College’s historical collection of rare books achieves new visibility

Few College Fellows have been aware of the Catalogue of the H. Winnett Orr Historical Collection and Other Rare Books in the Library of the American College of Surgeons, published by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) in 1960. The collection, currently housed in the special collections of the McGoogan Library of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, contains more than 2,000 volumes and archival materials, many extremely rare and dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Authors represented include such giants in the history of medicine as Andreas Vesalius, Avicenna, and Galen Claudius.

The collection also includes a significant amount of materials on orthopaedic surgery, military medicine, and the history of women physicians.

H. Winnett Orr, MD, FACS (1877-1956), one of the founders of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), specialized in orthopaedics and served in World War I, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. One of his early claims to fame was the highly controversial “Orr Treatment,” which referred to discharging patients from the hospital even though suppurating wounds were present. He was a prolific writer, but is best known to the College as the donor of his exquisite rare book collection on the history of medicine and surgery. He began haunting secondhand bookstores wherever he went during the war, and entered into lengthy correspondence with librarians and rare book dealers about his finds. His good friend and medical school classmate Mary McKibben-Harper, MD, an outstanding personality in her own right, collected books as well, particularly those exploring the history of women physicians. Dr. Orr encouraged her to contribute many volumes from her library to be joined with his donation to the ACS, as well as funding for the care and preservation of the collections. It is because of her generosity that the College has been able to ensure the long-term care for this magnificent collection.

The entire catalogue is now available as a pdf on the Archives page of the ACS website at

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