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1751 - 1800

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The Historic Medical Library at Pennsylvania Hospital opened its doors in 1762, making it the oldest medical library in the country, and in 1847 the American Medical Association designated it as the first, largest and most important medical library in the United States. Under the stewardship of a handful of bibliophiles, medical, scientific, historical and other volumes were consistently acquired and donated throughout the library's history. Although the first librarians did not intend for Pennsylvania Hospital's medical library to be a historical collection, it has evolved as such. For many years, Philadelphia was the American center for medical and scientific knowledge, and the hospital's library can attest to that history. Now, in the late 20th century, the historic collections of the library are maintained separately from a contemporary library used by current medical staff, nurses and residents.

Pennsylvania Hospital's library had its early beginnings through two friends of Benjamin Franklin: Dr. John Fothergill and Dr. John Coakley Lettsom. In 1762, Dr. Fothergill sent the first book for the library. The following note was made in the minutes of the Board of Managers' meeting on July 27, 1762:

William Logan, lately returned from London, attended the Board with a book entitled "An Experimental History of the Materia Medica" by William Lewis, F.R.S., lately published in London, being a present to the Hospital by Dr. John Fothergill for the benefit of the Young Students in Physic who may attend under the Direction of the Physicians, which is kindly accepted by the Managers as an additional Mark of the Doctor's benevolent Regard to this Institution, and William Logan is requested to him with our grateful Acceptance thereof.

In 1763, the staff physicians requested that student admission fees to clinical lectures be used toward the purchase of books for the library. The development of the library was further aided by gifts and bequests from physicians. In 1767, 43 volumes were received from Dr. Lloyd Zachary's estate, and 55 classics in medicine from the estate of Dr. Benjamin Morris.

In 1775, Dr. Lettsom was appointed agent for selection of medical books in London. He purchased them from William Strahan, the London bookseller immortalized by the Scottish writer James Boswell. Strahan also contributed money and books for Pennsylvania Hospital's library.

A student was appointed to supervise the library. Very stringent rules were made and enforced regarding the use of books; only managers, physicians and students were allowed to borrow them. The library was open one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, twice a week. Each borrower was required to sign a promissory note to guarantee against damage or loss. Certain texts, such as William Hunter's Gravid Uterus with illustrations by Jan Van Rymsdyk, could only be used in the library under the watchful eye of the student librarian. At the end of a one-year appointment, the student librarian had to account for every book and pay for any that were lost.

During the Revolutionary War, acquisitions were almost at a standstill. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician, author and civic leader on the medical staff, complained in 1783 that medical information in the United States was eight to 10 years behind Europe. The Board immediately began to rectify the situation. By 1790, when the first printed catalogue was prepared by Dr. Rush and Dr. Thomas Parke, the collection amounted to 366 volumes.

In 1800, a portion of a very important collection was donated to the library. William Byrd of Westover, Va., was one of the most acclaimed book collectors in America, and his 3,625-volume library was famous throughout the world. Upon his death, his widow sold the library to Isaac Zane, who kept the books in Virginia until 1781 when he sent them to his family to sell at a Philadelphia auction. (It is rumored that Thomas Jefferson wanted to purchase some of the volumes but claimed they were too expensive.) Zane died in 1795 and his books were sold piecemeal until 1800 when his sister, Sarah Zane, gave 124 medical and scientific volumes to Pennsylvania Hospital. Several scholars have traced the dispersement of Byrd's library and it is believed that Pennsylvania Hospital has the largest collection.

In 1817, the Board purchased the library of Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton from his widow. Dr. Barton was a distinguished botanist and his library contained many beautiful volumes, such as the six volumes of Pierre Joseph Redoute's Les Liliacees, Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina and outstanding herbals of John Gerarde and Dr. Jacob Christoph Trew. Herbals were very much in use in colonial medicine and these outstanding classics were valuable additions to the library collection. Also donated were several volumes from the Byrd library which had been purchased by Dr. Barton. These books were now reunited with the original Byrd collection on the shelves of Pennsylvania Hospital's library.

The Influence of Early Bibliophiles
In addition to the apothecaries and physicians who served as honorary librarians and library committee members, the hospital is indebted to two book-lovers: William Gunn Malin and Dr. Francis R. Packard.

William Gunn Malin became associated with the hospital in 1824 as a clerk and later as the librarian. It is primarily due to his influence that the major classics in medicine were acquired, including many of the 11 incunabula bound in 10 volumes. (Incunabula refers to books printed before 1501 in the earliest period of publishing history.) Malin also purchased subscriptions to important medical journals in all languages and had the sets bound. In 1829, he prepared a comprehensive catalog of the library, including the earlier 1790, 1794 and 1806 catalogs, as well as a history of the development of the library. The rate of growth of the library under his direction was approximately 150 volumes per year.

In 1840, Malin became steward of the hospital's newly opened psychiatric facility, The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital. He was no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the library, but he continued to take an interest in its operation and supervised it until his retirement in 1883. Additional catalogs were published in 1837 and a completely new "catalog raisonne" was prepared by Dr. Emil Fischer in 1857. A rough draft for an additional catalog was written in 1883. Malin contributed much to medical librarianship, medical bibliography, hospital management and mental health care.

The second great bibliophile in the library's history was Dr. Francis R. Packard. He served the hospital as an intern, resident, staff physician, historian and honorary librarian. His long association with the hospital began in 1894 and continued until his death in 1950. His great concern for books and libraries led him to ask the hospital's Board of Mangers for funds to employ a librarian to prepare a card catalog and classify the library materials. Dr. Packard did much to encourage the use of the library by scholars. He also authored a history of the institution: Some Account of the Pennsylvania Hospital of Philadelphia from 1751-1938.

As the library expanded, additional space was required and it was moved from the apothecary into its present room when the Center Building was completed in 1804. From approximately 1824 to 1835, the collection was moved to other places and this room was used as a lying-in area. In 1835, the room was made a library again and continues as such today. In 1847, the American Medical Association designated it as the first, largest and most important medical library in the country. It continued to grow after this, but at a slower pace because medical schools and medical societies were beginning to build library collections.

The library was not developed to be a rare book collection, although some items are now scarce. Instead, the collection was assembled for use by the physicians and students at a time when Philadelphia was recognized as the center for medicine and science in America. From the accessions lists, one can evaluate the transit of medical knowledge from Europe to America; from the borrowing records, one can get a picture of how soon this knowledge was accepted. Dr. Packard decided, in an effort to preserve the volumes, that the collection should be maintained as the Historic Library and a contemporary collection of medical literature for the residents and interns was begun. The Packard Reading Room was established in 1950 as a memorial to him.

The Library in Modern Times
In 1974 and 1976, the Historic Library received grants from the National Library of Medicine to inventory and catalog the collection in order to make it more accessible for scholarly research. Today, the collection count is 8,700 books and 4,500 bound journals. The Historic Library possesses the richest resource in early medicine belonging to any hospital in the United States. Although much can be learned from the early medical volumes, our contemporary collection follows the tradition established in 1762 of collecting up-to-date information. Professional medical librarianship has followed the path Malin began. As he contributed to medical bibliography, the contemporary library participates in union lists and surveys. And as he contributed to hospital management and mental health care our library collects literature in these areas for present day hospital staff members.

We have what is considered by many to be one of the most comprehensive collections of nursing literature in the area. The library is also a major contributor to the Health Science Library Consortium, a network exchange of health care information for medicine, nursing and other disciplines.

Other Historic Collections
The richness of Pennsylvania Hospital's library is complemented by the scope of our other historic collections, which include archival materials, paintings, photographs and memorabilia.

The archives at Pennsylvania Hospital trace the development of health care and public policy since the mid-1700s. Records relating to both our 8th Street facility and former 49th Street facility are available for research. The wide range of materials consists of Board of Manager minutes; admission and discharge records; administrative and financial records; and personal correspondence of physicians and superintendents.

The memorabilia collection includes hundreds of diverse medical artifacts, such as antique surgical kits and World War I scrapbooks from hospital nurses. The photograph collection features Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride's Magic Lantern slide collection.

Research Requests
The Historic Library and other special collections are available for research use. Interested researchers may write or phone for an appointment on weekdays between 9 am and 5 pm. Interlibrary loan of historic materials is not available. Reference services are available; a fee may be required depending on the complexity of the research request.

For more information, please visit the Historical Collections site or call the Pennsylvania Hospital Archivist at (215) 829-5434.

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