The Health Sciences Library has recently acquired a manuscript by Samuel Bard (1742-1821), a founder of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a prominent early American physician.  The 20-page handwritten document is the text of an unpublished commencement address given by Bard to the graduates of the College, probably in about 1818.  

Bard warned his audience of new physicians that “instead, therefore, supposing you have finished, remember you have but begun your studies.”  He went on to say that “the young man who entertains a high opinion of his present attainments in virtue or knowledge, is not likely to improve in either.” Besides being a proponent of life-long learning, Bard urged his audience to be “gentlemen,” which he saw characterized not by “artificial varnish” but rather by “genuine effusions of a good Heart.”

This is the third Bard manuscript acquired by the Health Sciences Library.  Several years ago it purchased the draft of his 1811 opening day address, “Discourse on the Importance of Medical Education,” and in 2017 it acquired his 1819 report to the New York State Board of Regents, “Remarks on the constitution, government, discipline & expences [sic] of medical schools.”  In addition, the Library has in the last twenty years purchased most of Bard’s published works including his Enquiry into the nature, cause and cure, of the angina suffocativa, or, sore throat distemper (1771), an important work on diphtheria; the 1810 French translation of that work; and the first (1807) edition of his Compendium of the theory and practice of midwifery, the first textbook on the subject by an American.

Samuel Bard studied first at King’s (now Columbia) College before receiving his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1765.  He was one of six physicians of New York City who in 1767 persuaded King’s College to establish a medical school, now the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, the second oldest in the United States. Bard served as its dean and professor of medicine until its closure in 1776 due to the War for Independence and, after the newly renamed Columbia College revived the school in 1791, he served first as dean and later as president of the college until his death.  Bard Hall, the college’s main residence hall, is named for him.

Besides his involvement with the medical school, Bard was one of the founders in 1771 of New York Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the primary teaching hospital of the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The new manuscript is in generally good condition though it will require treatment by conservators to prevent paper loss. Once this work is complete, the manuscript will be available for study and exhibition.