‘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.  

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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 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. 
 

Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month: Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

September 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the cultures, traditions, heritage, and achievements of those in the United States who trace their roots to Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. At the New York Academy of Medicine, we are celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanic Americans to medicine and public health in the United States. According to survey data compiled by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis in 2018, more than 10% of registered nurses in the United States identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish. Contrast this with Ildaura Murillo-Rohde’s remarks about the paucity of representation in Washington, DC, for Hispanic nurses early in her career: “I saw that I was the only Hispanic nurse who was going to Washington to work with the federal government, review research and education grants, etc. There was nobody else. I looked behind me and thought: ‘Where are my people?’”

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN (1920–2010). National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (1920–2010) was a Panamanian American nurse, academic, and health policy advocate who championed of the unique health care needs of Hispanic populations. Murillo-Rohde earned a nursing diploma from the Medical and Surgical Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas, before obtaining an undergraduate degree in the teaching and supervision of psychiatric nursing from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1953. Upon graduation, she joined Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, working with patients diagnosed with “Puerto Rican syndrome,” the name for a condition first used to describe traumatized Puerto Rican soldiers in the Korean War. Wayne County General Hospital’s Psychiatric Division in Michigan then recruited her before she returned to New York to open Elmhurst General Hospital’s first psychiatric division in Queens. In 1971 she became the first Hispanic nurse to earn a PhD from New York University.

Throughout her career Murillo-Rohde maintained a strong commitment to growing the ranks of Hispanic nurses. Informed by her experience as a reviewer of federal research and education grants, she also sought to boost the number of policy experts advising lawmakers on the health care concerns of Hispanic communities. In the 1970s, Murillo-Rohde was an active member of the American Nurses Association (ANA), where she mounted a two-year-long effort to include the Ad Hoc Committee of the Spanish-Speaking/Spanish Surname Nurses’ Caucus in the ANA’s administrative structure. In 1975, with a group of about 15 nurses, Murillo-Rohde formed the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) after the ANA rejected attempts to formally recognize the caucus.

Murillo-Rohde in the 1970s. Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, MC 172.

Since its inception, NAHN has worked broadly to improve health care delivery and outcomes for the Hispanic community in the United States. Today, the organization sponsors an award for distinction in nursing scholarship, research, and practice, as well as a scholarship for Hispanic students enrolled in nursing programs that lead to licensure.

NAHN also publishes Hispanic Health Care International, featuring research and scholarship on issues of import to US and international Hispanic populations. Judith Aponte, a 2012 NYAM Fellow and Associate Professor of Nursing at Hunter College, is a former editor-in-chief of HHCI.

Beyond her role as founder and first president of NAHN, Murillo-Rohde was an expert on psychotherapy, marriage, and family therapy, and served in several roles in academic administration, including Dean of the College of Nursing at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Murillo-Rohde’s influence was felt internationally as well through her appointment as WHO’s psychiatric consultant to the Guatemalan government, establishing a pilot program to train personnel in psychiatric care. She further served as Permanent UN Representative to UNICEF for the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Murillo-Rohde passed away in her native Panama in 2010 at the age of 89.

References

1. Aponte, Judith. School of Nursing at Hunter College, City University of New York, 2021. http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/nursing/faculty/judith-aponte

2. Brush, Barbara & Villarruel, Antonia (2014). “Heeding the Past, Leading the Future.” Hispanic Health Care International. 12. DOI: 10.1891/1540-4153.12.4.159.

3. Feldman Harriet, PhD, RN, FAAN, et al. Nursing Leadership: A Concise Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., Springer Publishing Company, 2011, p. 393.

4. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde Papers, Barbara Bates Center for The Study of The History of Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania.

5. Portillo, Carmen. “25 and Counting.” Minority Nurse Magazine. 30 Mar. 2013. https://minoritynurse.com/25-and-counting/

6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. 2019. Brief Summary Results from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, Rockville, Maryland. https://data.hrsa.gov/DataDownload/NSSRN/GeneralPUF18/nssrn-summary-report.pdf

John Locke’s Copy of The Secret Miracles of Nature and the NYAM Library

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

In a 1581 copy that The New York Academy of Medicine Library holds of Levinus Lemnius’s De Miraculis Occultis Naturae (or The Secret Miracles of Nature), one can find a tiny signature. Inscribed on the top right corner of the inside cover, in small but unmistakable handwriting is “John Locke.”[1] The famous philosopher and physician himself, who passed away sitting in his library in 1704, owned—and maybe read— this fascinating book of “secret miracles”; over three hundred years later, the book made its way to NYAM. Locke’s De Miraculis presents an exciting opportunity to examine how some of the Library’s most interesting possessions find their way here, but also gives us a way to learn what De Miraculis in particular can tell us about Locke.

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John Locke’s signature can be seen at the very top right corner of our 1581 De Miraculis. NYAM Collection.

John Locke collected many books. By the end of his life, his collection was large in size and diverse in its subjects, consisting of over three thousand books on hundreds of topics.[2] There is a relative wealth of scholarship on Locke’s library, but perhaps the most extensive work is The Library of John Locke by John Harrison and Peter Laslett.[3] This particular copy of De Miraculis is catalogued in the 1971 edition of their work.[4]

Locke’s De Miraculis was a first edition copy, published in Latin in 1581 in Antwerp.[5] It is one of 35 of Locke’s books published in that city, and one of over one thousand published in Latin. It is one of 101 books which Harrison and Laslett list as focusing on “bibliography”; topics range from medicine and magic to hygiene and geography.[6]

De Miraculis is an important book in its own right, but is also known as one of the works from which the incredibly popular seventeenth-century sex manual Aristotle’s Masterpiece pulled much of its content.[7] Aristotle’s Masterpiece co-opted sections of De Miraculis which dealt with the mechanisms of pregnancy, maternal imagination, and monstrous births, among other topics. The Masterpiece is not listed in the catalog of Locke’s books (though this does not necessarily mean he never owned a copy); as an English physician in possession of many books on medicine, midwifery, and anatomy, it is plausible to assume that he could have come across the Masterpiece, first published in 1684.[8] Regardless, Locke’s ownership—and likely readership—of the Masterpiece’s source material certainly adds layers to our understanding of the famous philosopher.

Though it would be nearly impossible to know the entirety of this book’s journey—who owned it, whether and how it was read—from Locke’s library to ours, we do know some of its more notable stops along the way. The signature on the inside front cover is common among books owned by Locke, who did not frequently make other annotations in books he owned.[9] It is likely that De Miraculis was a later acquisition of Locke’s, and could have been over one hundred years old when he acquired it.[10] Nothing is known of where or how Locke got the book. It is probably a part of the “Masham moiety” of Locke’s library, the section of the library that was left in the possession of the Masham family at the manor house at Otes, which housed Locke’s library for much of his life. The Masham moiety accounts for most of the works which exist outside of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.[11]

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Edward Dowden’s inscription in the 1581 version of De Miraculis. NYAM Collection.

It is likely that the book remained at Otes at least until “[the] Masham line became extinct” in 1776. At some point during the end of the 18th century, it would have been moved to Holme Park by the Palmer family. It could have remained there until around 1890, when Locke scholar A. C. Fraser deemed the Locke collection at Holme Park “dispersed.”[12] Around the early 20th century, Locke’s De Miraculis was acquired by Irish poet Edward Dowden, who died in 1913 and left an inscription confirming Locke’s ownership of the book inside the front cover. It was acquisitioned by the NYAM Library in May 1929, and has remained here ever since.

Examining Locke’s ownership of this copy of De Miraculis can provide us with quite a bit of insight into how he may have viewed his world. This book can show us what kinds of books Locke felt were worth owning, what kind of information he had at his disposal, and how he may have interpreted that information. Perhaps more fascinating, however, is how Locke’s signature has allowed us to trace much more of this book’s journey than we might have been able to otherwise. As one of only “a score or two” of the books from the Masham moiety which are extant and whose locations are known, a tiny signature makes this copy of De Miraculis rather remarkable. [13]

Special thanks go to Dr. Hannah Marcus for recognizing John Locke’s signature, and to Dr. Felix Waldmann for his wealth of knowledge on the library and life of John Locke.

References

[1] Levinus Lemnius, De miraculis occultis naturae, libri IIII. Item De vita cum animi et corporis incolumitate recte instituenda, liber unus. Illi quidem jam postremùm emendati, & aliquot capitibus aucti: hic verò nunquam antehac editus…. (Antwerp, Belgium: Ex Officina Christophori Plantini, 1581), New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY.

[2] John Harrison and Peter Laslett, The Library of John Locke (Oxford, UK: The Clarendon Press, 1971).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 171.

[5] Lemnius.

[6] Harrison and Laslett 18–20.

[7] Mary Fissell, “Hairy Women and Naked Truths: Gender and the Politics of Knowledge in ‘Aristotle’s Masterpiece,’” The William and Mary Quarterly 60 No 1, “Sexuality in Early America,” Jan 2003, 43–74.

[8] Harrison and Laslett 11.

[9] Harrison and Laslett 39.

[10] Ibid. 35–36, 171. Harrison and Laslett speculate that alphabetical suffixes indicate later acquisitions in their examination of Locke’s pressmark system.

[11] Ibid. 57.

[12] Ibid. 55–61.

[13] Ibid. 61.

#ColorOurCollections 2019: Here Comes the Sun

Are you ready? Our fourth annual #ColorOurCollections week kicks off today! From February 4th through the 8th, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions are showcasing their collections in the form of free coloring sheets. Follow #ColorOurCollections on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms to participate. If you’re a cultural institution, share your own coloring sheets to our website, colorourcollections.org.  And if you’re looking for pages to color you can join in too, by following the social media hashtag. Be sure to visit the #ColorOurCollections website for free, downloadable coloring books created for the campaign.

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Last year our coloring pages took their cues from the ocean, but this year’s especially cold January had us running to our botanicals.  Here, we found a respite from the cold in the pages of Willem Piso’s natural history of Brazil, the vibrant cacti of Johannes Burman’s eighteenth-century volumes on American plants, and the always evergreen pines of the early and important herbal, the Hortus Sanitatis, or Garden of Health.

The earliest illustrations in this year’s coloring book come from a French edition of the Hortus Sanitatus, first published in Mainz in 1485. The woodblocks used to make the book’s many illustrations of plants and animals were reused many times to depict different species. In some cases, fantasy takes over entirely, as with a pair of images depicting male and female mandrakes.

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Source: Verard, Antoine. Des herbis & tabulae… (1500).

Athanasius Kircher was also no stranger to fantasy, and his levitating lily pad, from his illustrated guide to China published in 1667, is no exception. Kircher, a Jesuit, never travelled to China, but relied on accounts by his fellow Jesuits for source material for his book. Kircher promised that his travelogue would distinguish between the real and the unreal, but offered illustrations of a number of incredible sights, including winged tortoises and this flower with a face, who graces this year’s coloring book cover:

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Source: Kircher, Athanasius. Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu China…(1667).

Other images this year were taken from the herbal of the Dutch botanist, Johannes Burman, published between 1755–1757. Burman studied under Herman Boerhaave at Leiden, and qualified in 1728 as a doctor of medicine. He later replaced Frederick Ruysch as Professor of Botany in Amsterdam, and was responsible for the botanical garden there. Many of the illustrations in Burman’s Plantarum Americanarum were drawn by the French botanist and artist Charles Plumier (1646–1704). The flowering plant plumeria was named in his honor.

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Source: Burmann, Johannes. Plantarum Americanarum. (1755–1757).

Finally, two additional coloring images come from Willem Piso and Georg Markgraf’s astonishing Historia naturalis Brasiliae, published in 1648. The book contains 446 remarkable woodcuts illustrating local flora and fauna, and comprises the most important seventeenth-century catalog of zoology, botany and medicine in Brazil. The woodcuts are based on an original collection of paintings and sketches, now lost; many of these original depictions were likely done by Markgraf himself. Selected pages from the book are digitized here.

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Piso, Willem & Laet, Joannes de. Historia naturalis Brasiliae. (1648).

We can’t wait to see what you’re coloring from our collections—and from others!  Don’t forget to share your work and use the hashtag #ColorOurCollections on social media.

 

Winter/Spring 2019 Upcoming Events

Happy New Year! After finishing off a wonderful array of programming for 2018, we’re looking forward to the events we have in store for 2019, and hope you are too!

Our winter/spring programming begins on January 26 with our Bibliography Week lecture, “‘The Horrors of My Secret Toil’: What Frankenstein Demands of Curators”, with speaker, Elizabeth Denlinger. She will consider Mary Shelley’s fictional experiment with dead bodies and their place in the scientific world of Shelley’s time, as well as exploring the ethical implications of making a spectacle of human bodies — in the novel, in movies, and in exhibitions.

Please join the Academy on January 30 for the “Tenth Annual History of Medicine and Public Health Night, Part I“. This special evening of selected short talks will address varied topics in the history of medicine and public health from milk pasteurization to the eradication of rinderpest in East Africa.

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February 4-8 is Color Our Collections Week! Begun by the Academy Library in 2016, Color Our Collections Week brings you free coloring sheets based on materials in our Library as well as other cultural institutions from around the world. Users are invited to download and print the coloring sheets via the website www.colorourcollections.org and share their filled-in images with hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

Who is remembered, commemorated, and forgotten? Join us on February 6 for “Remembering the Dead“, a Germ City event where activist and artist Avram Finkelstein and essayist Garnette Cadogan consider the complicated social and institutional responses to infectious disease with the Tenement Museum’s David Favaloro.

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis” was an unethical medical research study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on hundreds of African-American men from 1932-1972. “Could Tuskegee Happen Today?”, the inaugural event in the Academy’s Race & Health series, to be held on February 26, will share first-person accounts from survivors, combined with expert perspectives and audience discussion, to address the history and legacy of the study and why it remains relevant today. 

On April 3, we will be presenting “Facing the Future: Predicting and Preparing for Disease Outbreaks“. At this Germ City event, science reporter Sonia Shah will speak with experts Dr. Amy Fairchild, Dr. Larry Madoff, and Lauren Flicker about how prepared we are for future pandemics.

Save the date for April 11, our annual Celebration of the Library: “How the Voice Made Us Human”! This year’s speaker is award-winning journalist and author of As Nature Made Him John Colapinto, who will discuss his current book project on the history of the voice.

Lastly, be on the lookout: newly-added dates for our incredibly popular walking tours on Roosevelt Island and Ellis Island are coming soon!

Check back here for special guest posts by some of our speakers in the coming months, and we hope to see you soon!

If you’d like all this information in handy brochure form, click here.

Digitizing the William S. Ladd Collection of Prints

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

We are excited to launch a new digital collection: the William S. Ladd Collection of Prints!

In 1975, The New York Academy of Medicine accepted the gift of the William S. Ladd collection, which consisted of 671 prints dating from the 17th – 19th centuries, from Cornell University Medical College via Erich Meyerhoff, then Librarian of the Medical College Library.   Since receiving the Ladd Collection, the Library rehoused and conserved the material. In the Spring of 2018, the Library submitted a proposal for funding to the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s (METRO) New York State Regional Bibliographic Database Program to digitize the Ladd Collection.  The grant proposal was accepted, and the Library began the process to digitize the Ladd Collection and make it available to the public. METRO provided the funds to scan the collection and the Library provided the resources to build a digital collection website.

Because the Ladd Collection was already conserved and in a ready-to-digitize state, we sent the collection out for scanning soon after receiving funding.  While the collection was being scanned, we turned our attention to the metadata created during the conservation process. The metadata, created for a different purpose, needed to be enhanced for the digital collection.  For the launch, we decided on seven pieces of metadata that would provide users with enough information to understand each print.

Metadata Field Example
Title Aesculapius
Portrait Subject (LC) Asklepios (Greek deity)
Aesculapius (Roman deity)
Collection William S. Ladd Collection of Prints
Repository The New York Academy of Medicine
Genre Prints
Illustration Technique Engraving
ID ladd_010

“Title” is the most critical piece of information because it describes the subject of the portrait and is an easy way to identify the context of the image. Where possible, the Library of Congress (LC) subject is identified.

“Illustration Technique” is an additional piece of information that describes the story of the technology used to develop the portrait.  Researchers and general users can explore the collection by “Illustration Technique,” including etching, stipple, engraving, mezzotint, and lithograph. With each technique hyperlinked in the collection, users can click to see all the prints in the collection with that technique. The top three techniques are engraving (~339 prints), lithograph (~115 prints) and stipple (~61 prints).

Aesculapius. Example of engraving.

Aesculapius. Example of engraving. Image: William S. Ladd Collection of Prints, New York Academy of Medicine.

Récamier, Joseph Claude Anthelme. Example of a lithograph

Récamier, Joseph Claude Anthelme. Example of a lithograph. Image: William S. Ladd Collection of Prints, New York Academy of Medicine.

Widmann, Johann Wilhelm. Example of stipple technique.

Widmann, Johann Wilhelm. Example of stipple technique. Image: William S. Ladd Collection of Prints, New York Academy of Medicine.

As users explore the collection, it becomes clear that there are mostly prints of men.  However, there is a print of a woman in the collection who is described as the wife of Michel Schuppach.

Marie Flückigger

Flückigger, Marie. Image: The William S. Ladd Collection of Prints, New York Academy of Medicine.

There are also prints of a few hospitals, including Brooklyn City Hospital (now the Brooklyn Hospital Center).

Brooklyn City Hospital

Brooklyn City Hospital. Image: William S. Ladd Collection of Prints. New York Academy of Medicine.

Digitizing the Ladd collection provides broad access to the public and an opportunity for researchers, conservators, artists, and the general public to explore early print technology (17th to 19th centuries) from any web-enabled device.  So, take some time to read more about the history of the collection and the important figures in medicine and science, compare multiple printing techniques, and discover these amazing works of art in our new digital collection.

Click here to check out our new digital collection.

#PageFrights & Pumpkin Carving

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Our library cat is very skittish and only sighted in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Halloween is just days away and we’re sad to see the end of #PageFrights, a social media celebration of Halloween, library & archives-style. All month long, libraries and other cultural institutions have been showing their scary side on social media, using the hashtag #PageFrights.

With shelves of anatomical atlases, books on bones, and natural histories filled with peculiar creatures, our collection has plenty of strange, frightful content to share, and this month has been spectacularly spooky fun.  The campaign was spearheaded by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Medical Historical Library at Yale University, Smithsonian Libraries, and us, and many other fantastic institutions are participating!  Be sure to check out the hashtag if you haven’t yet.

In addition to exploring all the #PageFrights action on social media, you can take part by carving pumpkins. Now, we are strongly opposed to the presence of pumpkin pulp around books (a truly terrifying thought to librarians), but #PageFrights participating institutions have created a number of collections-inspired pumpkin carving patterns! These designs are available here. We created two patterns using sources in our natural history collection: Gesner’s Historia Animalium Liber IIII, 1558, and Aldrovandi’s Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. If you use them, be sure to post your creation to social media with the hashtag #PageFrights!

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Octopus from Gesner, Historia Animalium Liber IIII, 1558. Click to enlarge.

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Dragon from Aldrovandi, Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. Click to enlarge.

For even more Halloween content from our collections, click the links below:

Happy Halloween!

bhlpumpkinslitandregularCarved #PageFrights pumpkins, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Ninety Years and Counting

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

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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

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

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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.

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

References

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.

2https://archive.org/stream/SelectionsFromTheWorkOfBarnetPhillipsCompanyArchitecturalDecorators/BarnetPhillipsCompanyCca107588#page/n0/mode/2up  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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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!