Thursday, October 26, 2006

Whitman Collection

The Whitman Collection is a little used subcollection here in the History of Medicine Room, but it tends to draw more than its fair share of reference queries from researchers all over the country. Mostly, patrons who contact us want to know whether we have images of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman which they can use in publications or presentations. One of the more interesting things, to me, is that the image of Marcus we use to publicize the collection bears the caption: There is no authentic picture of Dr. Marcus Whitman. This is said to resemble him. History is obviously enlivened by images, and the requests we get for copyright permissions for publication bear that notion out strongly.

But what about the Collection itself? Our informational page on the website notes that the collection contains copies of the books Marcus used to care for the Cayuse Indians at the mission, as well as books about the Whitmans themselves. Where did it come from? Why is it here? In the 1937-38 annual report for the Library, Bertha Hallam mentions getting started on building a Marcus Whitman collection. Just that year (1937), the mission’s book collection, missing since the massacre in 1847, was rediscovered by a professor at the Western Reserve University medical school in Cleveland, Frederick C. Waite. He donated the collection of 56 titles to the Whitman College historical museum in Walla Walla. Bertha and Dr. Olof Larsell learned of this, and Bertha acquired a list of the titles donated from the librarian at Whitman College. From this list, Bertha was able to recreate the collection in our Library. Waite’s own book, Medical Education of Marcus Whitman is also available in the Whitman Collection.

And what of Marcus and Narcissa and their history? The National Park Service is working to keep the memory alive at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site; check out the full story on their website.

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