Friday, August 28, 2009

Larrey letter lands at HC&A

Today, Dr. Donald D. Trunkey, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Surgery at OHSU and former department chair, historian and soldier, donated to the Historical Collections & Archives an original manuscript letter from Dominique Jean Larrey, Napoleon's surgeon, to "Monsieur Le Duc" dated Paris, 6 August 18[?]0. The item was purchased at that great old ramshackle book lovers' paradise, the Old Hickory Bookshop in Maryland for $400, and is the single best find Dr. Trunkey has yet come across in his collecting.

The English translation included here was provided by a graduate student in the anatomy lab of Reid S. (Sam) Connell, Ph.D.
Paris, 6 August [1820?]

Since I had a paper to present to the Institute the day after you took the trouble to come see me, I didn't have a chance to draft the immediate response you wished to your letter which you were kind enough to write, asking me my advice on the type of climate to be found in the cities of London and Florence, and which of these two cities would best suit the health of the Duke of Survilliers [Charles Bonaparte], since he has proposed to establish his residency definitively in one of the other of these two cities.

Of course, unless there are very specific and important reasons which would lead this prince to establish himself in London, this city seemed to offer considerable inconveniences to the health of sensitive persons used to warmer climates. First, this city is constantly shrouded in a thick, humid fog, loaded with carbonized hydrogen gas coming from the great number of factories in this city, and from the burning of coal--the only fuel used in this country. Secondly, the winter is that much more aggravating since the humidity dominates constantly--the effects of these influences will in the first case predispose individuals to cerebral congestion and in the second to rather intense catarrhal afflictions, and to scorbutic diathesis.

The climate in Florence is very good, the air is pure and healthy, and the countryside around this city is delightful, and abounds with all kinds of production, especially the delicious fruits found there. The houses and especially the palaces are built in a way to temper the summer heat, the atmosphere is condensed in the rooms of these mansions by a specific alignment of windows, which allows breezes in from the north and northeast, and blocks those from the meridian circle. The diet common in this country is very appropriate for maintaining the elasticity of our organs, and fluidity in the liquids running through it--which conserves the health and prolongs life. In Cairo and Syria, whose climates have a lot in common with that of Florence, we saw a large number of centenarians--we counted more than 30 in the capital of Egypt and we saw a Samaritan in the camp in front of St. Jean Diacre, he had come to present his sixth generation before General Bonaparte, he had been around for 120 years (see my campaigns). In any case, whichever residence the king should choose, I will give the young doctor presenting to his majesty the health and medical instructions he will need.

I await his orders concerning this doctor. While awaiting his departure, please pass on my humble respects to his majesty, and accept, M. Le Duc the assurance of the great consideration with which I am your devoted servant and also physician [signature]
Along with the manuscript letter, we received photocopies of two other Larrey letters already in institutional collections, (possibly the Wellcome Library), and an early colored print by Thomas Rowlandson, "The Harvest Home".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Portland's response to the 1918 influenza pandemic

Available online this morning from the Portland Tribune is an article by Peter Korn titled "Spanish flu epidemic hit Portland hard". A timely topic indeed, with today's news outlets issuing dire warnings of the possibility of 90,000 deaths from the H1N1 virus now circulating worldwide.

So it's not as coincidental as it may seem that we too have been researching the 1918 outbreak in Portland, for an article to be published in the September 4 issue of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland's newspaper, The Scribe. A comparison of the two articles will show some differences of interpretation. While Mr. Korn emphasizes the harshness of the measures taken by local health officials during the epidemic, our sources indicated that the city's mayor, Christian Scientist George Baker, and City Health Officer George Parrish were both reluctant to enforce, for example, the face mask ordinance due to doubts about its efficacy. Portland's small medical community, already depleted by wartime call-ups, was divided at times between older practitioners who had seen deadly flu strains before, and younger docs who had never experienced anything like the disease that burst onto the scene in the fall of 1918. Calls went out for all qualified nurses to identify themselves to local health authorities, and makeshift hospital facilities sprung up in towns across the state.

History won't protect us from coming plagues, but learning its lessons might help responders prepare. And anyway, it's really quite fascinating! So check out Korn's article in the Tribune and our upcoming article in the Scribe and see what you think. If you're really eager to learn more, you might also be interested in these additional resources:

Penner, Liisa. The 1918-19 ‘Spanish’ Influenza Epidemic in Clatsop County: A Chronology. Cumtux : Clatsop County Historical Society quarterly 17 (1997), 31-41.

Woolley, Ivan M. The 1918 'Spanish Influenza' Pandemic in Oregon. Oregon historical quarterly 3 (1963), 246-258.

Alley, Bill. Spanish influenza gripped Medford in 1918-19. Medford Mail Tribune (

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fresh look for HC&A web site

Amid all the other hustle and bustle, a new look for the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives web site was unveiled today. You'll find a cleaner interface and (hopefully) improved navigation to other parts of the OHSU web site. The move to CommonSpot for content management means that you'll see new information added to the site more regularly (again, hopefully!).

If you encounter any difficulties in navigating the new site, or have any comments or questions, feel free to contact us at homref[at]

We're also toying with the idea of updating the look of this blog, changing the color scheme and layout to again reflect the home site. But not this week--so if you have strong opinions on such a move, you have time to let your voice be heard....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Name game redux: Abbreviation worth a thousand words

[We are continually indebted to Professor Kimberly Jensen of Western Oregon University for bringing fascinating open questions to our attention.]

The 25th Annual Meeting and Directory of the Alumni Association, University of Oregon Medical School (1937) includes a short article by school Registrar Lucy I. Davis on "History of Women Graduates of Oregon Medical School." In this definitive piece, Lucy identifies the first female graduates of both the Willamette University Medical Department and the UOMS (which had merged in 1913) and all subsequent women graduates to 1937. Lucy writes: "...the first women were graduated from this western institution [WUMD] in 1877. They were Dr. A.E.J. Ford Robinson and Dr. Angela L. Ford Warren."

How interesting, then, that one can turn to the complete list of school alumni ten pages farther into the Annual and find an entry for " '68 Smith, Lucella Amelia (w)" proving that this woman graduated from Willamette nearly a decade before the Ford sisters. How could Lucy have missed Lucella?

In Lucy's defense, Lucella had been underrepresented in most school publications. The catalogs for Willamette in the 1860s routinely list "L.A. Smith" as a student, and the news coverage of the 1868 graduation also referred to "L.A. Smith." The March 3rd edition of the Salem Daily Record went so far as to include Smith in the general term "gentlemen" when describing the graduates (by the by, the newspapers also report that Lucella's final thesis was on "Syphilis"). All the separately published alumni directories list her as "L.A." Her name has also been recorded elsewhere as "Luella".

Still, Lucy Davis (later Phillips) created a whole scrapbook of information on women graduates, which we have here in the archives (Accession 2004-030). How could she have missed Lucella? Perhaps, if Lucella were long dead and forgotten, the oversight could be forgiven; Lucy may have been relying on the network of living alumni to report on their classmates.

In support of this theory, the 1872-73 WUMD catalog lists Lucella as deceased. Aha! one fact gleaned; time to concentrate on the period 1868-1872 when Lucella might have been in practice locally. But wait, what's this? The 1913 UOMS alumni roster does not indicate that Smith is dead; in fact, the notation for "deceased" (which is the asterisk) does not appear beside the entry for "Smith, L.A." until 1940. Curiouser and curiouser.

The 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory has a listing for a physician called "L.A. Smith" in Hillsboro, OR; the 1917 UOMS alumni directory indicates that Lucella is practicing in Roseburg, OR, and she apparently stays there through 1922. (No UOMS alumni Annuals were printed between 1923 and 1935, and by 1936 they were no longer indicating locations.) But the 1898 Medical Register of Oregon has no listing for an "L.A. Smith" at all.

To make things even more interesting, that 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory distinguishes in its listing between "physician" and "female physician"; of the latter, there are three: Mrs. Hathaway in Milwaukie, Mrs. Julia Brown in North Yamhill, and Mrs. O.A. Thayer in Portland. "L.A. Smith" is listed as a regular "physician". Was the designation "female physician" meant to indicate the absence of a degree for a practicing midwife? Mary Anna Cook Thompson, widely credited as the first female physician in Portland, came to Oregon in 1866, but is not yet listed in this directory. One wonders what designation would she have been given.

What do we make of all this? Well, for one, we can say with great certainty that there are still a lot of thesis topics out there for graduate students. If you have any theories, or, say, a stash of Lucella Smith's papers in your attic, we'd love to hear from you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Name games

Names: the seemingly most telling piece of information about any archival item can often be the most misleading, or at least a bit of a dead-end.

Take two items crossing our rather cluttered desks today.

First: an obituary for University of Oregon Medical School alumnus G. Alan Fisher, M.D. (obit online here) needed to be added to the Biographical Files. A first glance at the inventory for the files didn't show an existing folder for G.A. Fisher (although there were several other Fishers present and accounted for). So, we dutifully checked the online newspaper archive for additional articles on Alan Fisher and created a new folder. Easy, yes? Except that curiosity got the better of us upon looking into the box containing Ericksen-Fleshman. Hmm, Alan B. Fisher, M.D.? Could the two Alans be related? Reading through the one news article on "Alan B." revealed that he had the exact same resume as G. Alan, and that, in fact, both apparently served as mayors of Gresham, Oregon. Funny coincidence, or reporter's error? We think the latter, and have consolidated the two files.

Second: a small donation from C. Conrad Carter, M.D., which consists of two reels of 16mm film. We asked Dr. Carter if he knew what the films were of, but he had no idea. His surmise was that "they might be McLean films" because Carter was at one time attempting to collect materials by or about A.J. McLean, M.D. (about which, a lot more information here). The film boxes themselves, which smell strongly of mothballs, have handwritten and stamped labels on them. The first, in a "Kodak Safety Film" box, has been stamped "Cine Office G.H.S."; the "From" section has the name "Dr. A.W. Smith" and the "To" box is addressed to "Dr. W.A. Peterson, Good Samaritan Hospital, Portland, Oregon." The second, in a "Cine-Kodak Panchromatic Safety Film" box, has the name "Dr. Ong" on a line above the "From" section. Dr. W.A. Peterson, still at Good Sam, apparently sent this reel to "Eastman Kodak Co., San Francisco, California," presumably for processing of some kind.

So, we do have a Bio File on a W.A. Peterson, but he was a Ph.D. with Tektronix and not an M.D. There were no persons named Peterson practicing anywhere in Oregon from 1931 to 1945 (which I find rather interesting, from a genealogical perspective), and the first appearance of a Ward A. Peterson, M.D., is in 1949 when he relocated to Newport from Boise, Idaho. He then moved to Eugene, and by 1958 was no longer listed as a registered Oregon physician. In either case, the Peterson name would seem to suggest that these films are not in any way associated with A.J. McLean, who was dead by 1938.

The Board of Medical Examiners directory does give us a listing for an Alan Welch Smith, M.D., practicing in Portland in the 1930s, and he certainly would have known H.F. Ong, M.D. We don't have a file on A.W. Smith, but we do have obituaries for Ong. Harlan Ong was a 1901 graduate of the Willamette University Medical Department and practiced in Lane County from 1901-1904. In 1904, he relocated to Portland where he practiced as a physician and surgeon specializing in occupational medicine. He was on staff at both Good Sam and Holladay Park Hospital until his retirement in 1956.

While the names don't reveal much about what these 16mm films might have recorded, they do tend to discount the theory that the films had anything to do with A.J. McLean and seem to imply a date range for production between the late 1940s and the early 1950s. Of course, only a 16mm projector (anyone got one they want to donate?) or a conversion of the film to digital media will answer the question of subject matter. Or, a really long time with a light box and a magnifying glass....