ACS returns books to the Illinois College Medical Library: A look at their history

Archives - Berry & Rishworth IMG_0524

Mr. Berry with Ms. Rishworth

Robert Berry (L) Jan Figa (R) IC Librarian

Mr. Berry with Jan Figa, IC librarian.


Until last year, only five titles remained in the once extensive library of the Illinois College (IC) medical department (1843­–1848) in Jacksonville. On October 11, 2013, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) returned the remaining volumes of the peripatetic library to the campus—165 years after the closing of the medical department.

The oldest in the collection is a Latin text on anatomy published in 1703. The 71 books that were transferred back to IC are from the former library of the Morgan County Medical Society and were donated to the College in 1941. The transfer of these books to IC was accomplished through the efforts of Susan Rishworth, the most recent ACS Archivist. (Ms. Rishworth retired in December 2013.)

IC medical department

David Prince, MD (1816–1889), is the common thread in this story. He was the professor of anatomy and surgery in the IC medical department and a charter member of the Morgan County Medical Society. Of the 71 books transferred, 12 are from Dr. Prince’s private library, donated to the society’s collection in 1906 by his sons. Research into Dr. Prince’s life and writings revealed the history of the medical department’s library.

IC was founded in 1829. The IC medical department opened November 16, 1843, one month before Rush Medical College in Chicago, making it the first medical school in Illinois. A total of 14 students attended a 16-week course of lectures, and six of those students graduated in 1845 with a medical degree. The medical department was established by the IC board of trustees with the understanding that the medical faculty would be independent of the literary school.

Carl E. Black, MD, FACS, wrote a book and an article describing the history of the medical department: Illinois’ First Medical School and “A pioneer medical school.”*† These publications, which support many of the quotations in this column, are available in the IC’s Schewe Library. In the first year of the medical department, the board of trustees leased the “north attic” of Beecher Hall to the medical faculty. Instruction was static, with lectures, texts, charts, and a connected skeleton. In July 1844, the medical faculty purchased and remodeled a two-story barn at the corner of Mound Road and Lincoln Avenue. The remodeled building had four rooms, one of which was used for dissecting instruction. Secondary accounts report the medical department was closed in 1848 because it was unpopular with the community and the literary school faculty over the “anatomical question.” The concern was related to the source of cadavers for dissection. Dr. Prince attempted to quiet rumors by explaining the cadavers came from abroad and not from the local cemeteries. However, Samuel Willard, MD, an 1848 graduate of the medical department, said that the facility closed because the teachers no longer could subsidize the medical department and take promissory notes from students in lieu of compensation.

The medical library

Otto F. Kampmeier, MD, describes the IC Medical Library in “Medical libraries in Illinois before 1900,” published in the History of Medical Practice in Illinois, 1850–1900, which has been digitized and is available online:

The medical school at Jacksonville, though short lived (1843–1848), left a deep impress on the medical history of Illinois. In its first catalogue, issued in 1843, it is announced that “there is a respectable medical library belonging to this institution, embracing the best modern works upon the various branches of medicine. Students will also have access to the private libraries of the Professors, which contain the best medical periodicals in the French, German and English languages. It is recommended that each student provide himself with a medical dictionary; and some good modern work on each of the branches which he wishes to pursue in connection with the lectures.”

With the closing of the doors of the medical department of Illinois College in 1848, the fate of its library, for the growth of which much money and energy had been spent, assumed an increased interest. Contrary to what usually happens to a virtually abandoned collection of that kind, the course of this one is fairly clear. For almost half a century it remained “stored away in dusty uselessness,” as Dr. (Carl) Black remarked, “in the old library in Beecher Hall.”

Dr. Kampmeier further described the library as containing “many very old books, valuable historically and as book rarities, a number of them in Latin.” The library remained stored in Beecher Hall for 46 years until it was turned over in trust to the Morgan County Medical Society in 1894 “to make it serviceable for physicians and students.” Formalities regarding the transfer were exchanged at the June 1894 meeting of the society.

Transfer to the medical society

The Morgan County Medical Society began formal meetings in 1866. At a meeting at the Young Men’s Christian Association, more commonly known as the YMCA, in 1888, the members appropriated $100 for purchasing books. Soon after, Dr. Prince came in with several books, put them in an empty bookcase, and declared, “This is the beginning of the Library of the Morgan County Medical Society.” The library grew as many donations and bequests followed. T.J. Pitner, MD, donated a large portion of his private library, some of which was in the transfer, and Greene Vardiman Black, MD, the father of Dr. Carl Black and the acknowledged Father of Modern Dentistry, donated a first edition of his two-volume Operative Dentistry (1908).

An opportunity for a permanent home for the society’s library came in 1903. The Jacksonville Public Library Association had been operating a subscription reading room when it secured a $40,000 pledge from Andrew Carnegie. At that point the association was able to meet Mr. Carnegie’s requirement for City Council approval of a separate property tax to support the new library building. Under an agreement with the library board of directors, the society moved its library to the Carnegie Public Library Building and arranged to hold its meetings there as well. Two years later, Dr. Carl Black, then the society’s librarian, convinced the members to raise a subscription for cataloguing the medical library. At the end of 1905, he reported the society’s library contained 1,789 books (319 duplicates from gift collections) that had been “properly accessioned, catalogued, plated, labeled, and shelved.” More than 16,000 reference cards were created for articles and clinical notes in the accumulated medical journals—both foreign and domestic.

By 1940, both the medical library and the Jacksonville Public Library collection had grown to the point that public library directors asked the medical society to remove its collection. The medical society boxed up the library and took it to Passavant Hospital in Jacksonville. The hospital did not have a librarian but did offer space for storage.

The ACS steps in

In late 1940, Dr. Black initiated correspondence with the ACS Archivist, Margueriete Prime, inviting her to visit Jacksonville to review the collection of books, biographies, and monographs. After Ms. Prime’s visit on December 3, 1940, she wrote to Dr. Black stating, “Of the 4,000 volumes, 600 would be of use to the College Library.” Ms. Prime wrote a note to the ACS associate director, Bowman Crowell, MD, FACS, stating, “Dr. Black does not realize with the exception of foreign journals, AMA [American Medical Association] publications, and possibly twenty-five books, everything is in the [ACS] library.”

Dr. Black wrote to Dr. Crowell on May 10, 1941, reporting that the society had voted to donate the library, and it would be delivered by truck on May 20. “Any books not wanted, give away or throw away. Keep as far as possible books with names of former society members Prince, Read, Pierson, Pitner, or Illinois College Medical Department,” Dr. Black wrote. In his response on May 14, Dr. Cowell wrote, “We do not need AMA Journals and Annuals of Surgery.”

Nonetheless, two trucks carrying six tons of medical books and journals arrived at the ACS headquarters in Chicago, IL, on May 20. Ms. Prime issued an announcement of the donation to the ACS members. She recounted some of the history of the collection, including a summary of authors. “Possibly the most interesting item in the entire group is comprised of the handwritten [version] of Notes on Surgery From the Lectures of Dr. Physick, Professor of Surgery in the University of Pennsylvania, 1812–1813 by Dr. Daniel Pierson,” observed Ms. Prime. Philip Syng Physick, MD, was one of the foremost surgeons of his time, having among his patients U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, President Andrew Jackson, and First Lady Dolly Madison. Dr. Pierson’s notebook was among those returned to IC.

Returned to their “home”

As time passed, the ACS library of historical and rare books expanded. In recent years, many books in the library were distributed to university medical libraries in several states, according to Ms. Rishworth. Two years ago, a project was started to create a database of the remaining ACS historical and rare books. When the database was completed last year, the author of this column, an IC alum, requested that books with faceplates identifying the original holders as the Morgan County Medical Society and IC be separated; 71 books were identified as such, and they are the titles that were returned to IC. Some authors of these books are easily recognized, including Antoine Lavoisier; Joseph Lister, MD; Daniel Drake, MD; and Benjamin Rush, MD.

Permission to transfer the books to IC was requested and granted in September 2013. These 71 books are a very small representation of the 4,000 books donated to the ACS by the Morgan County Medical Society in 1941. Nevertheless, they provide a glimpse into the past, allowing us to see the studiousness of 19th century physicians in Morgan County and the wide range of medical literature available to them.

Upon signing off on the transfer, Ms. Rishworth said, “I am glad to see them going to a good home.”


*Black CE. Illinois’ first medical school. In: Early American Medical Schools. Vol. 1. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Chicago Professional Colleges, College of Medicine. 1934.

Black CE. A pioneer medical school. Illinois Med J. January 1913;23:(1):1-25.

Davis DJ, ed. History of Medical Practice in Illinois Vol. II: 1850–1900. The Illinois State Medical Society. Chicago, IL: The Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley & Sons;1955:475-478. Available at: http://archive.org/stream/historyofmedical02illi/historyofmedical02illi_djvu.txt. Accessed March 13, 2014.

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