Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

June 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image scanned from Charles Bell's Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery

The June 2016 Historical Book of the Month features the artistic masterpiece, Illustrations of the Great Operations  of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy by Charles Bell published in London in 1821. Sir Charles Bell was a Scottish surgeon, neurologist, and anatomist and namesake of such structures and phenomena as Bell’s Nerve, Bell’s Palsy, and Bell’s Spasm. This classic work in the history of surgery includes 20 engraved plates of Charles Bell’s own drawings of operations he performed over the course of 20 years.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Andrea Schorr at or 210-567-2403.

May 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image from De Symmetria Partium in Rectis Formis Humanorum Corporum

This month’s highlighted historical book from the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library is De Symmetria Partium in Rectis Formis Humanorum Corporum by Albrecht Dürer. This 1st Latin edition was translated from the original 1528 German edition and published in Nuremberg in 1532.

Dürer was an influential artist, renowned print-maker, and respected contributor to the Northern Renaissance. This classic work includes 85 full-length figures of the human body that celebrate its mathematical proportions and aesthetic symmetry.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

April 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image of blackberry from American Medical Botany

In honor of Earth Day, this month’s chosen resource is Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, a 3-volume set published between 1817 and 1820 and one of the first titles published in the United States containing colored plant illustrations.

Sixty beautiful colored plates were produced using a special process invented by Bigelow himself. Each entry includes a plant’s botanical history, chemical examination, medicinal uses, and dissections of the flower and fruit from the plant.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

March 2016 Historical Book of the Month

The March 2016 Historical Book of the Month features this monumental work by Giovanni Battista Morgagni.

Image of Giovanni Morgagni

  • De Sedibus, et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis Libri Quinque
    • 2nd edition
    • Published in Padua in 1765
  • The Seats and Causes of Diseases Investigated by Anatomy: In Five Books
    • 1st English edition
    • Published in London in 1769

Considered the Father of Pathological Anatomy, Morgagni confirmed the relationship between symptoms of disease and pathological changes in specific organs. He systematically indexed almost 700 postmortem examinations correlating the autopsy findings with the patient’s symptoms, or the cry of the suffering organs.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

February 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Illustration of Skull Measuring

This month’s featured historical book is Coomb’s Popular Phrenology by Frederick Coombs published in Boston in 1841. This monograph contains charts and illustrations of the exact phrenological – or skull – measurements of over fifty people. Phrenologists believed that each personality trait and mental faculty is represented in a specific area of the brain and that the size of the skull over that area determines the capacity for that attribute. By feeling the contours, bumps, and fissures of the skull, they claimed to be able to determine a person’s character and intellect.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

January 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Portrait of Robert BoyleThe January 2016 Historical Book of the Month is Medicinal Experiments: or, A Collection of Choice Remedies, for the Most Part Simple and Easily Prepared, a collection of medicinal recipes compiled by Robert Boyle and published posthumously in London in 1692. Namesake of Boyle’s Law, Robert Boyle was one of the founders of modern chemistry, but his interests were widespread, including philosophy and theology. In this pocket-sized monograph, measuring 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, Boyle offers instructions for making concoctions to treat such varied ailments as jaundice, toothache, and convulsions in children, classifying each formula as an A, B, or C.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

December 2015 Historical Book of the Month

Portrait of Thomas Robert MalthusThis month’s highlighted resource from the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library is An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society written under a pseudonym by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798. In this statistical classic, Malthus concludes that population increases exponentially while the food supply only increases arithmetically, leading him to advocate for population control and moral restraint. The work of Thomas Robert Malthus is credited with suggesting to Charles Darwin the concept of “Survival of the Fittest.”

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

The Diary of a Resurrectionist: The Value of Death

The Dissecting Room by Thomas Rowlandson

The Dissecting Room by Thomas Rowlandson

Attending medical school in this century has a number of challenges. There is tuition, books, fees, and even things such as parking stickers that the students may have to worry about getting before the first day of class. However, back in 1896 the major supplies that medical students and schools were concerned about were cadavers.

Rise of the Resurrection Men

In the United Kingdom, specifically, there was a huge deficit in cadavers to use for instruction, training, and demonstrations. The need for these dead bodies became so intense that the occupation of “Resurrection Men” was born. The job description for these Resurrection Men was simple – they were instructed to go into cemeteries, exhume corpses, and transport them to the respective schools and institutions for dissection.
Previously schools in England gathered their cadavers from the judicial system, and criminals that were sentenced to death were the sole suppliers. During the 18th century, hundreds of people were put to death over petty crimes, but by the 19th century the judicial system and laws had matured so much conviction to capital punishment became less common. An average of only 55 people per year were sentenced to capital punishment, but, with the expansion of medical schools, the need for cadavers climbed to 500 bodies per year. This made the need for Resurrection Men vital in filling the gap.

Efforts to Protect the Dead

This lucrative, yet illegal, punishable by fines or imprisonment, business was booming for quite some years. It became so popular that friends and family of the recently deceased would take turns watching over their loved one’s dead bodies. The angst did not stop there. Once the corpse was in



the ground, many families continued to protect their dead by adding iron bars and structures over the graves called mortsafes or morthouses. This did not discourage all stealing as there were several techniques used by these men to retrieve the bodies.

The first, in which they would use a wooden shovel to create less noise than metal, was to dig 4 ft. into the ground at the head of the grave, expose the coffin, break it open, and then tie a rope around the corpse and pull it out. An 1896 article in the Lancet reported a much more complicated, inconspicuous approach where the Resurrection Men picked a spot 14 – 15 feet away from the head of the grave, removed some turf, dug a small slanting tunnel towards the grave to reach the coffin buried 4 or 5 feet down, tore off the head of the coffin, then pulled the corpse out through the tunnel, replacing the earth in the tunnel afterwards and covering it with the turf square. The article claimed in some cases the family would not even be able to tell that the grave had been disturbed. However, this method would have been almost impossible to carry out and would have been more obvious than re-digging in the original earth that had been removed during the burial. Some Resurrectionists were cemetery-keepers who would simply remove the body to a sack before they buried the coffin. In whatever method used, they were extremely careful not to take any clothing, personal belongings, or jewelry that had been on the corpse, as stealing was a felony, even though body snatching was not.

Anatomy Act of 1832

Anatomy Act of 1832

As this business became more and more profitable for the Resurrection Men, it became more and more disheartening for the families around the United Kingdom. After extreme cases occurred where people who were innocent and perfectly well were murdered to provide bodies, an uproar arose with many rallying and crying that enough was enough. In a move to protect civil justice and peace of mind, the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed. The Anatomy Act required the licensing of anatomy teachers and regulated the supply of cadavers for medical research and education by giving physicians, surgeons, and medical students legal access to unclaimed corpses, especially of people who had died in prison or workhouses. It also allowed a person to donate his own or next of kin’s corpse, if there were no objection by other kin, in exchange for burial paid by the anatomy school. This completely dissolved the need for Resurrection Men.

Diary of a Resurrectionist

Front cover of James Bailey's Diary of a Resurrectionist. P. I. NIxon Medical Historical Library.

Front cover of James Bailey’s Diary of a Resurrectionist. P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

The Diary of a Resurrectionist, a book published by James Bailey in 1896 that contains portions of a diary actually kept by a member of a resurrectionist gang in London,  is owned by the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library. Though Bailey left out any gory details, it still proves to be an interesting read. Even though you are able to find almost the entire body of the work online, being able to view the hard copy is a treasure itself, reminding you to value life the way these resurrection men of the 1800’s valued death.

Anatomy Act of 1832.” Segen’s Medicial Dictionary, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. Act 1832
“Body Snatching.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
Bailey, James. The Diary of a Resurrectionist. The Project Gutenberg. Web. 14 Jan. 2015.
“Thomas Wakley, the Founder of ‘The Lancet.’ A biography. Chapter III.” Lancet, vol. i. p. 285-287, Jan 18, 1896.

Anatomy act of 1832:
The Dissecting Room:

Tressica Thomas B.S., SLP-A
DEHS Student- School of Medicine

The Natural History of Human Teeth -John Hunter

John Hunter. Painted by John Jackson in 1813

John Hunter. Painted by John Jackson in 1813

Would you believe it if someone told you that there once lived a man that was involved in the dissection of over 2,000 bodies; established circulation of the placenta; traced the nerves of smell; explained causes of congenital hernias; demonstrated circulation of the lymphatic system; wrote numerous papers on treating gunshot wounds, descent of the testis, and physical digestion; described the role of inflammation in the healing process; set up the foundations for bypass surgeries; and revolutionized dentistry? As hard as it is to believe, a man like this did exist, and his name was John Hunter, a distinguished scientist and a surgeon of his day.

Early Years

John Hunter was born to his father John Hunter, in Scotland on February 13, 1728 (he observed his birthday on the 14th and died on October 16, 1793), the last of 10 children. Of his childhood John Hunter is quoted as stating, “I watched the ants, bees, birds, tadpoles and caddisworms; I pestered people with questions about what nobody knew or cared anything about.” This quote shows the curiosity that led him to become such a prolific contributor to scientific knowledge in the different branches of medicine.”

Medical Training

John Hunter had a famous brother, William Hunter FRS (May 23, 1718 – March 30, 1783), who was a Scottish anatomist and physician. He was also considered a leading teacher of anatomy and the outstanding obstetrician of his day. William Hunter played a big role in the development and eventualsuccesses of his younger brother John by putting him in charge of the dissecting room of his anatomy school after John moved to London in 1748. John worked at his brother’s anatomy school for 11 years. During this time he learned from leading surgeons of that time, such as William Cheselden and Percivall Pott, while being involved in vital research and spending most of his time studying anatomy, including comparative anatomy.

Surgical Practice

In 1760 John enlisted in the army as a surgeon after sibling tension and professional rivalry made it hard to work with his brother William. He returned to England in 1763 and set up a surgical practice and worked as a dentist, popularizing tooth transplants by taking healthy teeth from poor people and transplanting them into the mouths of rich paying patients. During this time, John Hunter realized that what was needed in the practice of surgery, and what he needed to pursue, was a total understanding of life, an understanding of both normal physiology and of the processes of disease, both in humans and in the entire animal kingdom.

Most Notable Works

This led him to delve into some of his most notable works including:

  •  Observing in his notes, his own injury of ruptured Achilles tendon.
  •  Undertaking experiments in dogs to learn about healing and repair by cutting their tendons and observing the healing process. This led him to     conclude that scaring was part of the healing process.
  •  Inoculating himself with gonorrhea pus and ending up contracting both gonorrhea and syphilis. During this time he made close observations of these diseases, learning that inflammation was necessary for the cure of a patient but that this process also did harm and thus contributed to the symptoms of the disease.
  • Demonstrating collateral circulation through an experiment in which he tied one of the carotids arteries in a stag, which caused the antler on that side to become cold and to stop growing. However, within a few weeks the warmth had returned and the antler started growing. The animal was later dissected and the collateral vessels were found. The observations for this experiment were later used to create an operation to bypass vascular aneurysms.
  •  Performing the first artificial insemination by inseminating via a warm syringe the wife of a man suffering from hypospadias.

John Hunter left a legacy of challenging his pupils to try and test medical procedures, introducing into practice only those that were proven. He also encouraged them to continually seek improvements in their methods.

The Natural History of Human Teeth

Another legacy he left was his book The Natural History of the Human Teeth, published in 1778. In the book John Hunter details how teeth develop from birth, addresses structure and composition of teeth, proposes a form of transplantation and a device for treating malocclusions, and becomes the first to scientifically introduce classifications such as cupsids, bicupsids, molars and incisors. The P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library owns a copy of this book.

For more information on the Nixon Library and John Hunter’s book, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at or 210-567-2406.

1. Lakhani, S. “Early clinical pathologists 4: John Hunter (1728-1793).” Journal of Clinical Pathology. 44.8 (1991): 621-623. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. <>.
2. “William Hunter (anatomist).” Wikipedia. N.p., n. d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. <
3. “John Hunter 1728-1793.” Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England. 60.1 (1978): 4-5. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. <>.
4. Moore, Wendy. “Moore W (2009). John Hunter (1728-93).” JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation. The James Lind Library, n. d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. <>.
5. “Hunter, John (1728-1793).” UAB Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, n. d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. <

Jackson, John. John Hunter. 1813. Photograph. WikipediaWeb. 27 Feb 2015. <>. In public domain.

–Manasseh Ngigi, Nursing school student

Image of the an illustration within John Hunter's The Natural History of the Human Teeth. P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Image of the an illustration within John Hunter’s The Natural History of the Human Teeth. P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Image of the title page of John Hunter's The Natural History of the Human Teeth. P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Image of the title page of John Hunter’s The Natural History of the Human Teeth. P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library.

Elizabeth Blackwell: First Female Physician of the Modern Era

“[women] May be useful in some departments, but in surgery, no nerve” and “…can you think of a patient in a critical case, waiting for half an hour while the medical lady fixes her bonnet or adjusts her bustle?”

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell

In a time when women were considered inferior, not only physically, but also mentally, simply the idea of a woman with her “delicate sensibilities” attempting to practice medicine was ludicrous enough to provoke comments such as those above. This was popular sentiment, making it a truly amazing feat that Elizabeth Blackwell was able to endure these prejudices, to not only pursue an education in medicine, but also use it as a platform for social and moral reform.

Early Life

Blackwell was born in England in 1821 to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell, one of nine children. Mr. Blackwell was a liberalist and therefore very involved in social reform. These ideals led to a firm belief in providing each of his children the opportunity to develop their talents and intellect. As a result, from a young age Elizabeth Blackwell benefitted from private tutors and the influence of her father’s social ideology. Eventually her father moved their family to America and in her early adulthood Blackwell pursued her interests in education and social reform. Later in her life, Blackwell would admit that initially all things medical had disgusted her, and it was the last words of a close, dying acquaintance admitting that a female physician would have been a comfort during the course of her illness, which had Blackwell considering a career in medicine.

Geneva Medical College

Geneva Medical College

Difficulties in Obtaining Medical Training

A woman applying to medical school was unheard of at the time, and medical school in itself was an expensive novelty. Tradition had been that budding physicians learned the practice of medicine by actually practicing under the apprenticeship of an already established physician. However, none of these barriers deterred Blackwell. If anything she saw it as a challenge, and a platform to advocate for reform in women’s education. Through the resources of physician acquaintances, she was able to self-study and work till she had enough for the tuition to apply to medical colleges in New York and Philadelphia. Frustratingly, all her applications were met with rejection. A small school in rural New York however, conflicted about her admittance, laid the decision to their current students. A single ‘no’ from any of the all-male student body would bar Blackwell’s admittance. Thinking it a joke, the vote was a unanimous ‘yes,’ and it was to the school and town’s horror and dismay when Blackwell arrived for her first day of classes at Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in 1847.

Blackwell took the hostility and cold welcoming inside and outside of the classroom in stride. According to rumor, Blackwell’s presence in school turned an otherwise raucous, unruly class of boys into well behaved gentlemen, leading to more productive lectures and the best class the school had taught in years. Over time, she earned the respect of many of her colleagues and faculty for her perseverance and ability. The course lasted two years, and in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell graduated, top of her class, and the first female physician to be formally trained in America. Her example led to more women receiving a formal medical education.

Problems in Medical Practice

Wanting to further her studies, she returned to England, and found the education system even less welcoming than America, despite her medical degree. She studied as a midwife in Paris at La Maternité and was greatly recognized for her skills as an obstetrician. While treating one of her pediatric patients for a bacterial eye infection, she contracted the eye infection and was left blind in one eye, ruining her hopes of becoming a surgeon. Later, she worked at St. Bartholomew’s hospital where she befriended Florence Nightingale, another woman active in the field of medicine. More experienced and knowledgeable, Blackwell returned to New York with the intention of opening her own practice, but met resistance from all, not allowed to rent an office or able to gain the support of fellow male physicians.blackwellquote

Role in Medical Education for Women

With the help of her younger sister Emily, who had followed in her sister’s footsteps to also become a trained physician, and another student physician she took under her wing, she opened the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in 1857, which allowed women to practice and further their training while providing care for the poor. Then, in 1868, Blackwell founded the Women’s Medical College. In addition to helping establish these institutions, she wrote several books on household health, women in medicine, medical sociology and sexual physiology, and while she never married or had any children of her own other than an adopted daughter, she wrote parenting books and advice to young girls.
Elizabeth Blackwell was truly a pioneer in the medical education of women. In her last years of practice, she taught as a professor of gynecology in the London School of Medicine, which she also helped established, before her declining health forced her to retire.

The Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Anncouncement, 1868.

The Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Announcementt, 1868-69.

1. “Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.” National Library of Medicine. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.
< >.
2. Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Elizabeth Blackwell First Female Physician.” Web. 5 Mar. 2015.
< >.
3. Markel, Howard. “How Elizabeth Blackwell Became the First Female Doctor in the U.S.” PBS. 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. < >.
4. Nixon, Pat Ireland. The Medical Story of Early Texas 1528 – 1853. Lancaster, PE: Lancaster Press, Inc., 1946, p. 413. Print.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. Changing the Face of Medicine. 5 Mar 2015
< >. In public domain.

Geneva Medical College. 5 Mar 2015.
< >. In public domain.

The Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. [Announcement, 1868-69] New York, 1868 National Library of Medicine. 5 Mar 2015. <>. In public domain

Thank you for reading and please stop by!
Nicole Iwuchukwu, School of Medicine