Discover Grey Literature: Hidden Health and Science Resources

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

This fall, the Academy will host the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature to reveal one of the most valuable hidden resources for students, health professionals, and researchers. This post was originally posted on The New York Academy of Medicine‘s blog, Urban Health Matters.

Where can anyone get access to more than 20,000 expert health and science resources for free? The Grey Literature Report—GreyLit for short. A treasured resource among librarians since 1999, the GreyLit Report also offers students, health sciences researchers and professionals a one-stop-shop for incredibly difficult to find information. Once a quarterly publication, the GreyLit Report became so popular by 2006 that the Academy doubled the number of issues published each year.

greylitscreenshotWhy Grey?

The very title of the report is a clue to why it’s such a valuable tool. The carefully curated resources it provides often exist in a “grey” area between widely distributed peer-reviewed journals and the proprietary research that does not make it into the public sphere.

Grey literature is notoriously hard to find, often buried on the websites of any number of organizations or in the stacks of medical and science libraries. By publishing a categorized, bi-monthly compendium of the top resources in the field, the GreyLit Report does the detective work for thousands of overwhelmed students, scientists and academics that often leads them to the critical information they need to complete their work.

One popular document included in the report, for example, was A closer look at the implementation of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages: a civil society perspective, published by the government of Barbados. Normally, this study would not land on the desks of American researchers, even those studying nutrition policy. It was nearly impossible to find on Google, prior to its mention in the August 2016 GreyLit newsletter, yet it offers a valuable analysis of the policy implications of attempting to regulate the consumption of unhealthy foods.

I discovered GreyLit long before I came to the Academy to become the editor of the report. In my previous life at AARP, as editor of the AgeLine Database, the premier literature database on aging research, the GreyLit Report became one of my most valuable sources of publications on aging.

I could just glance at the report and find new resources. It also became a way for AARP’s research to be disseminated to a broader audience, as it sometimes included research from other divisions.

Now, 17 years after it was created, the Academy’s GreyLit Report is still the only publication of its type in the United States. This year, as members of GreyNet International, an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of grey literature, the Academy will be hosting the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature on Nov 28th and 29th, 2016. This year’s topic is Leveraging Diversity because grey literature can play a pivotal role in the search for solutions to urban health challenges here in New York and around the world.

That’s also why we have named the week of Nov 28 as the 1st International Grey Literature Week. We will be holding workshops and events along with the conference in celebration of grey literature. If you are interested in finding the best, hidden resources in your field, join us this November and discover GreyLit!

Ninety Years and Counting

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian


Postcard showing entrance to The New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.

On Saturday, October 15th tours of The New York Academy of Medicine’s building will again be part of Open House New York, the city’s annual celebration of architecture and design.  This year’s event is a notable one for us because our building is ninety years old. On October 30, 1925, after sixteen years of fund-raising, searching for just the right location, and reviewing and approving plans drawn up by the architectural firm York & Sawyer, the trustees of the Academy laid the cornerstone for our present home. Slightly over a year later, on November 18, 1926, after an afternoon dedication ceremony, the building opened to the public.  The election of Honorary Fellows and the delivery of the Wesley M. Carpenter Lecture, by Professor Michael I. Pupin of Columbia University, took place that evening.

The building received quite a bit of attention in the press when it opened. The December 1, 1926, issue of the Medical Journal and Record devoted more than twenty pages to descriptions of the opening ceremonies, including the texts of several of the speeches from the November 17th dinner at the Waldorf Astoria that preceded the formal dedication, Arthur Duel’s account of the history of the Academy’s several homes, and Mabel Webster Brown’s detailed exploration of many of its architectural features.1


Postcard with exterior view from 103rd Street of The New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.


Postcard with view of Woerishoffer Hall, the Academy’s third floor reading room, constructed in 1925.

The building is a showcase of the Byzantine and Romanesque revival style popularized by York & Sawyer in collaboration with the interior design firm Barnet Phillips, whose other New York projects with the architects include the Central Savings Bank, the Bowery Savings Bank and the New York Athletic Club, all of which display similar design features.2 The Academy’s new home contained nine floors of library stacks; the main library reading room, Woerishoffer Hall, with its large arched windows looking out to the north and west; the auditorium, Hosack Hall; reception rooms; office spaces; and meeting rooms for the Academy and several other organizations. A carved lunette featuring Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and his daughter, Hygeia, the goddess of health, fills the archway above the front entrance, flanked by portraits of Hippocrates and Galen. Carved Latin inscriptions, selected by a committee of Academy fellows, fill niches above the front door and some of the windows. Elaborately painted beamed ceilings, depicting animals and plants important to the history of medicine, grace the main lobby area and the third floor reading rooms. The bronze animals and plants inlaid in the marble floor of the entrance lobby, along with the carved figures in the auditorium, add whimsical touches that still attract the attention of visitors today.

Above, a squirrel and a mandrake adorn the floors of our lobby.

In 1928, Architectural Forum, one of the most prominent national architecture magazines, featured the building in its April Architectural Design issue, providing floor plans as well as multiple photographs of the interior and exterior spaces. Matlack Price, in his preliminary comments, complimented the architects on their ability to make the design seem “so new, so fresh, so vital as to seem almost the same stuff as the modernistic trend of today, the difference being that this new revival of Byzantine and Romanesque is far better than most of the modernistic work is, or is likely to be. This structure is among the most interesting of recent buildings.”3

 Although the Academy expected its new building to provide sufficient space for at least twenty years of library growth, by 1930 the trustees were already exploring plans for an expansion. At the end of 1932 the addition that contains the rare book room suite and other office and study spaces rose above the auditorium on the northeast side.

While looking through the archives in preparation for this year’s tours, sets of postcards illustrating a number of the architectural features of the building came to light. We know that these cards could not have been made until after the spring of 1933, when the addition was completed because one of the cards shows the interior of the rare book room (below). The postcards, which are part of this post, show many of the elements of the building that are still visible today.


Interior of our rare book room, now called the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.  n.d., but after 1933.


1Duel, A. B., “The Building of the Academy,” Medical Journal and Record Dec. 1, 1926, pp. 718-721 and Brown, M.W., “Art and Architecture of the Academy of Medicine’s New Home, Medical Journal and Record Dec. 1, 1926, pp. 729-734.

2  Accessed on October 4, 2016.

 3Price, M., “The New York Academy of Medicine,” Architectural Forum, Part I: Architectural Design, v.XLVIII, no.4, April 1928, pp. 485-503.

Cool Products for Curious Minds

Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

Here at the Library our highest priority and our favorite thing to do are one and the same: share the collection. We’re constantly thinking up new ways to do this and we’re thrilled to announce the latest: we’ve launched an online shop with over 3,000 products featuring images from our collections. If you’ve ever been entranced by a gorgeous picture featured on the blog, something we’ve posted on our Instagram feed, or an item seen during an in-person visit to the library, our store is for you! Or if you need a truly unique treat for someone in your life who’s just impossible to find the perfect gift for; we’ve got you covered.

The items you’ll find in our shop range from accessories to home goods to fine art. The products mirror the diversity of our collections from medicine, food, and cookery, to New York City history, botany, and much more. And, best of all, the proceeds from shop sales support preservation of the collections, outreach and programming.

This group of musicians come from an 18th century work by Jacques Gamelin –possibly my favorite memento mori in the collection.


Spiral notebook, featuring the musicians of Jacques Gamelin’s Noveau recueil d’ostéologie, 1779.

As you browse the items, you’ll find bibliographic and historical information about the featured image in the product description. And if you’re not interested in a notebook per se, there’ll be a link to see the image on other products.


In the Academy’s online shop, you can find other product options using a particular image from the collections.  Here, headphones, a lamp and a t-shirt, to name just a few.

The subjects of our images were frequently the inspiration for the products on which they feature. Even the most familiar picture gets some new life breathed into it as they take on new forms.

Below, we draw from a confectioner’s 1907 cookery manual, a tempting selection of pretzels and breads from Prague, and a detail of condiment bottles from Lyman Phillips’ helpful book for the solo gentleman A Bachelor’s Cupboard, and the best Benjamin Franklin look-a-like I’ve ever seen on a 1911 pamphlet from our Margaret Barclay Wilson cookery collection.


Paper plates from the Academy shop, with image, “Types of Dessert Fancies” from John Kirkland’s The modern baker, confectioner, and caterer…, 1907.


Apron from the Academy shop, using an image from Emil Braun’s 1903 Baker’s Book.

We’re also loving kitchen accessories from our Botanicals collection:


Clove serving tray from the Academy shop, featuring an image from Robert Bentley’s Medicinal Plants, 1880. 

In case you’re starting to think about holiday cards or stocking stuffers for later this season, consider any of these:

Enjoy seeing our collection from these new angles. Don’t forget that we are open to readers by appointment four days a week, and for those just wanting to visit, we have lunchtime tours on the first Monday of the month .

We will be constantly adding new products to the store, if you’d like to see your favorite image on a product, feel free to get in touch and we will see what we can do!

Explore the Academy Library Timeline

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital 

The New York Academy of Medicine Library began in 1847 with the intention of serving the Academy fellows, but in 1878, after the collection had expanded to include over 6,000 volumes, Academy President Samuel Purple and the Council voted to open the Library to the public.  It continues to serve both the Academy fellows and the general public, providing an unprecedented level of access to a private medical collection.  Today, the Academy Library is one of the most significant historical libraries in the history of medicine and public health in the world.

The Academy Library’s history spans almost 170 years and a glimpse into this history is documented in this interactive timeline. While the timeline does not represent everything that has occurred in the Library, notable milestones can be seen here. The story starts with the founding of the Library on January 13,1847, with a gift from Isaac Wood of Martyn Payne’s Medical and Physiological Commentaries and continues forward to the recent renovation and naming of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.



Figure 1:  The New York Academy of Medicine Library Timeline (Created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab Timeline JS).


Timeline Highlights


New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.




Academy’s First Permanent Home: In 1875, the Academy purchased and moved into its first permanent home at 12 west 31st Street. This image of the Academy’s first building will take you back to a different time.





New York Academy of Medicine, Archives.





Academy’s Current Home: In 1926, the Academy moved to its current location on 103rd Street and 5th Avenue. The architectural firm York & Sawyer designed the building.  A 1932 expansion added three new floors on the northeast side of the original structure above the existing floors.  Today, you can visit the Academy at this location and explore the historic building.






Apicius’ de re culinaria, 830 A.D. 



Cookery Collection: In 1929, Margaret Barclay Wilson gave the Academy her collection of books on food and cookery, which includes a 9th-century manuscript (De re culinaria) attributed to Apicius, and sometimes referred to as the oldest cookbook in the West.




George Washington’s lower denture, 1789.



George Washington’s Teeth:  Yes, that’s right!  In the spring of 1937, the descendants of John Greenwood gave the Academy the lower denture created by New York dentist John Greenwood for Washington in 1789. The denture is just one of the artifacts that the Library owns.





Librarians Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, both in The Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine., vol. 50, no. 10, 1974.



Honored Librarians: In 1974, the Academy honored Gertrude L. Annan and Janet Doe, long-time librarians for their contributions to the Library.





There are many more highlights in the timeline so click through and enjoy.

The Tech

The Academy Library timeline was created using Northwestern University’s Knight Lab open-source timeline tool called TimelineJS. The tool was released under the Mozilla Public License (MPL), making it possible for anyone to create timelines to embed and share publicly.

TimelineJS is an easy tool to create a timeline with just a few steps. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating a timeline:

Content: Have content ready prior to creating

It’s important to have content ready prior to creating the timeline.  For the Academy Library timeline, there was already a text version of the timeline that could be used to create the interactive timeline. Together Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian and I edited, updated and added images to the timeline. Starting with some content allowed us to devote time to enhancing the timeline by finding and adding associated images.

Media:  Make media publicly available

It is important that the media resources used in the timeline are publicly available.  TimelineJS uses URLs to access and display the media files (images, videos, maps, Wikipedia entries, Twitter, etc.). Thus, items behind firewalls or logins will not be accessible to the public. Make sure to upload images to a publicly available server and use that URL for the timeline.

Google Sheets: Add all content and links into spreadsheet and publish

Google Sheets is the data source for the timeline and this means that all data for the timeline is managed in Google Sheets. Once the Google Sheets file is published, the URL is used by TimelineJS to create the timeline, link to the timeline and embed code for websites.

If you’re familiar with Google Sheets or have used any spreadsheet program, then you know the process of adding content to the spreadsheet. If you haven’t used any spreadsheet program before, think of Google Sheets as a table with multiple columns and rows where you’ll input data for the timeline.


Figure 2:  TimelineJS Google Sheets Template

To get started, the TimelineJS template and directions provide a good guide to the parameters of the timeline with each row representing a screen and each column a component of that screen. For example, the date structures are very flexible and the timeline can include a full date and time or just a year. Also, in the background column, adding a hex number for color can change the background color or including a link to image will show a background image.


Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee: Civil Rights Pioneer

Today’s guest post is written by the Honorable Diane Kiesel, an acting justice of the New York State Supreme Court. She is the author of She Can Bring us Home (2015), a biography of Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee. On Wednesday, September 21st at 6pm, Kiesel will give a lecture, “Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee:  Civil Rights Pioneer.” There is no charge, but please register in advance here.   

Today, when social security and Medicare address the needs of the elderly, health care programs are in place to take care of the sick and a myriad of government agencies exist to help the poor, it is hard to imagine a time when the hungry, the elderly, the sick and the poverty stricken – particularly if they were people of color – were largely forgotten.

Diane Kiesel's She Can Bring Us Home, a biography of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee.

Diane Kiesel’s She Can Bring Us Home, a biography of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee.

Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee (1898-1980), was a well-known African American physician in her day who focused on the health needs of the destitute early in the 20th century, providing a private safety net where none was yet put in place by the government. For seven summers during the Great Depression, Dr. Ferebee, who came from privilege and whose Washington, D.C. medical practice catered to the upper class of her race, led what came to be known as the Mississippi Health Project.  She and a team of all-volunteer doctors, nurses, schoolteachers and social workers traveled to the Mississippi Delta to bring health care to tenant farmers and sharecroppers. The women who made up the health project were graduates of some of the nation’s finest historic black colleges and members of the elite Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. They left their comfortable homes to drive thousands of miles of unpaved roads through the Deep South to swelter in the cotton fields for their cause.


Photo of Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, ca. 1958. Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington D.C.

It was a daunting task. Their sharecropper patients earned about $50 a year; they worked the most fertile ground on earth but their diets contained almost no fruits or vegetables because the landowners refused to let them use valuable cotton acreage for gardens. They suffered from diseases that had not, and should not, have been seen in the United States since the 19th century – even though it was 1935. Pellagra and rickets were common, as were outbreaks of smallpox. Tuberculosis deaths were rampant. Thirty percent of the black men in the region suffered from untreated syphilis. Dr. Ferebee’s health team not only had to face disease, but ignorance. Some mothers had no idea how old their own children were. They thought if they put tea bags on their children’s eyes, they would cure their colds and feared cutting their hair lest their children be unable to speak.  Some of them had never seen a physician and others had never used a toothbrush.

In the Jim Crow South, Dr. Ferebee’s motives were suspect – some plantation owners feared she was a Communist union organizer or civil rights agitator. But she persevered, and before World War II gasoline and rubber rationing helped put an end to the project, she and her team provided inoculations, medical and dental care as well as nutrition and hygiene lessons to 15,000 of the poorest of the poor. To this day the United States Public Health Service calls it the best volunteer health effort in history.

Ferebee Scrapbook, Box 183-30.

Dorothy and her medical team stuck in the mud in Mississippi. Photo Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington D.C.  From the Ferebee Scrapbook, Box 183-30.

The Mississippi Health Project propelled Dorothy Ferebee into the national spotlight. She became president of Alpha Kappa Alpha and followed the iconic Mary McLeod Bethune as the leader of the National Council of Negro Women. In that role she met with presidents and testified before Congress on major civil rights issues. She became a consultant to the State Department where she traveled to Third World countries to bring best health care practices to emerging nations.

Fifty years after the Mississippi Health Project ended one of the participants described it as the inspiration for the next generation of civil rights activists who participated in Freedom Summer and the voting rights struggles of the early 1960s.

Join us to learn more about Dr. Ferebee, this Wednesday night, at The New York Academy of Medicine (103rd St. and Fifth Avenue) for a lecture and book signing (books will be available for purchase on site). Register here; we look forward to seeing you!

Pirates, Poison, and Professors: A Look at the Skull and Crossbones Symbol

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

Ahoy mateys, greetings on September 19th–National Talk Like A Pirrrrrate Day!


Detail of student lecture ticket, for the lectures of Dr. William Darling, University of New York.  1878-1879.

Popularized in particular by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island, pirates became a part of popular culture and parody pop culture beginning in the late 19th-century.  For me, more than eye patches, peg legs, parrots and treasure maps, the ultimate emblem of pirates is the skull and crossbones symbol.

I see this symbol every so often at work here in the library–which, incidentally, seldom gets attacked by pirates. As a fairly universally fearsome warning symbol, the skull and crossbones meant poison in many pharmacy books.

Take this example on a pamphlet issued by the New York City Health Department in the early 20th century on the danger of wood alcohol poisoning:


Title page of The Serious Menace of Wood Alcohol. Warning! published by the New York City Health Department ca. 1920.

The symbol has roots in Europe in the early Christian tradition. Biblical legend holds that the bones of Adam rested at the base of Christ on the cross and so the pairing of skull and bone or skull and crossed bones was associated with funerary customs.1 Skull and crossbones decorate many catacombs and cemeteries from the Middle Ages. And you can often spot the skull and a bone or crossed bones at the bottom of Crucifixion scenes in Renaissance paintings:


Tempera painting by Fran Angelico, c. 1420-23 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collections.


Two companion oil paintings by Netherlandish Rogier van der Weyden from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collections, depict The Crucifixion and St. John c. 1460.

The symbol took to the seas as a form of shorthand for captains, who noted the sailors who died with a little skull and crossbones next to their name in the ship’s log.  In this way, seafaring folks came to associate the symbol with death–perhaps what inspired pirates to use it to terrify ships in the 18th century. Around the same time, the Catholic Church prohibited use of the symbol, now tarnished by its piratical associations.2 Not all pirates used the skull and crossbones; other flags featured hourglasses, skeletons, spears, crossed swords, and bleeding hearts. The 1720 trial of pirate Calico Jack Rackham made the symbol and its link to piracy–and by extension death–famous (funnily, his actual flag was in fact a skull and crossed swords).3

The skull and crossbones came to be associated with poisonous substances in the mid-19th century. In 1829, New York State passed a law requiring all containers with poisonous substances to be labeled. The skull and crossbones start appearing on these labels around the 1850s. The symbol was not always considered enough: bottles themselves were sometimes designed in the shape of coffins, in bright, noticeable colors, and even with raised bumps that could be felt by hand if details couldn’t be seen to alert the user.4

In the 1970s, health officials in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, realized that children there ingested poison far more than the national average. They surmised it was because the skull and crossbones image wasn’t a scary deterrent to them (they knew it simply as the logo for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team).This led to the introduction of Mr. Yuk as a poison warning icon, though he was voted out in 2001 by the American Association of Poison Control in favor of the skull and crossbones. The skull and crossbones also had the advantage of being in the public domain, while Mr. Yuk is trademarked.


The American Association of Poison Control’s current logo, featuring a skull and crossbones on a prescription bottle. The emoticon-like Mr. Yuk symbol, originally created by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Back here in the library, the skull and crossbones adorns the cover of A Treatise on adulterations of food and culinary posions. The book was published in 1820 when food adulteration was a very serious problem in London (hence the ominous warning on the cover, “There is Death in the Pot.”) Furthermore, the government would not pass regulations for nearly four more decades. For good measure, the book cover also includes two venomous creatures to warn you off suspect food substances: a spider and snakes.


Friedrich Christian Accum’s Treatise on adulterations of food and culinary poisons, published in 1820.

Our Abellof stamp collection has a group of stamps and envelopes related to anti-smoking campaigns in the 1980s.  Several of them feature artwork with a modified skull and crossbones design, converting crossbones into dangling cigarettes:


On the left, a design by the U.N. WHO Anti-Smoking Campaign for Ethiopia, 1980. On the right, a postmark of a WHO Anti-Smoking campaign first day cover from 1986. Both from the Abeloff Stamp Collection.

Here’s an ad from a 1900 issue of American Druggist for cube morphine. There is something of a mixed message here with the finger pointing your way to pain relief as well as “poison, deadly, beware!”


Ad published in American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, volume 36, number 6, March 25, 1900.

Below, the symbol is featured on a medical student lecture ticket. In the days before online registration and student ID swipe cards, students were issued a matriculation card upon paying their matriculation fees.6 Presenting that to various professors, they could then purchase a ticket or card to the professor’s class.


A student of the Scottish-born Dr. William Darling, George Noble Kreider was originally from Ohio, and set up practice in Illinois where he presided over the establishment of the Illinois State Medical Journal as president of the State Medical Society.

Kill you or cure you, the skull and crossbones has a checkered past and sometimes sends us mixed messages. If you do get poisoned during a pirate attack today, hurry on over to our library: we have a bezoar to cure you!


Bezoar, ca. 1862, from our collections.  More details to come!

What is a bezoar, and how might it counter poison? Stay tuned for your answers in a future post.


  1. “Evolution of the Poison Label: From Skull and Crossbones to Mr. Yuk.” Meg Farmer, School of Visual Art. Accessed July 13, 2016.
  2. “Evolution of the Poison Label: From Skull and Crossbones to Mr. Yuk.” Meg Farmer, School of Visual Art. Accessed July 13, 2016.
  3.  “Calico Jack.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 1, 2016.
  4.  Griffenhagen and Bogard. History of Drug Containers and Their Labels. The American Institute of the History of Pharmacology. 1999. P 93.
  5. McCarrick and Ziaukas. Still Scary After All These Years: Mr. Yuk Nears 40. Western Pennsylvania History. Fall 2009. P 20.
  6. “Tickets to the Healing Arts.” Penn University Archives and Records Center. Accessed August, 19, 2016. 

D. A. Henderson and the WHO Smallpox Eradication Campaign of 1966–1979

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

The recent death of physician and epidemiologist Donald Ainslie (D. A.) Henderson (1928–2016) brings to mind the heady days of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. With the advent of vaccination, insecticides (for cutting down disease vectors), sanitation, and the full research armamentarium of microbiology, eliminating dread diseases once and for all, worldwide, seemed possible.  D. A. Henderson did that for smallpox. And in the collections of the Academy library, we have a small memento of that eradication campaign. The two-pronged (“bifurcated”) needle became the quick and easy vaccination device used to protect susceptible populations from that disease.


Bifurcated needle. Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control.

Here is Henderson’s recounting of the needle’s development, in about 1972:


D. A. Henderson (2nd from left) in Ethiopia administering a smallpox vaccine in 1972. Photo courtesy WHO, from “Donald D.A. Henderson, Epidemiologist who led WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Efforts, dies at age 87,” PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), accessed September 8, 2016.

I visited Wyeth laboratories …and they showed me this wonderful device which they developed. A little needle about ‐ well, about so long. There are two little prongs on the end. They called it a bifurcated or sort of two fork needle. The idea was you put the needle into the vaccine and you just withdrew it. Between those two prong[s], the little bit of vaccine would be held and then they thought you press it through the skin. In this way the amount of vaccine you could get from a vial was 100 doses rather than 25 doses. . . .We took it to the field into Kenya and Egypt and did several 100 children and we did it very vigorously. . .  Every single one of them was successful. So this was incredible. All of a sudden we were going to have four times as much vaccine than we thought we had or we are getting, with these wonderful needles.1

In the course of the smallpox eradication campaign, public health workers used needles such as this to vaccinate millions of people—the goal was 80% of the population. In 1979, the World Health Organization declared that natural endemic smallpox had been eliminated from the globe.2

This was a great feat. Smallpox has been infecting humans since before recorded history. It was so virulent, especially among the inhabitants of the new world, that providing smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans during the French and Indian War of the mid-1700s became one of the first examples of biological warfare.3 Famously, in the late 18th century, Edward Jenner found that cowpox could be used to vaccinate against smallpox, and in the western world, cases subsided thereafter.

In the developing world, smallpox was still endemic and often fatal. Prior to its eradication, smallpox killed nearly 300 million people world-wide in the 20th century alone.4 And those who survived carried disfiguring scars.

The decision to mount a world effort to eliminate smallpox was not taken lightly. In 1966 the World Health Organization took up a funding proposal for a smallpox eradication campaign. Four other efforts had already failed: hookworm, yellow fever, yaws, and malaria.5 Public health officials were beginning to think that eradication campaigns were too expensive, too time-consuming, too technically-challenging, and too “top-heavy”– the externally mandated efforts pushing aside the building up of public health infrastructure in developing countries. Nonetheless, WHO narrowly passed the ten-year, $24M plan. Henderson had had a role in drafting it: some years before, in charge of the surveillance section at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, he had played a role in adding a smallpox vaccination program to a fledgling measles vaccination program for West Africa, funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Thus he already had practical experience in mass smallpox vaccination, and after the WHO passed their plan, he was named to head the effort.

According to Michael Oldstone:

Henderson used two principal strategies. First, international vaccine testing centers were developed to ensure that all vaccines met the standards of safety and effectiveness. This guaranteed that only active vaccines would be used. Second, reducing the number of smallpox cases to zero became the established goal rather than documenting the number of vaccine doses given. With this goal, effective surveillance teams were set up to both report and contain outbreaks of smallpox.6

Success was beyond expectation. As Henderson recalls:

About 4–5 years into the programme, we had begun thinking that eradication within another 3–4 years might be feasible. The West African programme had proceeded so well and so rapidly that it stunned everyone. Most of East Africa also became smallpox free only a few years later. From 1967 to 1973, the number of smallpox endemic countries dropped dramatically—from 31 to only five—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia. South Asia was a formidable problem. . . .7


World Health: The Magazine of the World Health Organization (May 1980), cover.

The WHO effort finally eradicated smallpox in these few remaining countries. “In 1975 [smallpox was eliminated] from the entire Asian continent, in 1976 from Ethiopia, and in 1977 the last case was reported in Somalia [having spread from Ethiopia].”8 For two more years, surveillance continued, with rewards offered for reports of active cases. None was found. WHO set up a Global Commission to review the reports, and on December 9, 1979, certified worldwide eradication. Smallpox was gone.9

Henderson attributed his success to three factors: “surveillance-containment, . . . a heat-stable vaccine of assured potency, and a better technique for vaccination.”10 Oldstone had noted the first two, but clearly Henderson felt the third was just as important, the bifurcated needle!11

Our needle came into the collection quite recently. In 2010 Dr. Henderson gave a lecture at the Academy, for the Malloch Circle of the Friends of the Rare Book Room.12 At the conclusion of his talk, Dr. Henderson asked if anyone would like a smallpox vaccination needle to keep.13 Historical Collections Librarian Arlene Shaner claimed one for our collections. It remains a symbol of that eradication campaign—a testimony to the possibility of global effort achieving enduring relief from suffering and death from smallpox.

The Academy’s smallpox inoculator. The needle is 2 inches (5 cm) long.

The Academy’s smallpox inoculator. The needle is 2 inches (5 cm) long.


1. Paul O’Grady (Interviewer), “DA Henderson Oral History,” The Global Health Chronicles, accessed August 29, 2016, pp. 10–11.
2. D. A. Henderson, “A victory for all mankind,” World Health: The Magazine of the World Health Organization (May 1980), pp. 2–4.
3. Michael B. A. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History, revised and updated ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 53.
4. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History, p. 53.
5. Henderson DA, Klepac P., 2013, “Lessons from the eradication of smallpox: an interview with D. A. Henderson.” Phil Trans R Soc B 368: 20130113, accessed August 29, 2016.
6. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History, p. 83.
7. Henderson and Klepac, “Lessons.”
8. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History, p. 84.
9. Henderson, “A victory for all mankind,” pp. 2–4.
Not entirely gone: stocks of smallpox virus remain for study. In December 2002, the U.S. Government began smallpox vaccination for select military personnel to protect against biological attack. John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD; William Winkenwerder, Jr, MD, MBA, “US Military Smallpox Vaccination Program Experience,” JAMA. 2003;289(24):32783282. doi:10.1001/jama.289.24.3278.

10. Henderson and Klepac, “Lessons.”
11. Though eradication has a strong public appeal, the smallpox project was more the exception than the rule. Henderson remained quite skeptical of other proposed eradication efforts, notably those for polio. He went into some of his reasons in Henderson and Klepac, “Lessons.”
12. The New York Academy of Medicine, 2010 Annual Report (New York: The Academy, [2011?]), p. 13.
13. It seems a curious practice. The only thing similar of which I am aware is the military habit of “coining”: where superior officers mint commemorative coins that they dispense to colleagues and those lower in the ranks as a sign of approval for work done. As head of the quasi-military Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop followed a similar practice. John S. Halamka, “The Tradition of Coining,” Life as a Healthcare CIO, April 17, 2008, accessed August 29, 2016.

Vesalius and the Beheaded Man

Professor Anita Guerrini, Horning Professor in the Humanities at Oregon State University, wrote today’s guest post.  It was first published on the author’s site, Next Tuesday, September 13th, 6:30pm, Dr. Guerrini will give a talk at the Academy Library, “Animals and Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris.”   Registration is required in advance ($35 for Friends of the Rare Book Room; $50 for the general public, with wine and refreshments).  You’ll find registration and more about the event here.

On the 12th of May, 1543, Jakob Karrer von Getweiler was executed in Basel, Switzerland. Reports say he was beheaded, although hanging was a more usual mode of execution. Karrer was a bigamist who attacked his legal wife with a knife after she discovered his second wife. According to a contemporary account, Karrer was a habitual criminal, and he left his wife grievously injured. Although she did not die, he was sentenced to death.

The renowned Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius had been in Basel for several months to supervise the publication of his magnum opus, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Seven books on the structure of the human body), published there later that year.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Vesalius was granted Karrer’s body to dissect. Only executed criminals could be publicly dissected, with the blessing of the Basel Senate. We do not know if the Senate offered Vesalius the beheaded body or if he requested it. But Vesalius dissected Karrer, in front of an audience.


A historiated initial showing a decapitated head being passed down from a scaffold, published in de humani corporis fabrica (1543).

Vesalius then took Karrer’s dissected remains with the intention of making an articulated skeleton. In chapter 39 of Book 1 of De Humani Corporis Fabrica, the anatomist had detailed for the first time the lengthy and gruesome process of constructing a skeleton. He included this illustration of someone handing down a decapitated head from a scaffold.

Some of the techniques had existed for quite a while; the 14th century physician Guy de Chauliac noted “Nous faisons aussi l’Anatomie [d]es corps desseichez au Soleil, ou consommez en terre, ou fondus en eau courante ou bouillante”1 (we make an anatomy of bodies dried in the sun, or consumed by the earth, or dissolved in running or boiling water – “an anatomy” here indicates a skeleton). Macerating in water and then drying in the sun were long-known methods of preparing bones for transport.

In his chapter, Vesalius first described the conventional method of preparing a skeleton, and illustrated it in one of the initial letters in his book. As much flesh as possible was cut off of the body – without severing the joints or the ligaments – before it was put in a long perforated box, covered with quicklime, and sprinkled with water. After a week the box was placed in a stream of running water and the flesh would presumably fall off of the bones and be washed away over a period of several more days. Then the body was removed from the box, further cleaned with a knife, and posed in the sun to dry in a particular position, held together by its ligaments.

Vesalius described this method only to denigrate it as time consuming, dirty, and difficult; moreover, the blackened ligaments would cover the joints and other parts of interest. He proceeded to describe in excruciating detail the proper way to separate human bones from flesh. “Get any kind of cadaver somewhere,” he began. The corpse was dissected and then boiled “in a large and capacious cauldron … of the kind women use for the preparation of lye over the fire.” He saved the cartilaginous parts such as the ears and stuck them to a piece of paper, and placed the organs and blood (squeezed out of a sponge) in another vessel.

The bones were boiled, carefully covered by water at all times, for several hours, with regular skimming off of froth and fat. The bones of children, he said, take less time than adults. “The object of the cooking is to clean the bones as thoroughly as is done with the knife while eating.”


Historiated initial in Andreas Vesalius’ second edition of de humani corporis fabrica, 1555.

Therefore one should pull out individual bones from the “broth” with tongs from time to time and clean them further with the hands or a knife, but this job should not be entrusted to a mere amateur. The knives he used were similar, if not identical, to the knives wielded by such master meat-carvers as Vincenzo Cervio later in the sixteenth century, and the language of cooking is explicit. One then placed the cleaned bones in more boiling water, and finally removed them, carefully drying them with a rough cloth to remove remaining bits.




Bone drill, published in Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica, 1555.

The bones should not be allowed to dry too much. If they are not too hardened, a shoemaker’s awl may be used to punch holes for the copper wire used to string the bones together, although in his 1555 second edition Vesalius also described a bone drill he had constructed.

He recommended starting with the feet and working upward, the reverse of the common head-to-toe order of dissection. An iron rod, made to order, supported the vertebrae; the arms were then assembled and wired to the trunk.

With characteristic macabre whimsy Vesalius recommended posing the skeleton with a scythe, or a pike, or a javelin, and suggested stringing the ear bones and ears onto a nerve to make a necklace (when I read this I could only think of Tim O’Brien’s surreal story “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong,” in The Things They Carried (1990), and its heroine Mary Anne who wears, at the end, a necklace made up of severed Viet Cong ears).

The skeleton of Jacob Karrer, unlike most others from this era, still survives, and is on display at the anatomy museum in Basel, where I saw it a few months ago.


Skeleton of Jakob Karrer, Anatomisches Institut der Uni Basel. Photo Credit: Anita Guerrini.

We hope to see you at Dr. Guerrini’s talk next Tuesday, September 13th.


  1. La grande chirurgie de Guy de Chauliac. Paris: Alcan, 1890.



Ambroise Paré on gunshot wounds (Item of the Month)

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

The August item of the month is Ambroise Paré’s (1510 –1590) Les Oeuvres, or Works. Published in 1575 in 26 sections or books, the folio volume has 295 illustrations and includes Paré’s writings on anatomy, surgery, obstetrics, instrumentation, and monsters. This post focuses on Paré’s military surgery and is the first in a series of occasional posts looking at the relationship between medicine and war.


Frontispiece of the first (1575) edition of Les Oeuvres, dedicated to King Henri III. Click to enlarge.

Dedicated to Henri III, Paré presents Les Oeuvres as an accumulation of his life’s studies and experience, and it incorporates many of his earlier publications. The French barber surgeon spent much of his life at war, serving in over 40 campaigns, and published numerous highly influential books, many of them directly based on his practice of military surgery.i Paré’s career was a prestigious one, progressing from working as an apprentice barber surgeon to great prominence as surgeon to Henry II, and subsequently his successors Francois II, King Charles IX, and Henry III.

Like his contemporary Andreas Vesalius, Paré is now celebrated as an emblematic figure of Renaissance thinking, willing to look beyond the established authorities and instead rely on the evidence of his own experience. In the Oeuvres, for instance, he mocks the use of “mummy” or “mummia,” a popular remedy ostensibly created from Egyptian mummies and used extensively by physicians.ii Such a position was particularly provocative given Paré’s identity as a surgeon, rather than a university trained physician with a formal education and knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Despite Paré’s close connections with many of its members, the Parisian Faculty of Medicine attempted to block the publication of the Oeuvres, arguing that the Faculty needed to approve all publications relating to medicine and surgery. In addition, they objected to Paré’s use of French, as he was among a small but increasing number of practitioners writing in the vernacular rather than the more scholarly Latin, making such works vastly more accessible to students of surgery operating outside the universities and the lay public.iii


Reminiscent of a “wound man,” this illustration demonstrates techniques for extracting broken arrows from the body. Click to enlarge.

Much of Paré’s renown was based on his early work in the military context. Throughout the Oeuvres, he returns to examples of treating soldiers wounded during conflict. Perhaps the most famous vignette describes how, during his first campaign in 1536, Paré found that he had insufficient boiling oil to use in cauterizing gunshot wounds, and instead used a liniment made of egg yolk, rose oil, and turpentine. The following day, he discovered that those soldiers treated with the liniment were in a better condition than those whose wounds had been treated according to the prescribed manner. He subsequently argued for the treatment of gunshot wounds with liniments and bandaging, as well as removing affected tissue from the wound.iv

Gunpowder, whether projected from cannons or shot from firearms, had become a significant factor on European battlefields in the late 14th century. The use of gunpowder dramatically changed the practice of warfare. Increasingly numerous and accurate firearms contributed to the number of soldiers killed and wounded. These weapons produced new types of wounds that penetrated into the body, carrying foreign materials with them and leading to gangrene, while also deafening and blinding those near blasts.v

Descriptions of surgical tools, including a variety of tools for extracting bullets from wounds. On the top left, "crane bill" forceps for fragmented bullets; on right a shorter "duck bill" instrument designed for extracting whole bullets. At bottom, "lizard noses" for drawing out flattened bullets.

A variety of tools for extracting bullets from wounds. On the top left, “crane bill” forceps for fragmented bullets; on right a shorter “duck bill” instrument designed for extracting whole bullets. At bottom, “lizard noses” for drawing out flattened bullets. Click to enlarge.

Surgeons based their treatment of gunshot wounds on the belief that the gunpowder carried into the body by the bullets brought poison with it. This idea came from Giovanni da Vigo (1450–1525), an Italian surgeon whose 1514 Practica in arte chirurgica copiosa and 1517 Pratica in professione chirurgica were highly influential surgical texts. Rapidly translated into multiple European languages, these books include da Vigo’s suggestion to cauterize (burn) the wound with boiling oil in order to counteract the poisonous traces of gunpowder and to seal any severed arteries. This procedure became considered standard practice.viParé, after his experience with liniment rather than oil, experimented further, and recounts seeking advice from other surgeons and testing a folk remedy for onion poultices for burns suggested by an older local woman. Concluding that they were effective against blistering offered Paré another rhetorical opportunity to emphasize his commitment to observation and experimentation.vii

The evidence found in earlier surgical manuals suggests that medieval surgeons had made similar experiments, and that it was the popularity of the more recent ideas promulgated by da Vigo that led to treatments with cauterization and oil.viii While he was not the only surgeon to be working towards more humane and effective treatment of gunshot wounds, Paré became the most well-known and is often celebrated today as the “father” of modern military surgery.ix This reputation rests on not only his work around gunshot wounds but his broad interests, influence, and innovation. A future post will explore other aspects of Paré’s Oeuvres and its long-term impact on military surgery.


i.  A full bibliography of his works was produced by Academy librarian Janet Doe in 1937. See Janet Doe, A Bibliography of the Works of Ambroise Pare; Premier Chirurgien et Conseiller du Roy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937).

ii. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré … Avec les figures & portraicts tant de l’anatomie que des instruments de chirurgie, & de plusieurs monstres. Le tout diuisé en vingt six livres … (Paris : Chez G. Buon, 1575), p399.

iii. Paré defended his publication with a written defense and in the Parisian courts. While the verdict was not recorded, the book went on sale and sold out almost immediately. See Wallace B Hamby, Ambroise Paré, Surgeon of the Renaissance (St. Louis: W.H. Green, 1967), pp153-156.

iv. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré, pp357-359.

v. John Pearn, “Gunpowder, the Prince of Wales’s Feathers and the Origins of Modern Military Surgery,” ANZ Journal of Surgery 82 (2012): 240–244, 241; Kelly R DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” The Canadian Bulletin of Medical History / Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine 7(2) (1990):131-46, p135.

vi. DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” pp141-142.

vii. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré, p359.

viii. DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” p142.

ix. Frank Tallett, War in Context: War and Society in Early Modern Europe : 1495-1715 (London, US: Routledge, 2010), pp108-110.

The Origins of Automated Ice

By Danielle Aloia. Special Projects Librarian

This August, for most of us, ice is a second thought:  easily obtained for cooling drinks and chilling food, and usually only a few steps away.   An 1844 title in our collections offers an intriguing snapshot of a time when this was not always the case.

In 1844, a Londoner with a shop on Regent Street and an inventive mind published The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice.  His name was Thomas Masters.   In this publication, Masters enumerates the practical uses–both culinary and medical– of his own patented ice machine.  In his introduction, Masters describes his obsession with the process of freezing:

The transformations narrated in the “Arabian Nights,” those gorgeous repositories of Eastern legendary lore, are not more marvelous or more speedy than the change of a liquid body to a block of solid ice.1

During the course of The Ice Book, Masters introduces his invention and its applications and takes readers on a whirlwind tour of ice through space and time.  Along the way, he also supplies some delectable frozen recipes–sign us up for the maraschino ice cream, the nectar ice and the punch a la Victoria, stat.

Masters reports that the Greeks and Romans were known to use snow from the surrounding mountains to cool their wine.2 Nero’s cooks flavored snow with “honey, juices, and pulp of fruits,” creating a precursor to the flavored ice of today, and eventually ice cream.3


Depiction of a runner delivering snow from the mountains to Nero. Published in the National Dairy Council’s Ice Cream Through the Years, 1946.

Masters also describes Indian methods of making artificial ice, reporting that during the winter months, ice was created by filling rows of small earthen pans with boiled water, which was then cooled and left overnight.  The thin ice was gathered up, thrown in a pit that was lined with straw and layered with blankets, and pressed into a solid mass.  The pit was closed up with straw, blankets and a thatched roof.

Masters devotes a significant portion of his narrative to the promotion of his portable “patent freezing machine.”  In his introduction he writes:

The preparation of one of the most delectable refections known to this advanced era of modern culinary civilization, has been hitherto left to the experienced confectioner, on whose skill, not always within reach, depended the supply.  By attending to the instructions contained in the following pages, ices may now be procured from the machine within five minutes.4

A review of the book in The Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine offers this glowing endorsement of The Ice Book:

The specification of Mr. Masters’ patent appeared in #53 of our journal…it will be seen that he invented a number of very ingenious apparatus, by means of which, the luxury of cold liquors, &c. may be the most readily supplied; his Ice safes and well are excellent, and his ready mode of freezing, astonishing.  It is really a disgrace to buttermen and other shopkeepers to vend their edibles in the nasty state they frequently do, and the public should demand the use by tradesmen of these safes…5

The benefits of Masters’ machine were not limited to food and drink preparation.  Ice was used in medicine to relieve headaches, fever, hemorrhaging, and, believe it or not, symptoms of rabies.6 Masters includes testimonials from MDs.  One Dr. John Ryan writes that Masters’ machine will “enable [doctors] at all seasons, whether in the crowded fever wards of the hospital, or in private practice, to obtain for the patient a necessary adjunct to medical treatment.”7

An elevation of a double-motion machine with pails (B), a2 (machinery), and P (flapdoor).  Some were made with a drawer underneath, which serves as a wine-cooler.  Plate 1 published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, published in 1844.

An elevation of a double-motion machine with pails (B), a2 (machinery), and P (flapdoor).  Some were made with a drawer underneath, which serves as a wine-cooler.  Plate 1 published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, published in 1844.

A single-motion machine with a freezer that is rotated by turning the crank handle at the top.  Plate 3, published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

A single-motion machine with a freezer that is rotated by turning the crank handle at the top.  Plate 3, published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

The machine had various interchangeable parts and could be setup for private use to make blocks of ice, flavored ice and ice cream, and to cool wine and drinks. In plate 6 below, Figures 1-3 depict the special churns needed to get the fineness and smoothness necessary to keep the flavored ice or ice cream from separating; “a proper beating-up, a process which never can be accomplished by the hand.”8 Figures 4-5, depict separate ice preserving containers for game, fish, butter, etc. Figures 6-8, depict the cold storage for beverages, such as wine and beer.

Plate 6 published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Plate 6 published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Below, we’ve included a few tantalizing recipes from the book.  Masters supplies instructions for making plain and flavored ice creams:

Recipes for plain, pistachio, biscuit, maraschino, "nouveau" and cinnamon ice creams, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for plain, pistachio, biscuit, maraschino, “nouveau” and cinnamon ice creams, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for pine-apple, ginger, and apricot ice cream, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for pine-apple, ginger, and apricot ice cream, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Other recipes instruct on making flavored ices.

Wine ices, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Wine ices, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Raspberry water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Raspberry water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Apple water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Apple water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

masters_clarify sugar_1844_watermark

How to clarify sugar, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book 1844.

We found this errata slip laid in amusing:

Errata slip, Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Errata slip, Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Another peculiar aspect of this work is the Appendix. Masters delights in supplying real-life anecdotes about ice.  Among the highlights are an ice storm in 1672 that destroyed numerous trees; an ice market in 19th-century St. Petersburg containing the bodies of thousands of frozen animals, captured inside ice; and in that same city, the Ice Palace of St. Petersburg built near the banks of the River Neva in 1739, which began to give way under its own weight before the last ice blocks were placed.9  We’ll be returning to this book again for these fascinating stories, and for the recipes within…particularly on hot summer days.


1.   Masters, Thomas. The Ice Book. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1844.

2.  Masters, 6.

3.  National Dairy Council. Ice Cream through the Years.  Chicago: National Dairy Council, 1946.

4.  Masters, x.

5.  “Thomas Masters’ Ice Book:  The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice.”  Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine, June 5, 1847, accessed online.

6.  Masters, pp. 180-187.

7.  Masters, pp. 185-187.

8.  Masters, pp. 194-196.

9. Masters, pp. 134-146.