About nyamhistory

The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health, part of the Academy Library, promotes the scholarly and public understanding of the history of medicine and public health. Established in 2012, the Center aims to build bridges among an interdisciplinary community of scholars, educators, clinicians, curators, and the general public. The Center bases its work on the Library's historical collections, among the largest in this field in the United States and open to the public since 1878.

Controlling Substances: The Evolution of the American Moral and Medical Drug Policy Regime 

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

Senate hearings on narcotic addiction in 1969.

American drug policy as we know it today categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is considered to place users under high risk for abuse and not accepted by the FDA or DEA as safe for use as medication with or without supervision. The FDA and DEA have rejected multiple petitions to reschedule marijuana under less restrictive categories from governmental and non-governmental entities. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 governs federal drug policy in the United States as part of a broader effort to curtail the sale, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs by the Nixon administration, later known as the War On Drugs. 

The “La Guardia Report,” 1944.

The status quo of American drug policy extends farther back than 1970, however. When the United States Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act championed by Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger in 1937, it was a watershed moment in the history of drug policy regulation. The legislation represented a victory for marijuana opponents who successfully convinced lawmakers of a link between cannabis usage and addiction, deviance, and criminality. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia looked skeptically upon the Marihuana Tax Act and its pretext. He thus called upon the New York Academy of Medicine to prepare a report drawing from a wide variety of academic disciplines to scrutinize the drug law and the beliefs about drugs held by its proponents. In the “La Guardia Report” of 1944, the Mayor’s commission on marihuana use demonstrated that the widespread fear, even panic, around marijuana use was greatly overblown.

NYC’s Overdose Prevention Center
(Photo credit: OnPoint NYC)

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Academy continued to emphasize drug addiction as a treatable condition. During 1995 and 1996, NYAM’s Committee on Medicine in Society looked specifically at the concept of harm reduction. The Academy recommended policy changes that were, for the time, cutting edge. These included expansion of treatment programs, acceptance of methadone treatments, special efforts for those incarcerated, better training for medical professionals, and, especially, expanding needle exchange programs and decriminalizing needle distribution and possession. The Library’s Then and Now event “Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Services” brought that history up to the present time. A stellar panel mentioned NYAM’s continuing work in harm reduction, looked at the racial component of America’s drug control regime, considered the experience of those working in NYC’s new Overdose Prevention Centers, and noted that the most recent White House National Drug Control Strategy champions “harm reduction to meet people where they are.” For at least a quarter century, NYAM has supported the people-centered approach that lies at the heart of harm reduction. We wait to see where the national strategy goes next.

Library Luminaries: Dr. Archibald Malloch

This post is the second in a four-part series showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library, as we celebrate our 175th anniversary. The first post focused on Dr. Samuel Smith Purple.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Dr. Archibald Malloch (1887–1953)
Academy Librarian, 1925–1949

On September 17, 1925, Dr. Linsly Williams, the director of the New York Academy of Medicine, sent Dr. Archibald Malloch (1887–1953) a letter offering him the position of Librarian. The offer came after the Academy’s first dedicated librarian, John S. Brownne, retired in August of 1925 after 45 years of service. His assistant, Mrs. Laura E. Smith, became the Acting Librarian, while Dr. Williams and the Committee on Library searched for a new librarian.

 

Laura E. Smith, Malloch’s predecessors
John Stuart Brownne (1854–1931) and

The Academy could not have been more fortunate in its selection of Thomas Archibald Malloch. A professionally trained physician, he had already demonstrated an interest in the history of medicine and possessed a growing knowledge of the world of rare books and libraries. Canadian by birth, Malloch was the son of Dr. Archibald E. and Mary Frances Reynolds Malloch. His father was a notable physician in Hamilton, Ontario, and had been a house surgeon to Joseph Lister in Glasgow in 1868. Malloch recalled that Lister paid a visit to the family home in 1876. The senior Dr. Malloch also established a long-lasting friendship with Sir William Osler, and the relationship extended across the generations, with family visits to Oxford and correspondence cementing the bond between the younger Malloch and the older doctor.

Malloch graduated from the medical school at McGill University in 1913 and began work as a pathologist and bacteriologist until the outbreak of World War I. He joined the Canadian Red Cross, serving in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit at Dunkirk; Antoine Depage’s military hospital at De Panne, under the direction of the Belgian Red Cross; at a hospital for convalescent officers at Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland; at Alford House in Lincolnshire, which had been converted to a hospital for officers; and finally in the McGill Unit at Canadian General Hospital No. 3 near Boulogne. After the war, he took appointments at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and Queen’s Square Neurological Hospital in London. In December 1919, Malloch moved to the Osler household in Oxford as one of the attending physicians who cared for Osler until his death on December 29th.

Despite a busy professional life, he began publishing articles about his wartime medical experiences in 1915. His first article about a specifically historical topic, “Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines,” appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine the following year, prompted by his experience in Burley. That article, exploring the thirty-six-year friendship between two seventeenth-century physicians, grew into Malloch’s first short book, Finch and Baines. A seventeenth century friendship. More articles appeared, most of them about medical topics. After Osler’s death in 1919, at the request of his widow, Grace Revere Osler, Malloch continued to live in Oxford through 1921, working as one of the editors of the Bibliotheca Osleriana, the catalogue of Osler’s books that became the foundation of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University. Malloch started practicing medicine in Montréal in 1922, dividing his time between his medical work and his bibliographic work and returning to Oxford for months at a time to work on the Bibliotheca.

Archibald Malloch was a collector in his own right. Here is his personal bookplate.

When Williams offered Malloch the position of Librarian, he was about to return to England. During the last few months of 1925, he visited medical libraries in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Paris, as well as several Parisian booksellers. He took advantage of these opportunities to develop plans for the library he was about to lead. He officially took up his new duties on January 1,1926 and began thinking about how to bring his vision of a much-expanded Academy Library to life. In his first report on the needs of the Library, published in the June 1926 issue of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Malloch wrote of the many ways the Library could provide more services to Fellows, to the public, and to other medical libraries. He argued for a larger staff to care for the ever-increasing collection of periodicals, for exhibits, for greater outreach services, and for the expansion of both the modern and the historical collections, noting that “a library is judged chiefly by its general usefulness in supplying modern books and periodicals and those for as far back as a hundred years. But by other libraries and by the cultured and educated, a library is also judged by its possession of medical treasures in the guise of written or printed medical works.”[1] He also recognized that everything he was proposing would require a significant financial investment, an issue that would be a challenge from the beginning of his tenure until he retired due to ill health in 1949.

Malloch’s time at the Academy was marked by notable achievements. He supervised the relocation of about 140,000 books, journals, and pamphlets from the West 43rd Street building to the new Academy building—our current one—in the late summer and fall of 1926, assuring that the Library would be ready for visitors when the new building opened in November. He made brilliant hires, bringing on Janet Doe in 1926, to supervise the periodicals department, and Gertrude Annan, in 1929, to work as the rare book librarian. Both women developed enormous reputations in the world of twentieth-century medical librarianship, and both eventually succeeded him as Librarian.[2] He enlarged the Library’s holdings of unique and rare medical works by making well-considered purchases and accepting a number of important gifts. Working with Dr. Samuel Lambert and Dr. Williams, he raised $185,000 for the 1928 purchase of the Edward Clark Streeter Collection of manuscripts and important early printed medical books, adding about 1,200 volumes to the Library’s then-modest rare book collection. Twenty years later, in 1948, he also helped convince the New-York Historical Society and the Brooklyn Museum to donate the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, the most important single gift ever made to the collections.

The new “Rare Book and History Room,” opened 1933, as sketched by Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson.

Malloch’s greatest wish, however, was for a room specifically to house the Library’s rare books and the reference collection to support them. Edward S. Harkness offered a gift of $350,000 towards that project, provided that an additional $400,000 in new endowment funds be raised. With the support of Lambert, Williams, and a Building Committee headed by Dr. Arthur Duel, the funds were successfully in hand by May of 1931, as Williams reported to Malloch in a telegram: “Four hundred fund completed… Your rare book room assured.”[3] The new Rare Book and History Room opened to readers on June 15, 1933.

Malloch passed away on September 19, 1953, at the age of 67, after suffering from heart disease for several years. After his death, the rare book room was renamed the Malloch Room in his honor. As a result of a large donation from the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Charitable Trust and Charitable Foundation, Inc., in 2012 the room was renamed again, and it is now the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room. Dr. Malloch’s many accomplishments continue to live on in the Library, though, through the richness of its collections and the settings in which readers use them to this day.


Notes

[1] “The needs of the Library.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 2:6 (1926), p. 293.

[2] Janet Doe succeeded Malloch directly, serving from 1949 to 1956, and Annan succeeded her, serving up to her retirement in 1970.

[3] Doe, J. “The Malloch Room.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:3 (1954): 221–2.


References

Academy Bookman. 6:3 (1953), the Malloch memorial issue.

“Archibald Malloch Librarian of the New York Academy of Medicine 1925–1949,” Academy Bookman vol. 2:2 (Spring 1949), pp. 2–5.

Doe, J. “The Malloch Room.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:3 (1954): 221–2.

Heaton, C. E. “Archibald Malloch, M.D.—1887–1953.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 30:5 (1954): 399–401.

“The needs of the Library.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine vol. 2:6 (1926): 287–98.

New York Academy of Medicine Archives. “Malloch, Archibald. 1925–1953. Letter engaging as librarian, 1925; correspondence; tributes…1949, 1953.”

New York Academy of Medicine Archives. “Malloch Rare Book and History Room. Correspondence re founding, 1928–1954.”

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.

Maternal Mortality In New York City: NYAM’s Landmark 1933 Study

By Paul Theerman, Director

NYAM’s 1933 maternal mortality report is one of the 30 highlights of “Celebrating NYAM Milestones,” prepared for our 175th anniversary in 2022.

In 1930, the New York Academy of Medicine began a major project that resulted in the landmark report Maternal Mortality in New York City, published in 1933. In its work, the Academy was part of a great movement in the first third of the 20th century that devoted greater efforts to the problem of maternal mortality. Many reasons led to this increased emphasis in public health communities. In the American context, though, the foundation of the Children’s Bureau in 1912 brought these issues to the fore.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the settlement house movement focused attention on the plight of children in urban slums and tenements. The issue eventually reached President Theodore Roosevelt, who convened the first White House Conference on Children in 1909. Three years later President Taft signed the act establishing the U.S. Children’s Bureau as a part of the Department of Labor, the first Federal agency dedicated to the welfare of children. Under its dynamic first director, Julia Lathrop (1858–1932), the bureau mounted multi-pronged programs to address the social needs of children and mothers and helped set the agenda for increased study of maternal mortality over the following years. In 1930 the bureau mounted a White House conference on child health and protection, which included maternal mortality in its scope, and in 1933, it issued a report on maternal mortality in 15 states. Its work played a leading role in the international focus on maternal health; the Library’s collections hold over 15 professional and lay studies on maternal mortality dating between 1925 and 1937, covering such disparate geographical regions as Philadelphia, Scotland, and Birmingham, Alabama. Thus when the New York Academy of Medicine took on its study, it was adding its voice to the ongoing international effort.

Dr. Ransom Spafard Hooker, 1907

The Academy began its study of maternal mortality in New York City in 1930, with the assistance of the New York Obstetrical Society and the support of the Commonwealth Fund. Under the auspices of the Academy’s Public Health Relations Committee, Dr. Ransom S. Hooker (1874–1957), a prominent surgeon, was appointed director of the study. From 1930 to 1932, the city’s Health Department provided, and the Academy analyzed, 2,014 case reports on women’s deaths from childbirth as well as deaths of pregnant women. For each case, the physician was interviewed, and if the death took place in a hospital, that institution was inspected.

The analysis found huge gaps in perinatal care and obstetrical practice, partly among midwives but chiefly among physicians. The report’s chief recommendation was for increased education and training, both popular and professional. Prospective mothers should know and be able to ask for what they needed in perinatal care. Both generalist physicians and the newly forming specialist obstetricians should receive better obstetrical training in medical schools and through hospital internships. The report called for a reduction in surgical interventions “undertaken merely to alleviate pain or shorten labor.” It recommended that hospitals provide separate obstetrical clinics, wards, and delivery rooms, overseen by trained obstetricians, with rigid rules to maintain asepsis, including masking. Based on the data—which showed better results for midwife-assisted births—the report supported the practice of home delivery. Nonetheless it called for more training and greater supervision of midwives, preferably by physicians. The report concluded that “the rate of death was unnecessarily high . . . [and] two-third of all the deaths studied could have been prevented.”

The Commonwealth Fund published the landmark study on November 20, 1933, followed by the Academy’s summary in its publication Health Examiner. Iago Galdston, secretary of its Medical Information Bureau, provided major press outlets with a précis of the study, titled “Why Women Die in Childbirth,”. One sign of its reach: the January 1934 meeting of the Maternity Center Association, attended by over 500 people, focused on the report, and emphasized public education in the search for better outcomes. Four years later, Galdston adapted the study for lay audiences, including results from Philadelphia and the U.S. Children’s Bureau, as Maternal deaths—the ways to prevention (1937), also published by the Commonwealth Fund.

Immediately after the study’s release, however, obstetricians—and especially those of the New York Obstetrical Society, which helped guide the Academy’s research—thought that their authority and expertise were being questioned. In April the society released a “counter-report” upholding its members’ obstetrical abilities against the “unskilled hands” of general physicians and midwives. Some obstetricians raised their objections within the Academy, both on the report and the publicity around it. The Academy mounted an investigation, which confirmed both the results of the report and the manner of its release. And even as it objected to the report, the Society came together with the Academy in March 1934 to jointly advise the city’s Department of Health on productive ways forward. These efforts bore fruit: from 1935 to 1938, maternal mortality rates in New York City dropped by a third, from 51 to 38 deaths per 10,000 live births, and then dropped further, reaching 22 by 1942. The trend continued over the next 40 years.

What was missing in the Academy’s analysis? Any serious consideration of why health disparities played out along racial lines. That mortality followed race was clear. Each woman’s ostensible race was noted, and the results were reported out by race. The report stated that “the death rate from puerperal causes for the Negro [sic] population . . . greatly exceeds that for the white population.” The Children’s Bureau’s 1933 report found a rate for non-white women nearly twice that of white women—a conclusion that, sadly, remains virtually unchanged almost a hundred years on. Neither of these studies directly addressed causation, and when the Children’s Bureau did so in 1940, as one historian noted, they marked out Black women as inherently poor prospects for motherhood, the origin of “the Black maternal blame narrative.”

Begun in the 1930s, NYAM’s work continues to the present in the 2018 New York Maternal Mortality Summit and the ongoing efforts of the Women’s Health Research and Well-being Working Group.

_________

Sources:

King, Charles R. “The New York Maternal Mortality Study: A Conflict of Professionalization.” Bulletin for the History of Medicine 65 (1991): 476–502.

New York Academy of Medicine, Committee on Public Health Relations. Maternal Mortality in New York City: A Study of All Puerperal Deaths, 1930–1932. New York: The Commonwealth Fund, 1933. Quotation on p. 163.

Owens, Deirdre Cooper, and Sharla M. Fett. “Black Maternal and Infant Health: Historical Legacies of Slavery.” American Journal of Public Health 109(10)(October 2019): 1342–45. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305243, accessed March 4, 2022.

“Ransom Hooker, Surgeon, Is Dead; Former Director in Field at Bellevue Made Study Here of Maternal Mortality.” The New York Times, April 12, 1957, p. 25.

Stokes, Anson Phelps. Stokes Records: Notes Regarding the Ancestry and Lives of Anson Phelps Stokes and Helen Louisa (Phelps) Stokes. 4 vols. New York: Privately printed, 1915, 3:130, is the source of the photograph of Ransom Spafard Hooker.

Taylor, Morgan. “An Untold Story: Black Maternal Mortality in the United States.” Nursing Clio, January 20, 2022. https://nursingclio.org/2022/01/20/an-untold-story-black-maternal-mortality-in-the-united-states/, accessed March 4, 2022.

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949. Pp. 441–50.

U.S. Center for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Reproductive Health. “Achievements in Public Health, 1900–1999: Healthier Mothers and Babies.” MMWR 48(38) (October 1, 1999): 849–58. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4838a2.htm, accessed March 4, 2022.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. The Story of the Children’s Bureau. Washington, DC: The Children’s Bureau, [2012].

U.S. Department of Labor, Children’s Bureau. Maternal Deaths: A Brief Report of a Study Made in 15 States. Bureau Publication No. 221. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1933.

Library Luminaries: Dr. Samuel Smith Purple

This post inaugurates a four-part series, Library Luminaries, showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library, as we celebrate our 175th anniversary.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

The New York Academy of Medicine started collecting books for a library at its second meeting, on January 13, 1847, when Isaac Wood donated two volumes of Martyn Paine’s Medical and physiological commentaries. The Library now contains over 550,000 volumes; hundreds of thousands of pamphlets; archives; manuscripts; images; all kinds of ephemera; and even a small group of artifacts. The collections span many centuries, from the oldest item in the building, our early ninth-century manuscript of Apicius, De re culinaria, Libri I-IX, to recently published monographs in the history of medicine. The foundation of any great library, however, is the work of dedicated people, both benefactors and librarians. During this year, when we are celebrating the 175th anniversary of NYAM and of the Library, we will tell the stories of some of the people who made the Library into one of the most significant collections of materials in the history of medicine and public health in this country, if not the world.

S. S. Purple, M.D., 1822–1900”
from Portraits of Fellows of the New York Academy of Medicine (1896?)

One of the earliest and most vocal advocates for a Library was Dr. Samuel Smith Purple (1822–1900). Born in Lebanon, New York, Purple was the oldest son of Lyman Smith Purple and Minerva (Sheffield) Purple. His father made a modest living as a tanner and shoemaker, and by the time he turned 13 Purple was often working with him in the shop, limiting his formal education. The family relocated to Earlville, New York, in 1836, and when his father passed away three years later, Purple took over managing the business, supporting his mother and younger brothers. Around the same time, without telling his family, he quietly began studying medicine with the help of the local physician, Dr. David Ransom, who then helped him get a scholarship to attend Geneva Medical College for a year in 1842. The following year a relative, Dr. W. D. Purple, secured financial support for him to attend the lectures at the University of the City of New York, from which he graduated in 1844.

After a few months back home, Purple decided to see if he could succeed in New York City. He worked at the Marion Street Maternity Hospital and the New York Dispensary, and slowly grew a private practice until it provided him with enough stability to buy a house and have his mother join him. Memberships in the New York Pathological Society, the Society for the Relief of the Widows and Orphans of Medical Men, and the New York Academy of Medicine, of which he was a founding Fellow, provided a community of physicians. Through a connection with Dr. Charles A. Lee, one of his professors at Geneva, he became the editor of the New York Journal of Medicine, founded in 1843 by Dr. Samuel Forry, a position he held for a decade before returning more fully to his private practice in 1858.

Purple’s interest in collecting books and pamphlets about medicine was sparked by his relationship with John B. Beck, who taught at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The two met during Purple’s decade of editorial work at the Journal. Beck “urg[ed] the young editor to avail himself of the opportunity which his position afforded him of securing and preserving every early publication obtainable. At the same time, Beck gave Purple a large number of pamphlets, which really formed the nucleus of the enormous collection he subsequently made.”[1] Not only did Purple put together a stellar collection of books and pamphlets about American medicine, he expanded his interests to serials, and also to the early history of New York.

“Samuel S. Purple, M.D., President of the New York Academy of Medicine, 1875–1879,” from Portraits of Fellows of the New York Academy of Medicine (1896?)

Purple became the president of the Academy in 1875, and in his inaugural address, “Objects and Purposes,” delivered on January 21, he proposed taking on two large tasks. The first was to move the organization into a building of its own, specifically, the brownstone at 12 West 31st Street that the Academy had recently purchased. The Academy moved in a few months later, and the new building created an opportunity for Purple’s main objective: “a great reference Medical Library.” Purple acknowledged that earlier efforts to develop the library had been stymied by lack of space. In the new building, two second-floor rooms were set up for the library, and Purple enhanced the small existing collection by donating 2,000 books of his own.

Two years later, Purple was re-elected president and he devoted almost his entire presidential address to the subject of medical libraries, reviewing the history of every collection he had been able to document in the city of New York and then turning his attention to the Academy. He called for the establishment of a Library Fund; encouraged voluntary donations and the opening of the library to all regular practitioners in the city, not just Fellows; and reminded the audience that “No book or pamphlet is worthless; every word from the mental laboratory of the practical physician contains a fact, or, it may be a statement of facts, which, however darkly concealed or obscured by peculiarities of language or description, will ultimately be unearthed, and serve the genius of practical medicine or medical history.”[2]

To prove his point, he then recounted the story of his rescue of Dr. Samuel Bard’s An enquiry into the nature, cause and cure, of the angina suffocativa, which describes an outbreak of diphtheria in New York in 1770. Purple discovered the pamphlet in “the press-box of a second-hand paper-dealer in this city in transitu to the maw of a paper-mill. Its former owner had sold it for the eighth part of a cent, or at the rate of two cents per pound.”[3] That copy is still here in the Library today, with Purple’s bookplate and an inscription about its provenance. In 1998, at the Christie’s auction of the Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine, a copy of the same pamphlet sold for close to $3,000, a far cry from an eighth of a cent.

By the end of his second term, Purple had raised the money to expand the Library stacks, and a collection that numbered some 400 items in 1875 boasted over 9,000 by 1880. Thousands of Purple’s volumes continue to reside in the Library today. By 1900, when Purple died, the Academy had moved on to its next home, a new building on West 43rd Street. To honor Purple’s role in creating the Library, the Academy installed a bronze plaque honoring him at the entrance to the reading room. In 1926, the plaque traveled to our current building, where it sits above the door to the Library on the third floor: That plaque reads

SAMUEL SMITH PURPLE, M.D.

BORN JUNE 24, 1822 — DIED SEPTEMBER 29, 1900

FOUNDER OF THE LIBRARY OF THE

NEW YORK ACADEMY OF MEDICINE

TO WHICH HE GAVE LARGE AND VALUABLE CONTRIBUTIONS.

A PRESIDENT OF THE ACADEMY AND AN EARNEST

AND SUCCESSFUL WORKER IN ITS INTERESTS.

THIS TABLET IS ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE

HIS MANY VIRTUES AND RARE USEFULNESS.

We are still grateful to Samuel Smith Purple. His determination, foresight, and devotion to collecting the history of American medicine all contributed to the richness of the collections we continue to use today.


Notes

[1] Smith, Stephen. “Memorial Address on the Late Samuel Smith Purple, MD.” Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1903 1(2), p. 110.

[2] Purple, Samuel S. Medical Libraries: an Address Delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine, January 18, 1877, on Taking the Chair as President a Second Term. New York: Printed for the Academy, 1877, p. 18.

[3] Ibid., p. 19.

References

Flint, Austin, and Samuel S. Purple. Addresses: Dr. Austin Flint’s Valedictory : Dr. Samuel S. Purple’s Inaugural. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1875.

Purple, Samuel S. Medical Libraries: an Address Delivered before the New York Academy of Medicine, January 18, 1877, on Taking the Chair as President a Second Term. New York: Printed for the Academy, 1877.

Smith, Stephen. “Memorial Address on the Late Samuel Smith Purple, MD.” Medical Library and Historical Journal. 1903 1(2): 102–116.

Van Ingen, Philip. The New York Academy of Medicine: Its First Hundred Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1949.


Color Our Collections 2022—175th Anniversary Edition

by the NYAM Library Team

Our annual Color Our Collections week kicks off today! From February 7 through 11, libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions showcase their collections through free, downloadable coloring books. A hundred or so books are gathered at ColorOurCollections.org. Follow #ColorOurCollections on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to participate.

As part of the NYAM-wide celebration of our 175th anniversary, this year our coloring book presents images from our history. We feature our buildings and library reading rooms through the years, along with some of their marvelous details of design. Other images allude to NYAM’s work cleaning up the city streets, improving maternal health, and weighing in on the public health effects of using marijuana. All these stories and more are found in the new NYAM timeline. Here we present a few coloring sheets to help while away your hours; for more, check out our whole coloring book.

Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson’s pen-and-ink drawing of the new Rare Book and History of Medicine Room, from NYAM’s 1933 Annual Report.

Rabbits! A possible lobby ceiling decoration for the Academy’s 1926 building, in a pen-and-ink drawing from the NYAM archives.

“King Garbage Reigns,” from Harper’s Weekly, February 7, 1891. In the 1920s, the work of the Academy’s Committee on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness helped form NYC’s Department of Sanitation.

The pamphlet cover for A Letter to Expectant Mothers (1911), in the Records of the Committee for the Reduction of Infant Mortality of the New York Milk Committee.

Cannabis sativa, in Leonhart Fuchs, De historia stirpivm commentarii insignes (1542). The Academy’s report on the public health impact of marijuana usage, commissioned by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, was published in 1944.

‘Sick and In Prison’: Airborne Disease and Prison Reform in the career of John Howard (1726–1790) 

By Dr. Paul E. Sampson, Assistant Professor of History, The University of Scranton 

2020 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow in the History of Medicine and Public Health 

Over the course of the past year, I have had the privilege of spending four weeks researching in the spectacular rare book collection of the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine. My book project is entitled “Ventilating the Empire: Environmental Machines in Britain, 1700–1850” and comprises a scientific and social history of ventilation in Britain and the British empire during the long eighteenth century, roughly 1688 to 1815. By examining the design and deployment of ventilating machines in slave and naval ships, prisons and public buildings, I ask how devices designed to protect human beings from environmental hazards became a means of dividing British society along class and racial lines.  

Text Box

The primary subject of my research has been the life and career of prison reformer John Howard (1726–1790). I examine Howard’s career through the context of his work on “Jail Fever” (AKA typhus) which contemporary physicians and medical experts understood as an airborne disease. I argue that a key feature of Howard’s celebrity was his perceived invulnerability to airborne diseases. In addition, his influence helped to shift the discourse of prison reform away from overall institutional sanitation and towards methods intended to control the hygiene and morality of individual prisoners. 

For those unfamiliar, John Howard was a noble-born, intensely religious man who was appointed sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. One of his duties was to inspect local prisons. Unlike many of his genteel contemporaries, he took this job seriously. He was appalled by the conditions of the prisons in Bedfordshire, and to spur reform and gather ideas for improvement, he made a series of lengthy tours to visit as many prisons as he could throughout the British Isles and continental Europe. His first published book, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales (1777), detailed his visits to dozens of county jails and bridewells (workhouses), including careful notes of the fees charged to prisoners, their daily workload, the prison diet, and the overall sanitation.  

One of the primary goals of Howard’s travels was to find the best means of preventing the spread of disease. By the 1750s, prisons were increasingly perceived as public health hazards. The filthy and diseased condition of prisoners in London’s Newgate prison became a public scandal after the Lord Mayor and 56 others died of jail fever in the weeks following an audience with prisoners. Following the contemporary etiology of fever, the outbreak was attributed to the “putrid effluvia” exhaled in the breath of sick prisoners that had imparted a “poisonous quality” to the air in the courtroom.1 By 1774, Howard had achieved celebrity status by helping to author the “Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol.” This act stated that jail fever was caused by the “want of cleanliness and fresh air” and mandated that all interior walls and ceilings be scraped and white-washed annually and “constantly supplied with fresh air, by means of hand ventilators or otherwise.”2  

However, in the wake of this achievement, Howard’s attitudes about preventing fever had begun to shift. During his tours of European prisons, he was puzzled that he rarely encountered “jail distempers” there. To explain the disparity between these and disease-ridden English institutions, Howard developed a theory of jail fever based entirely on his own “experience.” He argued that prisoners could only be infected if privation, filth, and personal intemperance weakened them enough for the contagion to take hold. Young and healthy convicts who were used to “vigorous exercise” quickly became infected due to the “sudden change of diet and lodging” that “so affects the spirits of new convicts, that the general causes of putrid fevers exert an immediate effect on them.” As a counter-example, Howard pointed to himself. During his first tours, he wrote, he had attempted to avoid breathing in contagion by “smelling to vinegar… and changing my apparel…constantly and carefully.” A few years later, however, he wrote that he “entirely omitted” such precautions. In his opinion, the real protection against infection were his habits of “temperance and cleanliness” as well as the power of “divine providence.”3 

Image 2: Howard was keenly impressed by the prison regime in Bern, Switzerland. Howard wrote that the city was “one of the cleanest I have seen” and included illustrations of the employment of male and female prisoners as street cleaners. Note the iron collars with hooks affixed to the prisoners’ necks to deter escape attempts.  
“Employment of Criminals” and “Employment of female Criminals,” in John Howard. The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell, 1780) 109–10. Images courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Library. 
 

By the time the second edition of State of the Prisons came out in 1780, Howard had visited hundreds of disease-ridden institutions and avoided contracting a serious infection. While friends privately cautioned him against such continual risk-taking, Howard’s superhuman invulnerability to disease had become a key feature of his celebrity.4 Celebratory poems about Howard became, in the estimation of two literary scholars, “nearly ubiquitous in the 1780s and 1790s” as poets from Erasmus Darwin to William Cowper celebrated his arduous travels and selfless virtue.5 William Hayley’s 1780 Ode, Inscribed to John Howard attributed Howard’s “matchless fame” to his “valor’s adventr’ous step” through “malignant cells” where “fierce contagion, with affright, repels.”6

Image 3: George Romney’s study for a never-completed painting of John Howard visiting a prison or lazaretto. Howard is the figure standing defiantly on the far left.  
George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Lazaretto (1790–95). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. 
 

This vision of Howard as a heroic and invincible figure appeared in numerous prints and lithographs and was captured evocatively in an unfinished work by famed painter George Romney, who depicted a defiant Howard striding confidently into scenes of melodramatic suffering and disease.7  

Despite his reputation, Howard wasn’t able to evade contagion forever. While travelling through southern Ukraine in the winter of 1790, Howard contracted a serious fever and died two weeks later.8 Notwithstanding his untimely death, Howard’s emphasis on invigorating labor, self-regulation, and instilling personal hygiene in convicts exerted an enormous influence. By the heyday of the modern penitentiary in the mid-nineteenth century, Howard was lauded as the founder of “prison science.”9 While jails designed during Howard’s life reflected the eighteenth-century emphasis on eliminating effluvia via ventilation, their nineteenth-century successors focused instead on insuring that each inmate was placed in solitary confinement and given a strict regimen of work and moral instruction.10  

In my larger project, I argue that this is partially due to a shifting locus of responsibility for preventing airborne disease. The attention of reformers shifted from the condition of the institution to the character of the individual, who became responsible for his or her own cleanliness and ventilation. To briefly illustrate this point, I will conclude with a quotation written several years after Howard’s death by naval health reformer Gilbert Blane: 

Those only whose duty leads them to consider the subject, are aware how much the welfare of the human species depends on ventilation and cleanliness; and no one could render a greater service to his fellow creatures, than to impress on their minds the necessity of cultivating them as moral and religious duties.11 


1. See, for example: John Pringle, Observations on the Nature and Cure of Hospital and Jayl-Fevers (London: A. Millar, 1750); “Account of the Fatal Assize,” CLA/035/02/049, Gaol Committee, 1750–1755, Notes on Ventilating Newgate, London Metropolitan Archives.

2. Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol and Preventing the Gaol Distemper, 1774, 14 Geo. III, c. 59.

3. John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell 1780) 430–31.

4. Thomas Taylor, Memoirs of John Howard (London: John Hatchard, 1836) 386–87.

5. Gabriel Cervantes and Dahlia Porter, “Extreme Empiricism: John Howard, Poetry, and the Thermometrics of Reform,” The Eighteenth Century, 57:1 (Spring 2016): 97.

6. William Hayley, “Ode, Inscribed to John Howard” (Boston: J. White et. al. 1795 [1780]).

7. George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Prison or a Lazaretto, 1790–95, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

8. John Aikin, A View of the Life, Travels, and Philanthropic Labours of the Late John Howard (Boston: J. White et. al., 1794) 120–25.

9. William Hepworth Dixon, John Howard and the Prison World of Europe, 2nd ed. (London: Jackson and Walford, 1850) 1.

10. Robin Evans, The Fabrication of Virtue: English Prison Architecture 1750–1840 (London: Cambridge UP, 1982) 104–114; Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain (London: Penguin, 1978) 3–14.

11. Gilbert Blane, “Letter to John Hippisley,” in Observations on the Diseases of Seamen (London: 1799): 614–15.

The New York Academy of Medicine at 175

By Paul Theerman, Director

The 1830s and ’40s were years of ferment in the United States. Politically, a sea change began in 1828 with the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency and a break with the political elites of the Eastern seaboard. Socially, the years were ones of great transformation, as new immigrants promised to alter the country’s makeup. The decades saw huge technological innovations as well, with the spread of railroads making new regional and national connections, and the newly invented telegraph shrinking information gaps. Science took on a new cultural value across the western world, manifested in the United States with the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 as a scientific research institute, followed two years later by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Constitution and By-Laws of the
New York Academy of Medicine,
adopted January 6, 1847

The founding of the New York Academy of Medicine was part of this ferment. A group of prominent physicians in the city met informally on December 12, 1846, to see if there were interest in creating a new organization dedicated to promoting “orthodox” medicine. On January 6, 1847, the group met again to adopt a Constitution and By-Laws, to which 132 physicians affixed their signatures. At the group’s next meeting, a week later, the donation of Martyn Paine’s Medical and physiological commentaries (1840) began the Academy Library. That venture was one of the avowed purposes of the Academy: It was organized to separate “regular” from “irregular” medical practitioners such as homeopaths and other unorthodox physicians, and to provide for intellectual growth and sociability.

The new “Rare Book and History Room” in the 1930s

The Academy stood apart from the different medical societies that had arisen in New York City. Briefly, the New York County Medical Society and other county and state societies chiefly, though not exclusively, were concerned with credentialing and the business of medicine. These concerns were not absent from the Academy, or from others like the Philadelphia College of Physicians (1787), and the Richmond Academy of Medicine (1820). But the academies were more about mutual regard, professional development, and, in the tradition of the grand academies of Europe and our own National Academy of Sciences (1863), advising government on technical matters. This NYAM did throughout its history: helping to establish the city’s Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866, assisting in the creation of a chief medical examiner’s office in 1915, advising on city sanitation in the 1920s and ’30s and on maternal mortality in 1933, and providing expert opinion about marijuana as a “gateway drug” in 1944.

A teacher is observed demonstrating proper toothbrushing techniques to a group of kindergarten children

By the end of the 20th century, the Academy had moved beyond advising government to jump-starting its own programs for healthy aging, schoolchildren’s health, and healthy cities overall, and promoting urban health studies around HIV/AIDS and 9/11. By the early 21st century, working toward health equity became the goal, with a multitude of paths forward. Most recently the Academy has added its efforts to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ann Payne, MD, NYAM’s First Woman President, 1987-1988

Throughout 2022 the Academy is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Today we launch a new online timeline of Academy milestones, exploring these and other high points of our history. A new series of programs, “Then and Now,” will look at signature areas of Academy work in current and historical context. We are planning a Celebration of the Library open house for the fall. Throughout the year we will be mounting blog posts on highlights and figures in Academy and Library history. We invite you to read, visit, and participate . . . so stay tuned here and on the website for more to come.

The Long Haul of Disability Advocacy

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

The United Nations has observed December 3 as International Day of Persons with Disabilities since 1992. The 30th annual observance of this day comes at a time when disability has gained renewed salience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A subset of the approximately 50 million Americans infected with COVID-19 experience what some call “long COVID,” which the United States Department of Health and Human Services defines as having the following symptoms, among others: 

  • Tiredness or fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Headache 
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes known as “brain fog”) 
  • Chest pain 

In guidance issued in the summer of 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights defined long COVID as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Section 1557). Though firm numbers have yet to be produced, medical specialists believe that between 750,000 and 1.3 million Americans languish under the debilitating effects of long COVID such that they are unable to return to the workforce full-time. This phenomenon has prompted disability activists like Fiona Lowenstein, Hannah Davis, and Imani Barbarin to describe the COVID-19 pandemic as “one of the largest mass disabling events in modern history.”  

The emergence of long COVID as a significant and potentially long-enduring affliction for millions around the world has further fueled questions about comprehensive tracking of long COVID cases;, the capacity of hospitals, disability benefits administrations, and workplaces to meet the needs of long COVID patients; and how to successfully move into a post-pandemic phase. Long COVID has also spurred on the efforts of disability activists to bring attention to the obstacles long COVID patients will face going forward as they seek to participate in the workforce, receive accommodations in educational institutions, and secure proper care within medical systems that sometimes write off the symptoms of long COVID sufferers as “psychological.” 

COVID-19 and its potential to create a generation of people with disabilities carries echoes of the long-term impact of the polio epidemic. Like its COVID counterpart, post-polio syndrome (PPS) was not well understood and drew little interest from the medical and scientific communities for much of the late 19th and 20th centuries. After the rollout of the polio vaccine in the 1950s, polio largely disappeared from the industrialized world with the neurological effects of PPS not appearing in many polio survivors until the 1970s and 1980s. Best estimates of the number of polio survivors with PPS were thought to fall between 81,000 and 184,000 in 2006. Although the polio epidemics that raged throughout the 20th century led to summer camps for children with polio such as Camp Sea Haven on Plum Island in Massachusetts and rehabilitation centers, similar support and advocacy had not materialized for PPS patients whose symptoms were met with skepticism within the medical community.

PPS eventually did come to receive some legitimacy and attention from scientists and medical professionals culminating in the 1994 gathering of the leading polio researchers in the world organized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York Academy of Sciences. However, recognition of the condition‘s importance may have come too late to generate an increase in new lines of research. As disability historians like Lennard J. Davis of the University of Illinois at Chicago point out, grassroots advocacy must often be joined with intensive lobbying and political will before disabled populations see the changes they need.  

For those suffering with long COVID, their advocacy early on in the COVID-19 pandemic offers signs of hope for action within medical circles to produce research and resources for post-COVID recovery and treatment. Advocacy groups like LongCOVIDSOS document their symptoms online and organize meetings with officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) in a sign that the world’s leading public health bodies are paying attention to the impact of long COVID across the globe. And in February 2021, NIH announced Congress’s allocation of $1.15 billion for a long COVID research initiative.  The impact of chronic illness and disability on potentially millions of people worldwide will be an important area of focus for the medical community, governments, and activists well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 

Botany and Agriculture in the Natural History of New York

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Among the many books about natural history in the Library’s collections are 22 volumes of the Natural History of New York. In a blog post from 2017, NYAM archivist Rebecca Pou took a close look at one volume from the set, the Birds of New York. In her blog post you can read about the history and scope of this ambitious project to document the natural and geological history of the state of New York, the first published volumes of which appeared in 1842; learn more about the production of Part I, the volumes devoted to zoology; and see some of the hand-colored lithographs of birds, made from drawings by artist J. W. Hill. This current post takes a deeper look at the two botanical volumes and the two volumes from Part V, Agriculture, that document the many fruits grown in the state.

After all but one of the zoology series had appeared, Part II of the survey was published in 1843: two volumes about the flora of the state of New York, with 161 plates. John Torrey (1796–1873) authored these two books. Torrey first developed an interest in botany as a teenager, when his father became the fiscal agent for Newgate Prison in Greenwich Village. Torrey befriended the incarcerated Amos Eaton (1776–1842), who later became a notable natural historian and educator but was then serving time in the prison for illegal land speculation. It was Eaton who introduced him to the study of botany. By 1815, Torrey was pursuing a medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in 1818. He briefly practiced medicine before shifting his interests to natural history, teaching chemistry, minerology, and botany at several institutions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and Columbia. He became a founding member of the Lyceum of Natural History in 1817, before he had even graduated from medical school, and devoted much of his leisure time to botanical study.

John Torrey (1796–1873),
from the NYAM collections

By the time he began work compiling the Flora of the State of New-York in the 1830s, Torrey had published several other botanical volumes, collaborating with many of the noted botanists of his day. In the preface to the first volume, Torrey celebrates the botanical diversity of the state, claiming that “our Flora embraces nearly as many species as the whole of New-England.” He divided the state into four regions: the Atlantic; the Hudson Valley; the Western Region; and the Northern Region. About 1,450 species of flowering plants are represented in the two volumes, along with about 250 woody plants, and more than 150 non-native plants introduced mainly from Europe. Torrey admits that there are many others that he had no time to describe, including ferns and fungi. About 150 of the plants described in the Flora were used for medicinal purposes (preface, p. vii).

Torrey acknowledges the generosity of many botanist friends who contributed specimens and descriptions from around the state. And he notes that the publication was slowed because it took over two and a half years to find satisfactory illustrators. His original plan also called for many more illustrations than it was ultimately realistic to include. The primary creators of the drawings were two female artists, Agnes Mitchell and Elizabeth Pooley, with some additional drawings by Frederick J. Swinton. Torrey originally hoped the illustrations could be reproduced using engraving, but as happened with the zoology volumes in Part I, the expense proved to be too great (preface, p. ix), and lithography was used instead. George Endicott, the lithographer for the zoology volumes, worked on these two volumes as well. While Endicott’s name appears on every plate, no artists’ names do. All the plates are beautifully hand-colored, but the colorist is similarly uncredited.

American Globe Flower
Giant St. John’s Wort

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Black Snakeroot
Green flowered Milkweed

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Part V of the Natural History of New York, published between 1846 and 1854, describes the geology of the state, including its soil, rocks, and waters. Food crops like vegetables and grains or cereals appear in this part’s second volume, which analyzes the soil around the state, and volumes III and IV of this series, from 1851, are completely devoted to fruit production, with the descriptive text in volume III and a companion atlas of 95 hand-colored illustrations forming volume IV. The final volume of the series is a survey of insects, mainly those that cause the most damage to crops.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863) took on the task of assembling these volumes. From childhood Emmons had been fascinated by geology, minerology, and natural history. He went to Williams College, where, like Torrey, he was influenced by Amos Eaton, who by then was on the faculty. He continued his education at the Rensselaer School, where he earned a graduate degree in geology in 1826. He also pursued a medical degree from the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He taught chemistry, geology, and mineralogy at several colleges, including Williams, and maintained an active medical practice on the side.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863), frontispiece image from Appleton’s Popular Science Monthly 48:21 (January 1896)

Emmons was hired to work on the natural history survey because of his geological knowledge, but he was responsible for the practical texts about cultivation as well, and he acknowledged the rapid pace of change in agricultural science. He worried that his attempts to create a better system of classification for fruit had already been surpassed by those with more expertise, and that the illustrations did not represent the fruit as well as he had hoped. Some are engravings, while others are lithographs, and Emmons made all the original drawings himself.

The Maiden’s Blush, in an engraved image
Several varieties of apples, including Bastard Seek No Further, Lafayette Red, and Prince’s Russet, reproduced by lithography

When comparing the engraved images with the lithographs, one can readily see why the authors of the natural history volumes wanted all the reproductions to be engravings, as they convey a richness of detail and subtlety that lithography just cannot match, although the lithographs are beautiful as well.

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An engraved image of the Beurre D’Amalise pear
Lithographed images of the Frederic de Wurtemburg and Easter Beurre pear varieties

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The zoological, botanical, and agricultural volumes from the Natural History of New York are the featured in a Library virtual visit. There you can see many more images, learn more about the New York State natural history survey, and discover how the NYAM Library came to own its copies of these marvelous volumes.

Updating the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection

By Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

In May 2021, the Library rolled out an update to the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection, one of the digital collections on our Digital Collections & Exhibits website. The upcoming Open House New York Weekend, October 16–17, seems like an apt time to share the updated collection with readers, as the digitized postcards provide a wonderful visual history of New York City hospitals and their architecture.

The Collection

Since 2015 Dr. Robert Matz has been graciously donating postcards of hospitals from his personal collection to the Library; he’s given about 3,000 postcards to date. The bulk of the collection shows hospitals in New York City, with smaller sub-collections of hospitals across the state and country. The collection provides a rich visual history of hospital buildings across decades, both exterior views as well as glimpses of patient wards and chapels, doctors and nurses, and even a children’s schoolroom. The collection also provides a look at postcard printing trends. Many of these buildings no longer exist, but seeing these postcards gives us invaluable visual information about them. In addition, the personal messages on the postcards provide readers with fascinating slices of everyday life.

2019 Pilot Project

In 2019 we began a pilot digitization project, scanning 119 postcards of New York City hospitals and uploading them to our website, arranged by borough. A blog post on February 21, 2020, by Robin Naughton, former head of digital, explained the pilot project and digitization process and launched the online collection. We were excited to give the public online access to these fascinating materials.

Time for an Update

In mid-2020, the Library team decided that a full update of the postcard project was needed to create more accurate metadata (data about data). We had taken the original information for the digitized postcards from an Excel spreadsheet created by volunteers; however, the postcard metadata needed standardization of terms and vocabulary and a consistent overall structure. Therefore, we undertook a general review and update.

Metadata Creation

As the cataloger, I created a set of metadata standards that aligned with best practices in the field. Each postcard would have the Library of Congress subject headings Hospitals and Hospital buildings as well as a standardized location heading, for example, Hospitals — New York (State) — Kings County. In a new spreadsheet I added standardized subject headings depending on what was visible in the postcard or read in the message. If there were trees in the postcard, I added Trees. All these subject headings are searchable so that a viewer can click on the word Trees in one postcard’s subject headings and generate a list of all postcards with Trees as a subject heading or even as a word in the description.

I rewrote the description of each postcard, transcribed the postcard messages, deleted unhelpful keywords, checked the dates of each postcard’s manufacture, checked the official hospital names, and checked the names of the printers and publishers. I was assisted by our summer intern, college student Liani Astacio, who transcribed postcard messages and addresses and checked hospital names, locations, and Library of Congress subjects. She also rewrote some of the postcard descriptions.

Research Sources

Metropostcard.com was an invaluable site for dating the postcards by their design features. The introduction of the divided-back postcard in the U.S. in 1907 was a major event in postcard history, and this fact alone helped me assign a date range to many of the postcards. For further help in dating, I looked up stamp prices using the USPS website and a Wikipedia page about postage rates. The home pages of many hospitals were also helpful in giving me a building chronology, as were various New York City architecture blogs.

Technical Process

Updating each postcard individually would have been time-consuming so we created an automated process to batch update the postcards’ metadata. Andrea Byrne, the Library’s former digital technical specialist, saved the Excel metadata spreadsheet as a CSV file and then created individual MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) XML files (3 for each postcard) that could be uploaded into Islandora, our digital asset management system. Her tools were the XML editing program Oxygen, and a script that she worked out with our Islandora vendor, discoverygarden inc. After the new MODS files replaced the existing MODS files online, I read each field of each postcard against the data in the Excel spreadsheet to check for accuracy, and Andrea made any necessary corrections. The update was complete!

The Updated Collection

The updated Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection went live in early May. We’re proud of our work, feeling that we’ve captured the unique elements of these images of hospital buildings and city street life. The engaging, information-rich postcards on our digital website are just a small part of the collection. Our hope is to digitize and create metadata for all the postcards in the Matz collection. Then viewers will be able to see thousands more postcards and delve further into hospital and postcard history.

Highlights from the Collection

A view of Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in the Bronx highlights its entrance gate and driveway, with a group of people in the main doorway.

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St. Catherine’s Hospital, Brooklyn (1901–1908)

The ivy-covered walls of St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn are a dramatic backdrop to this glimpse of Brooklyn street life.

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General Memorial Hospital, Manhattan (1907–1909)

This Gothic Revival building at 106th Street and Central Park West housed New York City’s first cancer hospital and went through a number of iterations before falling into disrepair in the 1970s. The building was converted to luxury condominiums in the early 2000s.

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River Crest Sanitarium, Queens (1901–1907)

This postcard for River Crest Sanitarium functions as an advertisement of available services, assuring its patients of a “home-like” atmosphere on its campus on Astoria.

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Smith’s Infirmary Hospital, Staten Island (1890–1917)

Smith’s Infirmary Hospital was Staten Island’s first private non-profit hospital. The castle-like building was demolished in 2012, after years of neglect. Interestingly, the postcard is addressed to Miss Christine Geisel of Springfield, Massachusetts, the paternal aunt of famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss.

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Sometimes a hospital doesn’t need to be a building! Here is the Floating Hospital, likely in the East River, with passengers aboard. The Floating Hospital wasn’t a true hospital, but rather a recreational service for children and their families; it provided onboard medical exams for children and child-care instruction for their mothers as they enjoyed summer boat outings. The organization later opened a hospital building, the Seaside Hospital on Staten Island.