Coming Soon at the Center: Gessner, Coloring, Lobotomy, Digital Humanities

The coming weeks are busy ones for the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. We hope you’ll join us for these upcoming events.

Ann Blair

Ann Blair

This Saturday, January 30, at 11 am, Harvard historian Ann Blair will give a free Bibliography Week lecture, Credit, thanks, and blame in the works of Conrad Gessner (1516-1565).” Blair will show how the Zürich physician and natural historian used the print medium to promote his forth-coming publications. Gessner also sought contributions of manuscripts, images, and help from scholars all over Europe. Register online.

February 1-5 is #ColorOurCollections Week, a special collections coloring fest we’ve organized on social media. More than 30 institutions will share images from their collections, and followers are invited to color the images and share their results. Email us at for more details; we’ll add your institution to our Twitter list if you’d like to participate. Watch the hashtag and join in the fun! And watch this space: We’ll feature coloring content on the blog all next week.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

Miriam Posner

Miriam Posner

On February 9 at 6 pm, Miriam Posner, University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a free lecture Walter Freeman and the Visual Culture of Lobotomy.” Between 1936 and 1967, Freeman, a prominent neurologist, lobotomized as many as 3,500 Americans. Freeman also took patients’ photographs before their operations and years—even decades—later. Posner will detail her efforts to understand why Freeman was so devoted to photography, using computer-assisted image-mining and analysis techniques. This lecture will appeal to a wide-range of interests, including medical photography, data analysis, mid-twentieth century America, and the history of mental health. Register online.

Heidi Knoblauch

Heidi Knoblauch

The following day from 1 pm–5 pm, Posner will be joined by Heidi Knoblauch, Bard College, for a “Digital Humanities: Visualizing Data” workshop. The program will begin with a discussion of what people mean when they say “digital humanities,” followed by a hands-on section on how to find and structure data using Palladio, a tool for visualizing humanities data. The workshop costs $25 and is limited to 30 participants. Register online.

We hope to see you online and at our on-site events!

Dr. David Hosack, Physician to Hamilton and Burr

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

With Hamilton-mania sweeping the nation, we’re not throwing away our shot to discuss the physician present at the infamous 1804 Hamilton-Burr duel, Dr. David Hosack.

Hosack was born in New York City in 1769. Like Alexander Hamilton, he attended Kings College (now Columbia University), then transferred to Princeton. After graduating in 1789, he received his medical education from the University of Pennsylvania.1 He briefly practiced in Alexandria, Virginia and New York, then went to Edinburgh and London to further his medical education. These travels both increased his medical knowledge and nurtured his interest in botany and botanical gardens. In 1801, this life-long interest led to Hosack’s founding of the Elgin Botanical Garden, the first garden of its kind in the United States, located where Rockefeller Center stands today.1,2

By 1794, Hosack had returned to New York City. He formed a medical practice with noted physician Samuel Bard and gained a reputation for the successful treatment of yellow fever.2 As his practice grew, he counted among his patients New York’s elite. Not only did Hosack provide care for Hamilton and his family (including at the deathbeds of both Hamilton and his son, Philip, after their two deadly duels), he also served as physician to Aaron Burr and his daughter and close confidant, Theodosia Burr Alston.3 Our collection includes numerous manuscript materials from Hosack relating to his practice, including copies of a letter to Theodosia and one to her husband, Joseph Alston. These letters give a sense of Hosack’s warmth and dedication to his patients.

Theodosia Burr Alston, 1802. Portrait by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

Theodosia was an educated woman; her father supervised her rigorous studies. In 1801 at age 18, she married Joseph Alston, 22, a member of the South Carolina legislature and a future governor of the state. After the birth of their son Aaron Burr Alston in 1802, Theodosia’s health declined.4

Hosack’s letter to Joseph Alston from June 12, 1808 begins: “Mrs. Alston having been under my care as her physician, you will naturally expect from me some account of her situation.” Theodosia had recently traveled to New York, and text that follows describes the effect of her journey on her health:

When she arrived she was much exhausted by the fatigue of her voyages—added to the diseases under which she labors—but by change of climate I hope she is likely to be benefited—her appetite tho still bad is somewhat improved—the pain on her right side and shoulder still continue troublesome, attended occasionally with violent spasms of the stomach and her other complaints, I mean those of the womb, remain as before—her general appearance is somewhat improved. My attentions hitherto have been directed to the general state of her health, when that is mended she will be enabled to make use of such remedies as are calculated to remove her local diseases—with the views of improving her strength. I have advised her to pass a few weeks at the Ballston Springs—she has already made some use of the waters and finds them to agree with her—but drinking them at the springs will be more serviceable to her—they are especially calculated to improve her appetite and strength, and in some instances have been found beneficial in obstructions both of the liver and womb which are her complaints—yesterday she left New York on her way to the springs—should any thing of importance occur and I receive information of it, you may expect again to her from me.

I am Dear Sir with respect and esteem


David Hosack

Recto and verso of a copy of David Hosack's letter to Joseph Alston. In: D. Hosack. Copies of Letters and Documents 1801-1826.

Recto and verso of a copy of David Hosack’s June 12, 1808 letter to Joseph Alston. In: D. Hosack. Copies of Letters and Documents, 1801-1826. Click to enlarge.

By August 20, Theodosia’s health improved sufficiently that Hosack provided her with one of the remedies mentioned in his letter to her husband two months prior. The copy of the letter to Theodosia (written in a messier hand than the one to her husband) tells her what to eat and avoid while on the medication (“be careful to avoid acids and stimulant foods—lemonade, the acid fruits – spices,” instead eating “soups – milk – eggs – arrowroot – tapioca – rice – puddings etc.”). Hosack also recommended that two to three baths per week would “be useful in lessening your pain at the same time that it will give more effect to the medicine now directed.”

David Hosack’s August 20, 1808 letter to Theodosia Burr Alston. In: D. Hosack. Copies of Letters and Documents, 1801-1826. Click to enlarge.

Theodosia died young, but not due to her lingering post-partum health problems. In January 1813, just seven months after the death of her son, she was aboard the ship Patriot when it disappeared off the coast of Cape Hatteras on its way to New York. While stormy weather most likely caused the ship’s loss, some believed that pirates were to blame.4,5

Portion of page 59 of the January 12, 1913 New York Times. Click to enlarge.

Portion of page 59 of the January 12, 1913 New York Times. Click to enlarge.

David Hosack died of a stroke in 1835.1 His son, pioneering surgeon Alexander Eddy Hosack, took on much of his father’s practice, including the care of Aaron Burr.6,7 Alexander’s New York Times obituary noted:

It is said that on one occasion [Alexander Hosack] asked Mr. Burr if he did not experience contrition at times for having shot Hamilton. Burr, with an expression of stern feeling, replied with emphasis: ‘No, Sir; I could not regret it. Twice he crossed my path. He brought it on himself.’

Aside from his treatment of elite patients like Burr, Alexander Hosack (1805–1871) made a name for himself through his medical endeavors. Like his father, he received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, after which he worked as a doctor in Paris for three years. He was the first doctor in New York City to use ether during surgery, and he developed a number of surgical instruments. In addition, he helped establish the Emigrants’ Hospital on Ward’s Island.6

The Hosack name lives on at the Academy. In 1885, the estate of Celine B. Hosack, widow of Alexander, bequeathed $70,000 to the Academy for a new building or an auditorium within that building.8 The original Hosack Hall was on West 43rd Street, in the Academy’s home from 1890 until 1926. When the Academy moved to its current location in 1926, the new auditorium retained a name deeply embedded in American and medical history.

Left: Hosack Hall on West 43rd St. Image in Van Ingen, The New York Academy of Medicine: Its first hundred years, 1949. Right: Hosack Hall Today, at 1216 Fifth Avenue.

Left: Hosack Hall on West 43rd Street. Image in Van Ingen, The New York Academy of Medicine: Its first hundred years, 1949. Right: Hosack Hall today, at 1216 Fifth Avenue. Click to enlarge.


1. Jeffe ER. Hamilton’s physician: David Hosack, Renaissance man of early New York. New-York J Am History. 2004;Spring(3):54–58. Available at: – Hamiltoss Physician.pdf. Accessed January 15, 2016.

2. Hosack AE. A memoir of the late David Hosack. Lindsay & Blakiston; 1861. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2016.

3. Garrison FH. David Hosack. Bull N Y Acad Med. 1925;1(5):i4–171. Available at: Accessed January 15, 2016.

4. James ET. Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 1. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 1971. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2016.

5. Mystery of Aaron Burr’s daughter baffles a century. New York Times. Published January 12, 1913. Accessed January 15, 2016.

6. Alexander Eddy Hosack, M.D. New York Times.  Published March 7, 1871. Accessed January 15, 2016. 

7. Obituaries. Med Surg Report. 1871;24(734):262. Available at: Accessed January 19, 2016.

8. Van Ingen P. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its first hundred years. New York: Columbia University Press; 1949.

The Nightmare of Imminent Baldness

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

While visiting the Coney Island exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum (highly recommended), the caption of a photograph caught my eye:

“The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the earliest organization of its kind, was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, known as the “Father of Physical Culture.” An early advocate for outdoor exercise, Macfadden believed that taking a dip in the ocean during the winter could restore one’s immunity and stamina.”

The Academy Library has a substantial collection on the history of exercise, so it’s no surprise that we have more than 20 books by Macfadden. What was surprising was that two of the books are about the wellbeing of an unexpected physical characteristic—hair.

Bernarr Macfadden in the 1901 and 1922 editions of Hair Culture.

Bernarr Macfadden in the 1901 and 1922 editions of Hair Culture.

The 1901 edition of Macfadden’s New Hair Culture: Rational Natural Methods for Cultivating Strength and Luxuriance of the Hair begins with a disclaimer that wouldn’t sound out of place in a contemporary infomercial:

Disclaimer in Macfadden's 1901 Hair Culture.

Disclaimer in Macfadden’s 1901 Hair Culture.

The 1922 volume, Hair Culture: Rational Methods for Growing the Hair and for Developing its Strength and Beauty, does not include a disclaimer. But, like any great salesman, Macfadden lets us know that he’s not just the inventor of his method, he’s also a user:

I can assure the reader that I can speak with authority on the subject, from experiences with the particular condition which I, myself, have had. Several years previous to the writing of this book my hair began to fall out at an alarming rate.

I was greatly disturbed. The nightmare of imminent baldness was with me constantly.

I was in such a desperate frame of mind that I even bought a bottle of a hair remedy that was well advertised at the time, but after one application I threw it out an open window and began to apply my intelligence to the solution of the problem that then was indeed serious in my mind. …. The method that I finally evolved forms the basis of this book, and is gone into with painstaking detail.1

To maintain hair health, Macfadden recommends such procedures as scalp massage, regular brushing, “sun baths,” exposure to fresh air, removal of dead hair, and “mechanical and electrical stimulation” through “the use of a well made mechanical vibrator, using a broad soft rubber disk” (sadly, he does not include an image of such a vibrator).1,2

"Massaging scalp with a complexion roller." From Macfadden's 1901 Hair Culture, page 33.

“Massaging scalp with a complexion roller.” From Macfadden’s 1901 Hair Culture, page 33.

The 1901 edition includes an entire chapter on how to strengthen hair by pulling it: “Nothing gives the scalp the sensation of being so thoroughly and effectively awakened.” Inserting your spread fingers and closing them together “slightly raises the scalp from the skull, and at every point where the scalp is thus raised, the circulation is greatly accelerated.”2

"Inserted fingers closed lightly upon the hair." From page 38 of the 1901 Hair Culture.

“Inserted fingers closed lightly upon the hair.” From page 38 of the 1901 Hair Culture.

"Hair pulling treatment for men." From page 129 of the 1922 Hair Culture.

“Hair pulling treatment for men.” From page 129 of the 1922 Hair Culture.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Macfadden did not approve of applying heat or bleach to the hair. “If Nature gave a girl dark hair, she should accept the gift gratefully, remembering that some of the greatest beauties in history were also thus blessed.” But Nature could be improved upon in non-harmful ways, as through “the little curl-papers and curling kids”: “These are harmless enough, and if they make a pretty girl any prettier than Nature made her, they are entitled to three hearty cheers.”1

Macfadden did not approve of hot-dry apparatuses like the one shown on page 168 of the 1922 Hair Culture.

Macfadden did not approve of hot-dry apparatuses like the one shown on page 168 of his 1922 Hair Culture.

Learn more about Macfadden—his fitness empire; his scandalous tabloid; his cult, “Cosmotarianism”—in this 2013 Esquire article.


1. Macfadden B. Hair culture: rational methods for growing the hair and for developing its strength and beauty. New York: Physical culture corporation; 1922.

2. Macfadden B. Macfadden’s new hair culture: Rational, Natural Methods for Cultivating Strength and Luxuriance of the Hair. New York: Physical Culture Publishing; 1901.

At the Crossroads of Art and Medicine

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

Our collections have always reflected the strong relationship between medicine and visual culture. Accordingly, since its creation in 2012 our blog has frequently taken up the intersection between medicine and art as subject. Below, we link below to a few posts that explore these crucial connections.

Most recently, Caitlin Dover featured The New York Academy of Medicine’s collections of illustrated medical books on the Guggenheim’s blog in “Doctors Without Borders: Exploring Connections Between Art and Medicine.” Her findings are in part the fruit of a visit with the Academy’s Historical Collections Librarian Arlene Shaner, who showed her a selection of books and ephemera from our Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, showcasing the connection between physicians and artwork.

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy's Annual Report, 1933

Robert Latou Dickinson sketch of the Rare Book Room on its opening in 1933, from the Academy’s Annual Report, 1933.

Our extensive collection of anatomical atlases demonstrates the close relationships of physicians and artists, who frequently collaborated to create works both for students of medicine and of art. These atlases show both the successes and failures of collaborations between anatomists and artists who worked together to communicate new medical knowledge. For Vesalius, the collaboration was a great success. In a guest post from 2015, our 2014–2015 Helfand Research Fellow Laura Robson discusses the way Andreas Vesalius’ great milestone work of 1543, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, relies on the synergy between plates and text, and how a later work that uses the Vesalian plates suffers when the anatomist’s text is eliminated. Another guest post by New York physician Jeffrey Levine explores the visual imagery of Vesalius’ famous frontispiece of this same work. Other writers use illustration to signal authority and knowledge. A 2015 post on Walther Ryff explores the ways that Ryff’s use of the counterfeit style in his illustrations implied eye-witness discovery.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543. The most famous illustrations are the series of fourteen muscle men, progressively dissected. Some figures, such as this one, are flayed. Hanging the muscles and tendons from the body afforded greater detail, not only showing the parts, but how they fit together.

Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). De humani corporis fabrica libri septum. Basel: Johannes Oporinus, 1543.

Our 2014 festival Art, Anatomy and the Body: Vesalius at 500 offered ample opportunity for critical thinking about the relationship between art and the body. Guest curator and visual artist Riva Lehrer describes her personal experience of the ways the body informs identity, and how that has shaped her own work as an artist in a 2014 post. A selection of images from several of our early anatomical atlases are featured in “Brains, Brawn and Beauty,” an exhibit that accompanied the festival, and are discussed here.

Finally, two posts on skeleton imagery highlight the tradition of danse macabre imagery in anatomical illustrations. Brandy Shillace’s guest post, “Naissance Macabre: Birth, Death, and Female Anatomy” examines depictions of the female body over time. For a look at the evolution of anatomical imagery with special attention to the tradition of portraying the human skeleton in vivo, visit our blog here. You’ll find a slide show hosted by Flavorwire featuring spectacular anatomical images from our collections.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Surgite mortui, et venite ad judicium (Arise, ye dead, and come to the judgment). Table 6. Click to enlarge.

Next month, the New York Academy of Medicine library will be undertaking an artistic project of our own. Capitalizing on the current coloring craze, we are starting a week-long special collections coloring celebration on social media, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. We’ll share images from our collections, as will friends at other institutions. We encourage you to color them, and share your colored copies on social media. Read more about how you or your institution can participate.


Coloring a camel from Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium, Liber I, 1551.

Reasons to Ride Like Lady Mary

By Anne Garner, Curator, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

In the first episode of the final season of Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley tells her father that riding astride a horse is safer than riding side-saddle. Safer, natch. Could it also be healthier?

Lady Mary Crawley riding astride.

Lady Mary Crawley riding astride.

An article in a 1911 issue of The Journal of Scientific Training suggests it just might be. In “Riding, Cross-Seat and Side-Seat Compared,” B. Stedman says that riding astride requires significantly greater muscular engagement than riding side-saddle.1 The 19th-century New York physician Ghislani Durant suggests that this greater muscular engagement has a number of positive health outcomes.

Cover detail of Durant's Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, 1878.

Cover detail of Durant’s Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, 1878.

In his book, Horse Back Riding from a Medical Point of View, Durant writes that chief among the benefits of riding is its capacity to strengthen muscles. By bringing the greatest number of muscles into use, riding also improves and facilitates blood circulation.2 Another American source, Dr. Pancoast’s Ladies’ New Medical Guide, concurs. The guide links the increased muscle use of “sanitary and recreative riding” to strength and more efficient circulation.3

The cover of Pancoast's The Ladies' New Medical Guide, 1890.

The cover of Pancoast’s The Ladies’ New Medical Guide, 1890.

Whether sidesaddle or astride, Durant believed that the overall benefits of horseback riding were numerous.

Durant writes that practice of riding aids digestion and “makes the bits go down”:

Each shock from the horse shakes them and makes them to roll as it were upon each other, and causes the changes in the relations of the convolutions of the intestines. These shocks and knocks and rubbings act as a mechanical excitant upon the muscular fibre…there results from it a more intimate mixture of the juices and aliments in the stomach, a more perfect chymification of the food, and a more prompt and complete absorption of matters already digested…4

Durant also asserts that different gaits—walking, trotting, galloping—produce different physiological results. In his section on “Secretions,” for example, Durant notes that trotting is more likely to produce sweat than any other gait.5

Horseback rider on the cover of Elements of Hygiene, circa 1921.

Horseback rider on the cover of Elements of Hygiene, circa 1921.

There’s also hope for hypochondriacs (here, described as usually male) and hysterics (usually female). The hypochondriac is urged to ride “an easy-gaited animal” first thing in the morning at a canter, with the caution that the patient stop before the point of fatigue. The result: the hypochondriac gains confidence in his strength, improves digestion and reduces flatulence, here identified as a frequent accompaniment to the disease.6 For the hysteric, writes Durant, the regime of outdoor exercise offers a valuable distraction from the “affections and passions, more intense and less restrained than in man.”7

If you suffer from another affliction not yet described, take heart! Durant argues for horseback riding as a treatment for many other maladies—including anemia, syphilis, and St. Vitus’ Dance.

Durant wasn’t the only New York physician in the late-19th century to champion the curative properties of riding. The prominent New York physician Frank Hastings Hamilton read a paper here at the Academy in 1880, arguing for horseback riding as a remedy for chronic cystitis and for other chronic inflammations.

Though many of his case studies use men, he also argues the pastime has rewards for women. Hamilton suggested that the saddle might lift a chronically inflamed, congested, and “falling uterus” (though presumably not a side-saddle, another win for Lady Mary’s argument against this practice).8


1. Stedman, B. “Riding, Cross-Seat and Side-Seat Compared.” The Journal of Scientific Training. Volume 4 (1911): pp.21-22. Accessed online January 6, 2016 at

2. Durant, Ghislani. Horseback Riding from a Medical Point of View. New York: Cassell, 1878.

3. Pancoast, Seth. The Ladies’ New Medical Guide. Philadelphia: n.p. [1890].

4. Durant, pp. 54-55.

5. Durant, p. 63.

6. Durant, p. 86-87.

7. Durant, p. 89. Interestingly, the final section of Durant’s work offers—groan—a horse of another color?  Beginning with the mythological Dactyli of Greek legend, Durant offers a detailed literary account of horse and chariot-racing, spanning the classical era through Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Perhaps horse riding paid a key role in whipping the young Herakles into shape for all those labors.

8. Hamilton, Frank H. “The Horse and Saddle. A ‘New Remedy’ for Chronic Cystitis, and for other Chronic Inflammations.” Read before the New York Academy of Medicine, May 20, 1880.

#ColorOurCollections February 1-5

As you may know by now, there is a coloring craze going on. And we want libraries and their patrons to join in the fun!

Inspired in part by a recent twitter exchange with the Biodiversity Heritage Library, we are starting a week-long special collections coloring fest on social media, using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections. There is so much great coloring content in special collections, especially when looking at early illustrated books meant to be colored by hand.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

Collections Care Assistant Emily Moyer and Archivist Rebecca Pou #ColorOurCollections.

If you work in a library or special collection, share images from your collections and invite followers to share their colored copies from February 1-5. You could use images already online in your digital collections, or you could even create easily printable coloring sheets or a coloring book, which we did a few years ago.

If you are a coloring fan, grab those colored pencils and felt-tip markers and #ColorOurCollections, then share your results using the hashtag.


Camel from Conrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium, Liber I, 1551.