OMHA Publications: Web Exhibits -- Antebellum Medicine in Central Massachusetts

Antebellum Medicine in Central Massachusetts

UMA logo Portrait of Samuel B. Woodward, M.D.
Union Medical Association Papers Unpublished Papers of Samuel B. Woodward, M.D.

The Worcester District Medical Society (WDMS), founded in 1794 and one of the oldest such societies in the United States, acquired the papers of the Union Medical Association (UMA) sometime in the 1970s. The Union Medical Association was established in Mendon, Massachusetts by local doctors in 1834 to maintain and advance the medical knowledge of its members. The papers in this collection include handwritten sheets of the minutes of UMA meetings, reports, and lectures by UMA members created between 1834 and 1858. They represent a rare record of the medical ideas and therapeutic activities of the leading physicians of central Massachusetts in the first half of the nineteenth century. The physicians’ presentations describe puzzling diagnostic and therapeutic problems in the form of individual case histories and solicit solutions from their colleagues. Examples of topics covered in the lectures include pregnancy and childbirth, insanity, pneumonia, blood-letting, dysentery, and typhus.

Also part of this collection are autograph letters of English, French, and American physicians dating from 1758 – 1836. Notable authors include Baron Jean Nicholas Corvisart des Marets, the favorite physician of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte; Edward Jenner, an English physician and scientist who pioneered smallpox vaccination; and Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a leading physician of the early Republic.

The original documents are housed at the Worcester Historical Museum for the WDMS. Scanning and online access are courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Archives, Lamar Soutter Library, Worcester, Massachusetts, with support from the National Library of Medicine, Regional Medical Library, New England Region.

This collection comprises the unpublished papers of Dr. Samuel B. Woodward, physician, educator, and the first superintendent of the State Lunatic Asylum in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1832 until his retirement in 1846. Dr. Woodward was an early proponent of “moral therapy,” treating patients with mental disorders through occupational therapy, socialization, exercise, proper diet, and fresh air. He wrote extensively on these matters. A testament to his professional prominence, he was also the founder of the organization known today as the American Psychiatric Association and his image still appears on their logo. Many of Woodward’s writings were published in early serials such as the American Journal of Insanity and his hospital’s Annual Reports. However, a number were unpublished and are contained in two bound typescript volumes currently housed in the archives of the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital (WRCH), previously known as Worcester State Hospital which is, in fact, the same institution that Dr. Woodward founded almost 200 years ago. The essays, addresses, and letters contained in this collection date from 1806 to 1848 and cover such topics as education, slavery, friendship, children, and death, as well as medical topics such as pneumonia, puerperal fever, cholera, and poisoning.

Scanning and online access are courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Archives, Lamar Soutter Library, Worcester, Massachusetts, with support from the National Library of Medicine, Regional Medical Library, New England Region.