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