Melissa Grafe's blog

The Drs. Coleman at Yale - a New Collection for Research

10 April 2012 - 12:56pm by Melissa Grafe

The Drs. Coleman of Yale

The Medical Historical Library recently acquired a collection of over 600 items dating from the late 18th and 19th centuries, including legal documents, correspondence, manuscripts, printed matter and photographs pertaining to the Coleman family of New Jersey. Of particular medical historical interest in this new collection are materials by two Coleman brothers, the Yale-educated physicians Dr. Isaac Pearson Coleman (1804-1869) and Dr. James Beakes Coleman (1805-1887).

James and Isaac exchanged over fifty letters in which they share some of their experiences at the newly founded Medical Institution of Yale College. One such letter sent to Isaac after his 1829 graduation from James, then still in New Haven, comments on Yale faculty: “We have in one of the new Professors one of the most theoretical criticising fellows to be met with. No writer from the flood to the present time escapes his lash and the worst of it is, he is an able and learned man and does it handsomely”.

In addition to attending the Medical Institution of Yale College, as was customary at the time for young aspiring physicians, the brothers had also obtained medical training under experienced preceptors. Their apprenticeships under Dr. Ewing and Dr. de Belleville of Trenton, respectively, are documented in the collection, as well as James’s acquaintance with Thomas Story Kirkbride.

During the decades as practicing physicians in New Jersey, the brothers continued to write on personal and family matters; they mention patients, including one case of “natural smallpox of the distinct variety, about 1,000 pustules,” as well as matters of contention in the profession such as “the modern notion of treating all acute diseases by the antiphlogisticating starvation method.” The collection also features manuscript lecture notes by James Coleman, recording a series of public lectures he prepared on the subject of phrenology.

The Coleman brothers collection, 1748-1910, Ms Coll 36, is now open for research!  A finding aid will be posted shortly.

Blog post by Judit Balassa, intern at the Medical Historical Library

Letters From a 19th Century Homeopath

15 February 2012 - 9:07am by Melissa Grafe

The Medical Historical Library recently acquired a collection of letters by John J. Cushing, one of the first homeopathic physicians in California. Cushing wrote in the 1850s to his family in Providence, Rhode Island from San Francisco, where he set up practice. The collection contains colorful anecdotes about Gold Rush era San Francisco, including some on his experiences as a doctor there.

In his letters, Cushing tells how he got barred as a homeopath from the newly formed local Medical Society on account that “the board could not regard my diploma as evidence of my medical education.” The correspondence also chronicles his efforts to maintain a practice against the fierce competition that he describes on January 31, 1855 as there were “four doctors to one patient.” Cushing eventually prospers despite difficulties in collecting his fees during money shortages, recounting gifts of gratitude and payments in kind from his patients. He reports on cases such as a 4-month convalescence from typhoid fever in 1857, and a difficult delivery of an 11lb. baby, in a letter dated January 15, 1855. His correspondence also illustrates customs and social norms of his time: for instance, he comments that people frowned upon bachelor doctors attending ladies of class.

by Judit Balassa

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