo-American tradition of manuscript cookbooks might be said to begin with the world’s first printed cookbook, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, or “On right pleasure and good health.” Written by the celebrated humanist writer Bartolomeo Sacchi, known as Platina, and first published around 1474, the book was translated into Italian, French, and German within a few decades of publication, and it remained widely read throughout Europe into the early eighteenth century. The book featured both a new cuisine and, just as importantly, a new attitude toward food and cooking. Platina presented an interest in food and its preparation as a kind of connoisseurship akin to the connoisseurship of painting, music, or literature. Europe came to call Platina’s attitude toward food and cooking “epicurean,” and those who espoused it “epicures.” At the dawn of the sixteenth century, these new individuals were emblematic of the Renaissance European world.
When Italian epicureanism was first unleashed in Europe, England was in the throes of its own cultural and intellectual Renaissance. Among the English elite classes, the quest for new knowledge found expression in the collecting and creating of recipes, known then and well into the nineteenth century by the now-archaic word “receipts.” Originally the word receipt meant a prescription for a medicine or remedy. During the Renaissance, as the knowledge-hungry English began to write and collect prescription-like formulas for all sorts of things, the term receipt broadened accordingly: directions for farming and building; formulas for chemistry and alchemy; recipes for practical household products like cleaning solutions and paints, and, amid the growing epicurean spirt of the time, food recipes. The sixteenth-century English made a distinction between receipts pertaining to the home and commonly undertaken by women, and receipts for things involving work outside the home, assumed to be the concern of men. Thus, most who collected food and drink recipes also collected receipts for medicines, remedies, cosmetics, and household necessities such as candles, cleaners, pesticides, fabric dyes, and ink. Today, these books of mixed home recipes are often referred to as “cookbooks” when a substantial portion of their recipes concern food and drink.
Cookbooks in History—Manuscript and Print
There is a persistent belief that in the early modern world recipes originated in the home and then were subsequently picked up in print cookbooks. In fact, this was true in England only during the Renaissance, that is, up to about 1625. Only about a dozen cookbooks were published in England, from the first, in 1500, to that date. This may have been due to a lack of demand, but it was also surely due to the thorny practical problem that, cookbooks being a new idea, a community of writers possessing the specialized skills needed to produce them had yet to develop. Printers solved this problem in the only way they could: by cobbling together their printed cookbooks from manuscript cookbooks compiled by ladies of the peerage and then slapping titles and, in some instances, putative authors on them, all of whom, of course, were men. In most instances, the women who actually wrote these cookbooks were unacknowledged—some of their manuscripts may well have been pilfered from their estates—although two Renaissance cookbook authors, John Partridge and Gervase Markham, did explicitly credit noble ladies as the true originators of their printed books. While manuscript cookbooks preceded print cookbooks during the English Renaissance, this situation was soon to change.
During the seventeenth century, the number of published cookbooks grew rapidly in England, as did the number of manuscript cookbooks, to judge from those now extant. As the use of printed cookbooks spread, most recipes in manuscript cookbooks cycled through print at some point. In fact, quite a few manuscript cookbooks compiled after the mid-seventeenth century contain recipes copied verbatim from print. As English cookbook publishing matured, female cookbook authors appeared, starting with the remarkable Hannah Woolley, active in the 1650s through the early 1670s. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, female cookbook authors, who generally branded themselves “experienced housekeepers” rather than professional cooks, dominated English and American cookbook publishing. The relationship between manuscript and print, however, remained the same: recipes cycled from print into manuscript and back into print again, until cooking fashions changed and the old recipes were replaced by new ones.
The NYAM Collection
The eleven NYAM receipt books in Recipes and Remedies show the same organization patterns common to most manuscript books in the English-language tradition. For example, in most of the NYAM books, the culinary recipes are separated from the medical and household recipes in some fashion. In some of the NYAM books, recipes are clustered by subject matter, that is, a clutch of food recipes will be followed by a clutch of medical recipes, and so on. In other NYAM manuscript cookbooks, the culinary recipes are written from the front of the notebook while the medical and household recipes are written from the back of the notebook going toward the center. In one item in the NYAM collection, the medical and household recipes are also written upside down in relation to the culinary recipes, making the separation more explicit.
The Hoffman cook book in the NYAM collection is rare in that it unveils a style of cooking outside the mainstream norm. Written in halting English by a German immigrant to America, this highly interesting cookbook is composed primarily of German-inflected recipes like those we today associate with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. It also contains recipes for standard American dishes, such as roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and pound cake, but approached in idiosyncratic ways by a woman struggling to interpret a cuisine that was foreign to her. While the author of this cookbook was a cultural and linguistic outsider and her cooking outside the contemporaneous American mainstream, she was also a woman of privilege, a member of a prosperous German-American family that had owned paper mills in Maryland since the eighteenth century. For these reasons she was the sort of person, whether in Germany or America, who would be expected to use recipes and perhaps also to collect them.
Manuscript cookbook authors tended primarily to collect recipes for fruit preserves, fruit and flower wines, sweet dishes, cakes, and, after 1700, breads and cakes served at breakfast or with tea. About half of the manuscript cookbooks in the NYAM collection reflect the typical manuscript preference for sweets. Most of the culinary and drink recipes in Gemel book of recipes and A collection of choise receipts are geared to banqueting, an extravagant repast of sweets that was sometimes served after important meals and sometimes staged as a stand-alone party during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Recipe book, 1700s titles its culinary section “Wines, Sweetmeats, & Cookery”; recipes in the first two categories far outnumber those in the last. Receipt book, 1848–circa 1885, by an American woman named Jane Beck, can be aptly described as a cake cookbook. This inclination can be explained, in part, by the fact that many ladies personally participated in preserve-making, distilling, and baking, while relegating the preparation of the principal dishes of dinner entirely to their cooks. In addition, the success of sweet dishes and cakes hinges on precise recipes, while savory dishes can be successfully executed intuitively, without recipes, at least by good cooks, or so people seem to have believed. Finally, up through the nineteenth century, the biggest per capita consumers of sugar in the world were the British, with the Americans not far behind.
Manuscript cookbooks contain insights that historical printed cookbooks lack. Manuscript recipes are likely to have been cooked from, if not by the person who collected the recipe and wrote it down in her book, at least by the person from whom the recipe was collected. Thus manuscript cookbooks contain concrete details that historical printed cookbooks generally lack: the precise motion of the hand in stirring; the most suitable cuts of meat; the time that a cooking process takes; the signs that something is going wrong; the size and number of molds needed for individual cakes; the clues that a dish is done; and so on. Manuscript recipes not only illuminate the making of specific dishes but also basic kitchen conditions and broad practices in historical cooking.
A special feature of manuscript cookbooks is that they reflect the tastes of individual households. Thus, while most printed cookbooks published between 1675 and 1800 outline the same three basic recipes for lemon cream, contemporaneous manuscript cookbooks present dozens of different recipes for this favorite dessert, some tart and others sweet, some rich and others lean, suiting the varied tastes of the epicures of centuries past.
Our new digital collection showcases 11 of the 40 manuscript cookbooks the Library holds. The digitization is based on our earlier work with these materials. In 2012, the Pine Tree Foundation provided funding for conservation and cataloging of 31 of these manuscripts. In 2019, the foundation awarded the Library funding to digitize a selection of the English-language manuscript cookbooks and make them available to the public through the Library’s Digital Collections & Exhibits website. The digitized manuscripts will also be linked through corresponding listings in the Manuscript Cookbook Survey, providing a full-text option for each of our manuscripts on the site.
Four of the 11 manuscripts were previously digitized as part of an Adam Matthew Digital project, Food and Drink in History. After the earlier conservation work, only a quick conservation review was required before we sent the rest of the manuscripts out for scanning. The 2012 funding had also provided us with robust catalog records, so the work of our current project focused on providing a digital experience that was as similar as possible to paging through these manuscripts in our reading room. This work started with creating high-quality digital scans to display each item as a book object.
The manuscripts are viewable through the Internet Archive Book Reader, which allows a reader to browse a digital book page by page. Additional photo editing work was required to ensure that each page aligned with the next. This digital collection contains 2,021 pages and additional eyes were needed to review each page of every manuscript, to check the alignment, the consistency of page sizes, and the integrity of the images. Quality control is integral and took place multiple times on this project: to confirm the images were scanned correctly, to verify the content on the site was correct, and to check the functionality of the site.
A couple of challenges emerged when attempting to preserve the integrity of each manuscript as a digital object. One of the concerns was blank pages: a few of these manuscripts have many blank pages. In the physical manuscript, a reader can turn several blank pages at a time. In the digital display, a reader may have a frustrating experience clicking blank page after blank page. Our approach to this concern was to include a scan of the first blank page in a section of blank pages and to note that not all the blank pages were scanned.
Another challenge was the display of inserts. A couple of the books included plant clippings and flowers pressed between the pages. To emulate the experience of viewing the inserts in the physical manuscript, we opted to overlay the front of the insert on the recto, and then have the same pages repeated in the next view, but with the reverse of the insert overlaid on the verso.
Of course, no interventions can exactly replicate the experience of viewing and handling a physical object in person. How can one duplicate the heft of taking the 500-page “A collection of choise receipts” out of its clamshell box, or handling the slender “Hoffman home remedies” volume? But one advantage these digital surrogates provide is being able to make waffles from a handwritten recipe from 1791 without splattering batter on a unique and priceless cookbook!
The NYAM Library is happy to announce the launch of “Recipes and Remedies: Manuscript Cookbooks” on our Digital Collections & Exhibits website. We’ve digitized 11 of our English-language manuscript cookbooks, offering a fascinating look at seventeenth- to nineteenth-century culinary (and non-culinary) history in England and America. The books include recipes for making a range of dishes such as roast turkey, lemon cream, and almond biscuits. Receipts (an older word for recipes) for non-food items are also found in these cookbooks: you can learn about remedies for coughs, bruises, and other ailments, or read about preparing cosmetics or perfumes at home. These manuscripts are part of a remarkable collection of food and drink materials that are a strength of the Library, starting with its ninth-century culinary manuscript, the Apicius.
We hope that you enjoy exploring these unique materials, finding recipes and making discoveries, and reading about their historical context in the accompanying essay written by culinary historian Stephen Schmidt.
The digitization of these manuscript cookbooks was accomplished with a grant from the Pine Tree Foundation. We are grateful for the foundation’s continued support in helping us to provide access to our rich collections.
In the past, we’ve highlighted recipes from these cookbooks in blog posts. We invite you to read these earlier posts, even as you delve deeper into the digitized Manuscript Cookbooks Collection.
While Emily Dunning Barringer (1876–1961) shares many things in common with other early women Fellows of the Academy, she can claim one unique distinction: having her life story made into a feature film. The Girl in White—based on Barringer’s 1950 memoir, Bowery to Bellevue: The Story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon—debuted in 1952 and starred June Allyson. In the film as in her life, Barringer overcame both institutional barriers and deliberate affronts as she pursued a career as a woman professional in an overwhelmingly male world.
Barringer was born in 1876 to a wealthy family in Scarsdale, New York. Her parents, Edwin James Dunning and Frances Gore Lang, believed that all children, regardless of gender, should be educated and trained to support themselves. The family fell on hard financial times when Barringer was 10, and a well-meaning friend’s suggestion that perhaps the young girl should train as a milliner only served to strengthen Frances Dunning’s resolve for her daughter to receive a college education. With the support of her uncle, Henry Sage, one of the founders of Cornell University, Barringer did so, graduating from Cornell in 1897 before going on to medical school at the College of Medicine of the New York Infirmary, which merged with the new Cornell University School of Medicine during her time as a student.
Graduating from medical school in 1901, Barringer applied for a residency at New York City’s Gouverneur Hospital but was rejected despite receiving the second highest score on the qualifying exam. Undeterred, and with the help of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, she reapplied the following year and this time was accepted, becoming the first woman to earn a position as surgical resident. Acceptance into the program, however, did not mean acceptance by other residents or their supervising physicians, and in her autobiography, Barringer recounted that she had been harassed and given the most difficult and unpleasant assignments and schedules. One difficult role, however, she sought herself, that of ambulance physician, and when she was given the position, she achieved a second “first”: the first female ambulance surgeon. Overcoming the skepticism of her male colleagues who felt that a woman would not be able to withstand the physical challenges of the role, she went on to earn not only their respect, but also the respect of city firefighters, police officers, and the patients she treated in Manhattan’s Lower East Side tenements.
She fell in love with fellow doctor Ben Barringer during her residency, and they married in 1904 when her residency ended. She immediately experienced frustration because her opportunities for work and further training were so much more constrained than her new husband’s. The pair lived for a short time in Vienna where both attended class, and then returned to New York City. Barringer took a position on the gynecological staff at New York Polyclinic Hospital and worked as an attending surgeon at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, where she specialized in the study of venereal diseases.
During World War I Barringer served as vice chair of the American Women’s Hospitals War Service Committee of the National Medical Women’s Association (later the American Medical Women’s Association). In that role, she spearheaded a campaign to raise money for the purchase of ambulances to be sent to Europe. When the war ended, she became an attending surgeon at Brooklyn’s Kingston Avenue Hospital and subsequently its director of gynecology. She was a member of the American Medical Association and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and The New York Academy of Medicine. In 1941 Barringer was elected president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA).
Over the course of her long medical career, Barringer advocated for legislation that would control the spread of venereal disease and authored numerous articles on gynecology. As Chair of the Special Committee of the American Medical Women’s Association, Barringer was decorated by the King of Serbia for championing the service of female physicians during World War I. As co-chair of the War Service Committee, she helped to organize the American Women’s Hospital in Europe, which provided medical and surgical care during the war and postwar reconstruction. During World War II, Barringer successfully lobbied Congress to allow women physicians (who had been allowed to work only as contract physicians and were consequently denied the benefits earned by their male counterparts) to serve as commissioned officers in the medical corps of the Army and Navy.
After World War II, Emily Barringer and her husband retired to Connecticut. She died there in 1961.