“She was in love with another man…” History, Heartbreak, and Hysteria in the Academy Archive (Part 2)

Earlier this week, fall archives intern Doris Straus shared highlights from the collections she processed while at the Academy. Today, she presents the rest of her discoveries.

I processed the papers of Dr. Lewis Gregory Cole papers next. Dr. Cole (b. 1874), a radiologist, had an active social life during his time at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons. His papers (1892–1954) include a large collection of lively personal correspondence from male and female acquaintances, dance cards, wedding invitations, calling cards (mainly from female friends), and other social ephemera of the late 1890s. The correspondence from his university years and the early years of his career are a fascinating look at social interactions between young men and women at the turn of the 20th century.

Dance cards from the Cole archive.

Dance cards from the Cole papers.

There is an invitation for a bicycle ride and mention of a gift of a box of chocolates to a young lady friend, and years of correspondence from “your true chum, Joe,” who was studying at Cornell and who complains about all the weddings they have to go to. Though there is more personal correspondence here than scientific, numerous papers and correspondence relates to Dr. Cole’s work with roentgenology (radiology). A 1931 letter to Dr. Cole from a fellow radiologist at the Cleveland Clinic requests “a signed photograph of yourself for my collection of eminent radiologists.” Dr. Cole wrote two textbooks, contributed to other texts, and authored more than one hundred articles in medical journals. He also developed a table, known as the “Cole table,” for the diagnosis of duodenal ulcers.

Scientific papers in the Cole archive.

Scientific materials from the Cole papers.

The Dr. Joseph R. Kuh papers, 1935–1994, also contain a great deal of personal correspondence, along with diaries and notes documenting Dr. Kuh’s service during World War II and the Korean War.

Dr. Kuh (1919–2012) was a certified internist and practiced privately from his Manhattan brownstone for many years. Of note in the personal correspondence is the reporting of historic events. A June 6, 1944 letter from Dr. Kuh’s father to both his sons reports the events of D-Day as experienced in the Kuh family apartment on West End Avenue. The letter tells of constant prayers being offered on the radio in addition to the news, and of the major department stores “Stern’s, Lord and Taylor, Franklin Simon” closing early. “Their windows bore a notice ‘Due to D Day, we felt that our customers as well as our employees would want to spend the day in prayer, and so we have closed for the remainder of the day.’” Other newsworthy events include Dr. Kuh’s first wife, Jean, a Barnard student, writing about the plane that crashed into the Empire State Building in July of 1945.

Diaries from the Kuh papers.

Diaries from the Kuh papers.

I also processed the Dr. Alfred Braun papers, 1898–1983. Dr. Braun was a native of Hungary, a Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons alumnus who specialized in otolaryngology, and a gifted painter. He was one of the founders and past officers of the NY Physicians Art Club. The collection includes scientific materials, a number of art awards, and correspondence with American businessman Armand Hammer, who appears to have been a friend.

Other personal collections include the Dr. Gustav Aufricht papers, 1922-1963. Dr. Aufricht (1894–1980) was a native of Budapest, Hungary and is considered one of the founding fathers of American Plastic Surgery. He treated wounded soldiers during World War I and studied with the leading practitioners in Europe before arriving in New York in 1923. I also processed the Dorothy Fahs-Beck papers, 1929–1954. Fahs-Beck (1906–2000) was a research statistician who received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1944. Her greatest impact was as an innovator in the areas of human services research and dental practice research. She established the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation in 1993.

The papers and records I had the good fortune to process are wide-ranging collections documenting the struggle to conquer diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, and rickets; record psychiatry and neurology as practiced in the early 20th century; chronicle the development and use of X-rays, vaccines, and antibiotics; record advances in diagnostic and surgical procedures; report evolving diet and nutritional issues for children throughout the mid-20th century; and document the beginnings of AIDS research in the early 1980s—all by organizations and individuals at the forefront of these issues. There is also enlightening correspondence and social ephemera from times long past, which help to complete the picture of a person or an era—even if it is just admiring the gift of a box of chocolates 120 years after the fact.

“She was in love with another man…” History, Heartbreak, and Hysteria in the Academy Archive (Part 1)

By Doris Straus, MSLIS, Pratt Institute, Fall 2015 Archives Intern

“She was in love with another man…” These were literally the first words that I read in a random case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers of the early 1920s. Obviously this was going to be a collection that would be easy to get lost in.

Dr. Dana’s case files from 1919–1929 comprised the first collection of more than a dozen that I processed for the New York Academy of Medicine as an intern this fall. Here are highlights from about 10 of them, which offer an intriguing look into the history of medicine and society in the 19th and 20th centuries. Contact history@nyam.org if interested in using any of these collections. Please note, some of these collections are on deposit and have specific rules that govern their use. Finding aids to these collections will be available online in early 2016.

Dr. Charles Loomis Dana was born in 1852 in Woodstock, Vermont to an old and prominent New England family. He studied medicine in Washington, DC, and in New York, graduating from Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1877. He went on to become a professor of physiology at Women’s Medical College and later of nervous and mental disorders at Cornell Medical College. Dana’s case files include individuals of all ages and from all walks of life—from countesses to schoolboys, stenographers, governors, and laborers. There are also many patients with on-the-job injuries whose examinations were requested by the Department of Labor for workmen’s compensation matters.

A case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers. The patient name has been removed from the image for privacy.

A case file from the Charles Loomis Dana papers. The patient name has been removed from the image for privacy.

Dr. Dana often worked with Dr. Gladys G. Tallman, director of the psychological laboratory at the Neurological Institute of New York at Columbia University, and her detailed and thorough examinations of many patients are part of the files. The most common diagnosis for men seems to be paranoia and for women, depression, hysteria, and anxiety. Elderly men often suffered from depression as well. However, the range of diagnoses was actually quite wide and included tinnitus, insomnia, neuralgia, asthenia, vertigo, dementia praecox, encephalitis, drug addiction (most often morphine), “traumatic psychosis,” and “weak arches.” Patients came from not only the New York area but from all of the Eastern U.S. and some from as far away as Havana.

Like the range of Dr. Dana’s patients, the variety of subject matter and materials preserved in the collections that I processed is wide. What organizations or individuals choose to save and the way they organize and preserve these materials is fascinating and a big part of the appeal of archival work for me. The New York Pediatric Society records, 1930–2011, contain much of what one would expect to find in the records of a medical society. However, these papers, minutes, and correspondence also document the prevalence of tuberculosis in the 1930s. This documentation is followed by the development and use of the antibiotic streptomycin in the 1940s, and then, decades later, the first appearance of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis as shown in the 1967 papers of the society and continuing with the rapid rise of those resistant strains into the 1980s. Papers on the polio epidemic of 1944 are also here, as is the evolving research regarding vaccines, diet, and nutrition for children.

The New York Clinical Society records, 1877–2005, include bound manuscript records of its earliest minutes (1877–1912). At meetings, members offered presentations like the “case of a man with a curious form of venereal disease” and also an “opium habit” (February 22, 1878); a boy with protruding ears who was helped by surgery—“the result is admirable…the lad of 16 years had been subjected to so much mockery at school” (May 27, 1881). On March 25, 1904, “Dr. Gibson presented specimens of gall stones removed from a lady who had symptoms of intestinal obstruction” including “a gall stone about the size of an olive pit.” The minutes of May 27, 1910 document “a peculiar case of typhoid fever” which was “probably not typhoid but ‘New York Fever.’” By the 1980s one of the papers presented included “Orthopedic Aspects of Classical Ballet” and “In-Hospital Nutrition or How to Starve to Death in New York City”—a long way from the gallstone samples of 1904. On October 25, 1982 a paper, “Acquired Immunodeficiency,” was presented—“This recent and fascinating disease picture which has become so prominent in our N.Y. area.” Again, this collection offers primary-source documentation as the story of the epidemic unfolded.

During the 1980s the meetings of the society were held at the Century Club. The menus and wine labels from those occasions have been preserved as well.

"Minutes of the Meetings of the New York Clinical Society."

“Minutes of the Meetings of the New York Clinical Society.”

Other medical society collections that I processed include the New York Cardiological Society records, 1949–1995; the New York Gastroenterological Association records, 1915–1963, which included the reporting of a “surgical member of our group” attempting to “close up the multiple-perforated gut” of a racketeer who had been “badly shot up” in 1943; and the very well organized materials of the American Urological Association, New York Society—the only minutes I processed that were recorded by a stenographer and then transcribed and bound by a transcription service. An enthusiastic 1929 telegram in the collection describes what appears to be a diagnostic procedure for kidney stones: “results unbelievably beautiful.”

Read more about our archival highlights in Part 2 of the blog.

A Letter from Benjamin Franklin

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian and Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

To mark Benjamin Franklin’s 309th birthday on January 17, we thought it appropriate to share some information about the Benjamin Franklin letter in our manuscript collection.

Frontispiece of The Memoirs and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 1818.

Frontispiece of The Memoirs and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 1818.

When we think of Benjamin Franklin, we usually remember him as a Founding Father, inventor, diplomat, printer, and publisher, but we are less likely to think of him as a medical man. In fact, he had a keen interest in public health and hygiene. He was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Hospital, wrote a short treatise on inoculation, and even an essay about the health benefits of swimming. He also corresponded with physicians across the globe and with colleagues, family members, and others on medical topics.1

The Academy acquired a Franklin letter, dated December 8, 1752, in 1906, as a gift from Dr. William K. Otis (1860-1906), who inherited it from his father, Dr. Fessenden Nott Otis (1828-1900). Both were Fellows of The New York Academy of Medicine, the father elected in 1861 and the son 30 years later, and both specialized in treating urological disorders. Dr. F.N. Otis was a professor of venereal and genito-urinary diseases at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He modernized the treatment for urethral stricture by inventing both the Otis Urethrometer and the Otis Dilating Urethrotome, so it should not be a surprise that this particular letter by Franklin interested him.2,3 The letter was published in various editions of Franklins works and writings, in The Medical Side of Benjamin Franklin (1911), and as a facsimile in A Letter on Catheters (1934), with commentary by Dr. Edward Loughborough Keyes.

Front and back of Franklin's December 8, 1752 letter to his brother John. Click to enlarge.

Front and back of Franklin’s December 8, 1752 letter to his brother John. Click to enlarge.

In the letter, Franklin encloses a catheter (not in our collection) and describes its fabrication to his brother John, who was suffering from painful bladder or kidney stones: “Reflecting yesterday on your Desire to have a flexible catheter, a Thought struck into my Mind how one might possibly be made…” Worried that he might not be able to adequately convey his idea through description, Franklin goes on to tell his brother, “I went immediately to the Silversmith’s, & gave Directions for making one, (sitting by till it was finished), that it might be ready for this Post.” He then provides very complete instructions for having the size of the device adjusted by a silversmith should the diameter prove too large, and for using it. Though Franklin’s text suggests that he invented the catheter, Keyes, in the commentary published with the facsimile, quotes a letter from F.N. Otis in which Otis notes that he believes the wording in the first sentence of the letter simply demonstrates Franklin’s familiarity with a similar catheter already being used in Europe.

Transcription of Franklin's letter. Click to enlarge.

Transcription of Franklin’s letter. Click to enlarge.

At the end of the letter, Franklin shares his thoughts about Robert Whytt’s “An Essay on the Virtues of Lime-water in the Cure of the Stone” with John. Clearly both of them had read this book in an attempt to find a treatment that would offer John some relief from his ailment. Franklin responds to what seems to be an earlier query from John about the likelihood that Whytt’s method of treatment would help him. “I have read Whytt on Lime Water,” Franklin writes. “You desire my thoughts on what he says. But what can I say? He relates Facts & Experiments; and they must be allow’d good, if not contradicted by other Facts and Experiments. May not one guess by holding Lime Water some time in one’s Mouth whether or not it is likely to injure the Bladder?” As almost any elementary school student today would be able to report, all the basic elements of the scientific method are conveyed in Franklin’s elegant sentences: the question, the hypothesis, the experiments and observations, and the final conclusion.

In addition to the letter on catheters, the Academy library collections contain many published editions of Franklin’s work, along with a number of secondary sources about him. Please contact history@nyam.org or call 212-223-7313 to make an appointment to visit us if you are interested in exploring one of our most famous and engaging man of letters further.


1. Pepper W. The Medical Side of Benjamin Franklin. Philadelphia: W. J. Campbell; 1911.

2. Franklin, Benjamin, John Franklin, and Edward L. Keyes. A Letter on Catheters. Fulton, N.Y: Morrill, 1934.

3. Kelly H.A. Dictionary of American Medical Biography. New York: D. Appleton, 1928.

Three Archival Collections Now More Accessible

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

Three of our archival collections are more accessible: their finding aids are available online, both on our Archives and Manuscripts page and in our online catalog.

MedicalSocietyOfTheCountyofNYCollection_watermarkMedical Society of the County of New York Records, 1806-1989
The Medical Society of the County of New York was founded in 1806 and exists today as the New York County Medical Society. At 68 linear feet, it is one of our largest collections. The records document the society’s changing role over time. In its early years, the society regulated the medical profession in Manhattan; by the 20th century, it focused on education and public health concerns.

The Charaka Club Records, 1898-2012
The Charaka Club is a small, New York-based society of doctors interested in the historical, literary, and artistic aspects of medicine. The collection contains minutes, correspondence, publications, talks, and other materials. The talks, some which were not published in the club’s Proceedings, may be especially interesting.

Physicians Relief Fund Records, 1974-2005
The Physicians Relief Fund was a charitable organization that provided financial relief or loans to physicians and their dependents in times of need.

If you are interested in using any of these collections, please contact us at history@nyam.org. More finding aids will become available online in 2015.

Missing: Very Vicious Red Cow

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

This is part of an intermittent series of blogs featuring advertisements found in our collection. You can find the entire series here.

I recently cataloged a small volume of clippings and manuscript notes. As is common in books of clippings, the clippings were pasted to the pages, with the article of interest facing up and whatever happened to be on the back facing the page, hidden from the reader’s view. In this case, some loose items gave me the chance to look at the back side of the clippings, which contained classified advertisements. Dated 1802, the ads were all intriguing, but one in particular stood out. Between a tailor advertising his services and a help wanted ad for a dry goods store, it read:

Strayed or Stolen, from the Subscriber lately a Red Cow with lofty horns, a white tail, a spot near her udder and very vicious. Any person giving information where she may be had, shall have two dollars reward with reasonable changes by applying to Robert Sleith.

An advertisement for a different lost cow offered three dollars as a reward. I suspect she was of a gentler disposition.


The back of a clipping in Clippings from “The True American” and manuscript notes, circa 1802. Click to enlarge.

The back of another clipping showed cows were not the only things gone missing:

As amusing as the classified ads are, the clippings and manuscript notes hold the real appeal. The volume was the work of Felix Pascalis Ouviere (1762-1833), a French-born physician. Pascalis, as he is commonly known, studied in Montpellier, lived for a time in St. Domingo, and moved to America. He co-edited the Medical Repository, the earliest American medical journal. He also wrote about yellow fever, commenting on the outbreaks in Philadelphia and New York.1 The clippings in this volume are of his “Advice to the inhabitants of Philadelphia,” a series of nine parts published in the True American and Commercial Advertiser regarding yellow fever.

The volume of clippings will soon be available to readers after a visit to the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. In addition to this volume, our collection also holds several printed works by Pascalis, as well as considerable other materials (correspondence, manuscripts, diplomas, and more) that are not currently represented in our online catalog. If you are interested in these materials, please email us at history@nyam.org.


1. Kelly, Howard A. (1928) Pascalis-Ouviere, Felix A. In: Dictionary of American Medical Biography. New York: D. Appleton and Company.

The Sex Side of Life

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

September 30-October 6, 2012 is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read and calls attention to books than have been banned or challenged. While Banned Books Week was first celebrated in 1982, printed matter was being censored long before that, as shown in a collection here at NYAM. In the Mary Ware Dennett Case Collection, one finds a controversy surrounding a small pamphlet and the resulting rally against its suppression.

This small collection centers on Mary Ware Dennett (1872-1947) and the case against her. She wrote a pamphlet titled The Sex Side of Life, which explained human reproduction to children.
Title from front cover of the "Sex Side of Life" pamphlet

First published as an article in the Medical Review of Reviews in 1918, it was later distributed as a pamphlet. The pamphlet was endorsed by doctors, churches and social organizations, but its forthright description of human sexuality was not wholly well-received. The pamphlet was deemed obscene by the Post Office in 1922 and in 1928, Dennett was tried by a federal grand jury and found guilty of distributing obscene materials through the mail. A Mary Ware Dennett Defense Committee was organized under the American Civil Liberties Union and the conviction was overturned in 1930.

Our collection was created by the well-regarded medical illustrator Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson, fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine, friend to Mary Ware Dennett and member of the defense committee. Dr. Dickinson was also responsible for the diagrams shown in the pamphlet. Materials include copies of The Sex Side of Life, correspondence, clippings, printed matter, typed and manuscript notes and the Appellant’s Brief from the U.S. vs. Mary Ware Dennett case. To learn more or visit the collection, please contact the staff of the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room by emailing history@nyam.org.

Processing a Hidden Collection: Alexander E. MacDonald papers and photographs, 1869-1906

By Erin Albritton, Head of the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory

From the congestion, decay, stench and pestilence of Five Points to the rolling pastures and sweeping Hudson vistas uptown, life in 19th century New York was markedly different than it is today. For the mentally ill, the contrast between life then and now is even starker. The NYAM Library’s archival collection of Dr. Alexander E. MacDonald’s papers opens a window into this fascinating and somewhat grim world.

Spread of photographs, clippings, and other documents from MacDonald Papers

Sample items from the collection.

Purchased in 2005, the materials in this collection cover the period in Dr. MacDonald’s life from 1869 to 1906, concerning most especially his tenure as Superintendent of the New York City Asylum for the Insane, Ward’s Island (which later became the Manhattan State Hospital) and as General Superintendent of the New York City asylums. The collection, which is 8.5 linear feet, includes correspondence and personal diaries, manuscripts, photographs, printed pamphlets and reports, legal documents and press clippings. Taken together, these materials paint a picture of day-to-day life in the asylums at a time when firmly entrenched draconian attitudes towards the treatment and care of mentally ill patients were just beginning to change. As a case in point, Dr. MacDonald (who was also a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine) is credited with establishing an outdoor tent treatment for asylum patients suffering from tuberculosis – a novel method that garnered accolades worldwide. Photographs, articles and notes on the subject are included in this extensive archive.

Black and white photograph of tent city and grounds from a New York psychiatric facility dated 1901

Tent city for tuberculosis patients, 1901.

The Alexander E. MacDonald papers have now been processed and were minimally stabilized and rehoused in the Gladys Brooks Book & Paper Conservation Laboratory. For more information or to make an appointment to use the collection, contact the Rare Book Room at (212) 822-7313 or history@nyam.org. The finding aid is available by request. To see where Dr. MacDonald’s Asylum for the Insane once stood, take a walk on the Ward’s Island pedestrian bridge at 103rd Street across the Harlem River to Ward’s Island Park, where you will now find playing fields, bike paths and a scenic waterfront.