NLM Acquires Collection of Materials Relating to American Civil War Surgeon S. Weir Mitchell





The National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health, has acquired a collection of over 200 books and periodical issues related to the literary achievements of the prominent American Civil War surgeon S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914).  

Mitchell obtained his medical degree in 1850 from Jefferson Medical College and spent the following year in Paris, where he studied with noted physiologist Claude Bernard, who invented the concept of blind experiments to ensure objectivity in scientific observations. During the American Civil War, Mitchell was a surgeon at Turner's Lane Hospital in Philadelphia, where he treated many patients with nerve injuries. This work eventually led to his interest in neurology and neuropsychiatry. After the war, Mitchell returned to private practice. In 1870, he was appointed physician-in-charge of the Department for Nervous Diseases of the Philadelphia Orthopedic Hospital, where he would treat patients for over 40 years.  

An accomplished surgeon, Mitchell published over 100 scientific articles and monographs during his lifetime. His medical background and experience enabled him to write historical fiction with much psychological insight. He published more than 25 literary titles, many of which are represented in NLM's new acquisition, alongside dozens of volumes signed by Mitchell and various editions which document changes in styles and tastes of American publishing of the period.    

Among Mitchell's literary works now held by the NLM is an 1864 monograph entitled The Children's Hour, which he co-wrote with poet Elizabeth Wister Stevenson to aid the Sanitary Commission Fair in Philadelphia. Three years later, he published The Wonderful Stories of Fuz-Buz the Fly and Mother Grabem the Spider, another book for children. His first literary work for adults, which was printed in the July 1866 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, was "The Case of George Dedlow," a fictional account of a Civil War soldier who had lost all of his limbs. Hill of Stones, his first book of poems, was published in 1883, and his first full-length novel, In War Time, followed in 1885. Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker, Sometime Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel on the Staff of His Excellency General Washington, an historical novel set during the Revolutionary War, is the best known and most successful of his novels. However, The Adventures of François, Foundling, Thief, Juggler, and Fencing-Master, During the French Revolution was the author's favorite of his own books, according to scholars of the period.  

The S. Weir Mitchell collection of the NLM will be digitized over the next two years as part of NLM's Medicine in the Americas, a digital library project that makes freely available original works demonstrating the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century. Medicine in the Americas itself is made possible in part through the participation of the NLM in the Medical Heritage Library, a digital curation collaborative supported by The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and The Open Knowledge Commons.



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