Physicians Record Book

It has been a few weeks since I have reported on our NHPRC project. We now have created over 1900 records. July’s entries will be added to the online catalog early next week.

Today I enjoyed paging through a manuscript labeled Physician’s Record Book. A very brittle volume, it begins with notes copied from medical books. There are also notes about religion. What I found most interesting was the vast amount of medical information provided. It begins with pages listing patients’ names, ages, and what they were being treated for. In the doctors account books I have previously cataloged, they often simply wrote that they saw a particular family member, such as “To seeing wife” or “to treating son.”

The doctor who used this volume (it does not appear to contain his name) made notes of congestion in the brain, cholera morbus, spasm from constipation, and ecchymosis. He also wrote about more common ailments such as influenza, diarrhea, and teething. Particularly with the more serious illnesses, the doctor recorded whether the patient recovered or died.

Physician's Record Book

Patient listing, Phyisican's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Of particular interest are the pages of journal entries regarding women in childbirth. The doctor detailed not just the current pregnancy, but others the woman may have had, along with whether there were complications. In this section he referred to the woman only by their last initial. As you may read below, the doctor spared few details in his description of Mrs. D.

Record Book

Entry from Physician's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Mrs. D was on her forth pregnancy. Her most recent one had been normal, though she had trouble with the first two. The doctor details his patient’s pains and the position of her child. It is difficult to ascertain whether the child survived. The mother, however, did not. Ten days after the doctor recorded the pains, etc., Mrs. D. suffered some horrible experiences (detailing them would lead to too much spam!) and soon passed away.

Fortunately we can balance out Mrs. D’s ordeal with that of Mrs. H. Her third labor lasted 12 hours and she fully recovered.

Entry from Physician's Record Book, 1816-1824, Ms 85583. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Though we do not know the author of the volume, names in the listing of patients can be found in Massachusetts census records from 1810 and 1820. The doctor was most likely in the Boston area. Our usual practice would be to recommend de-accessioning an account book from a state other than Connecticut. However, neither Barbara nor I could bear the thought of passing along this invaluable look at female medicine in the nineteenth century.

This volume is open for research. As always, please come visit. Make sure to read about other items in our collections on Connecticut Public Broadcasting’s Your Public Media site. You may also “like” us on Facebook and follow @ConnHistSoc on Twitter.

Two notable families

We just acquired a particularly rich family collection that we hope researchers will use a lot.  It consists of correspondence among members of the Terry and Bacon families of Hartford and New Haven, respectively.  Nathaniel Terry, the progenitor of the family, married Catherine Wadsworth.  Nathaniel was mayor of Hartford and a Congressman.  His sons were also quite distinguished and most of them attended and graduated from Yale.

One son, Adrian Russell Terry, was a physician, and his most fascinating letters are those written while he was in Ecuador trying to establish a medical practice there.  Great observations of the local land and citizens, plus a huge list of medical supplies he purchased in New York City are two of the highlights among his papers.

Charles A. Terry, another of Nathaniel’s sons, was also a physician and when he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he sent back vivid descriptions of that city.  His brother, Alfred Terry, was the most avid letter writer in the family.  His letters are mostly from his student days at Yale and later at Litchfield, Connecticut, where he studied law under James Gould.

Daughter Catherine Terry married noted minister, theologian and author Leonard Bacon.  All of their children (and there were plenty) wrote to mother about their activities, the development of their children, their relationships with other family members, etc.  Leonard Bacon and his son Leonard W. traveled to Europe and the Middle East from 1850-1851 and they wrote long, detailed letters of their impressions of the familiar and unfamiliar.

Catherine and Leonard’s son, Francis Bacon, a physician, wrote from Galveston, Texas where he tried (unsuccessfully) to get established in a practice.  His letters are filled with disparaging remarks about the lack of culture among the population there.  He also could not stand the weather.

George Bacon, another son, wrote several letters in the 1850s while he was on board the U.S.S. Portsmouth when it sailed to Shanghai and Hong Kong. Daughters Rebecca T. Bacon and Alice Mabel Bacon also made names for themselves, the first as an educator, the second as a teacher in Japan and as the founder of a nurses training school for African-American women in Hampton, Virginia.  And I could go on, as does the collection.

As I mentioned at the outset, this promises to be an extremely important research collection.  I cannot wait to learn what other gems exist in addition to the letters from Rutherford B. Hayes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lydia Sigourney and Alexis de Toqueville.