Archives & Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, is pleased to announce the opening of its new exhibit, Medicine in the Early United States, 1790-1830, which can now be seen on Lower Level 2 of the Hammer Health Sciences Building.
The early years of the new nation –from roughly the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 until the deaths of the last Founding Fathers circa 1830 – was a period that saw the beginnings of a medical infrastructure in the U.S.: the country’s first medical journal began publication; hospitals were established; medical societies proliferated; and there was a dramatic increase in the number of medical schools – from 4 in 1790 to 24 in 1830.
On display are books, journals, manuscripts and ephemera which illustrate this formative era. Viewers can see a copy of the Medical Repository, the country’s first medical journal, founded by Columbia College medical faculty members in 1797; books on the terrible yellow fever epidemics that ravaged Philadelphia and New York during this period; an 1810 letter from a medical student describing his studies in Philadelphia with famed physician Benjamin Rush; the first charter of P&S (1807); the 1811 ledger of rural Maine physician showing his charges for bleeding and delivering babies; and a copy of the 1831 Massachusetts “Anatomy Act” – the first in the nation – which allowed medical schools access to unclaimed bodies for use in anatomical dissection.
Compared to Europe, U.S. medicine in this period remained poorly organized. It lacked authority and prestige, and received no government research support. American medical education was distinctly sub-par, leading many students to pursue further education in Great Britain and France. Nevertheless, the efforts made by American physicians in this era gave promise of future distinction.
The exhibit is on display on Lower Level 2 of the Teaching & Learning Center in the Hammer Health Sciences Building from March 11 through May 24. It may be seen 7 days a week from 7 am to 10 pm. You must have a valid Columbia University or New York-Presbyterian Hospital ID to gain entry to the Hammer Health Sciences Building. Those without one should contact Archives & Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain admission.