Celebrating Vivien Thomas

~This post courtesy of Phoebe Evans Letocha, Collections Management Archivist, Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Vivien T. Thomas, oil portrait by Bob Gee, 1969

Vivien T. Thomas, oil portrait by Bob Gee, 1969

To commemorate February as both Black History Month and American Heart Month, the Medical Heritage Library salutes the contributions of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician at Johns Hopkins.

Born in Lake Providence, Louisiana on August 29, 1910, Vivien Thomas grew up attending segregated public schools in Nashville Tennessee. In 1930 after being forced to drop out of pre-medical studies in college when his life savings were wiped out by a bank crash, Thomas took a position as a laboratory assistant to surgeon Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Thomas’ abilities as a surgical assistant and research associate were of the highest quality, and when Blalock moved to Johns Hopkins in 1941 he asked Thomas to accompany him to Baltimore.

At Johns Hopkins, Thomas collaborated with Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig to devise the operative technique to correct a congenital heart defect, Tetralogy of Fallot, or “Blue Baby Syndrome” that robs the blood of oxygen. First performed in 1944, the anastomosis operation named the Blalock-Taussig Shunt, brought fame to Blalock and Taussig. However due to racial prejudice at the time and the academic custom of not giving credit to non-degreed lab assistants, Thomas’s contributions went unrecognized. He was a hidden figure, critical to the success of the operation. He worked out the surgical technique in the dog lab, using a clamp of his own design, and coached Blalock in the operating room through the first human operation.

Third year medical student Reginald Davis holding a child with Levi Watkins, and Vivien Thomas in front of Johns Hopkins Hospital Administration Building, 1979

Third year medical student Reginald Davis holding a child with Levi Watkins, and Vivien Thomas in front of Johns Hopkins Hospital Administration Building, 1979

As supervisor of the surgical laboratories for over 35 years, Thomas went on to train a generation of surgeons at Johns Hopkins in the delicate techniques necessary for heart and lung operations. Notable among them was Hopkins first black cardiac resident Levi Watkins, Jr, who was a pioneer in the use of the automatic implantable defibrillator, performing the first human operation in 1980, after having first tested the device on dogs with Thomas in his lab. Thomas had earlier worked with William Kouwenhoven, James Jude, and Guy Knickerbocker in contributing to the development of the closed chest electrical defibrillator.

Thomas’ achievements were finally recognized formally by Johns Hopkins with a portrait presented in 1971, and with a 1976 faculty appointment and honorary degree from the University. He retired in 1979 to write his autobiography, Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), later republished as Partners of the Heart: Vivien Thomas and his work with Alfred Blalock (1998). Sadly, Thomas died November 26, 1985, just as the book was published. In 2005, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine named one of its 4 new colleges after Vivien Thomas.

Thomas’ story was dramatized in the 2004 HBO film Something the Lord Made, and the 2003 PBS documentary Partners of the Heart.

MHL partner, the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions houses the Vivien Thomas Collection, and in 2015 published a finding aid to the processed collection. The collection includes the manuscript and its various drafts for the memoir, along with correspondence principally with Mark Ravitch, one of the surgeons Thomas had trained at Hopkins and who assisted Thomas in editing the book and securing a publisher.

The History of Higher Education in California: A Big Data Approach

In his talk at the UCSF Archives & Special Collections, Zach Bleemer will discuss how he has used data science – thousands of computer-processed versions of annual registers, directories, and catalogs –  to reconstruct a near-complete database of all students, faculty, and courses at four-year universities in California in the first half of the 20th century, including UC San Francisco (which taught both undergraduates and graduate students at the time). Visualizations of this database display the expansion of higher education into rural California communities, the rise and fall of various academic departments and disciplines, and the slow (and still-incomplete) transition towards egalitarian major selection.
Zach will also discuss his recent CSHE Working Paper, in which he uses additional digitized records to analyze the social impact of the early 20th century’s expansion of female high school science teachers and female doctors across rural California communities. He finds that newly-arrived female STEM professionals serve as important role models for young women in these rural communities, causing substantial increases in female college-going. However, these young women are no more likely to study STEM fields or become doctors themselves.
Zach Bleemer is a PhD student in Economics and Digital Humanities Fellow at UC Berkeley, where his research examines the educational and occupational decisions of young Americans. He has previously held senior research analyst positions at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Mathematica PolicyResearch, and has published working papers on student debt, parental coresidence, and university attendance. He is also currently a Research Associate at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education and a Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Register for the talk which will take place Friday, March 3, from 12-1.15pm.

“A Plague of Lust”: Love, Marriage, and Venereal Disease

~This post is courtesy Melissa Grafe, John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History, Head of the Medical Historical Library.

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!  We thought we would focus on love, marriage, and venereal disease, sampling the many books on these topics that you can find in the Medical Heritage Library.

Guides for marriage are well represented in the Medical Heritage Library, as many of these popular texts deal with topics of health, pregnancy, and child rearing.  Sexual relations, if mentioned at all, are coyly alluded to within the texts, and eugenics often appears in the manuals from the early 20th century.,

The heplagueoflustbein01rose_0007althy marriage, a medical and psychological guide for wives (1916) may be helpful on the days where coping with the husband is particularly challenging.  This guide describes the art of housekeeping, miscarriage, pregnancy, “difficulty of getting exercise in town,” and much more.

Alternately, husbands also received valuable advice in manuals like The young husband, or, Duties of man in the marriage relation (1840)In this text, by William Alcott, husbands are cautioned against jealousy and suspicion, coached on “keeping cool,” and “giving presents and little things,” helpful beyond Valentine’s Day!

See others, using just a simple search of the term marriage.

On the flip side of love, sex, and marriage, the Medical Heritage Library also has a robust collection of materials on venereal disease.  We have the classic works, like Dr. John Hunter’s A treatise on the venereal disease (1791)Issued in many editions, including this 1791 Philadelphia text, Hunter believed that gonorrhea and syphilis were caused by the same disease agent, and encouraged the use of mercury for treatment, prior to the development of an effective drug, Salvarsan, in the early 20th century.

Other titles are more playful, such as The plague of lust : being a history of venereal disease in classical antiquity … (1909) by Dr. Julius Rosenbaum. Feel free to browse our texts on venereal disease here!

 

The Roles of Physicians in 19th Century Polar Exploration

Please join the New York Academy of Medicine on Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 6:30PM-7:30PM for a talk on physicians and polar exploration.
Douglas Kondziolka collects arctic and antarctic polar exploration books, maps and letters from the era of the late eighteenth through the early twentieth century. A focus on the Arctic was stimulated first by his Canadian father’s tenure with the US Air Force at their Canadian base in the arctic in the 1950s, and later by the popular historian Pierre Berton and his book “The Arctic Grail.” Dr. Kondziolka’s collection began in 1994 and was fostered by several trips to the arctic to visit important exploration sites. The collection documents the important steps in Arctic discovery, both for a Northwest passage to Asia, and to the North Pole itself. The publications, letters and maps tell that story of a cast of unique characters, and among them many physicians, who dared to venture into lands unknown. In this talk, the roles of physicians, spanning from naturalists, to artists, to caregivers, to troublemakers, will be highlighted.
Wine and refreshments will be provided during the talk. Please register no later than Wednesday, January 25, 2017.
Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to come at 6:00pm to look at selected books with the speaker in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room prior to the talk. This event is part of our series for Friends. To join the Friends please click here.

Dr. Douglas Kondziolka received his medical degree from the University of Toronto and graduated from the Toronto neurosurgery residency program in 1991. From 1989 to 1991 at the University of Pittsburgh, he completed a master of science program in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience and a fellowship in stereotactic surgery and radiosurgery. He joined the faculty of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh in January 1992 and later was named Chief of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery. In November 2012, Dr. Kondziolka joined the neurosurgery faculty at New York University as Professor and Vice-Chair for Clinical Research.

($35 for Friends of the Rare Book Room; $50 general public. Wine and refreshments included in the ticket price. Please register no later than Wednesday, January 25, 2017.)

New Exhibit at the Countway Library Commemorates Harvard Medical School’s Relief Efforts during World War I

Soldiers Wounded at the Battle of the Somme Arriving at No. 22 General Hospital, 1916 [0004184]

Soldiers Wounded at the Battle of the Somme Arriving at No. 22 General Hospital, 1916 [0004184]

This post courtesy Jack Eckert, Public Services Librarian at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Harvard Medical School.

Although the United States did not enter World War I until April 1917, American medical personnel were active in war relief efforts from nearly the beginning of the conflict. Harvard Medical School—its faculty and its graduates—played a key role in this relief work by providing staff for French and English hospitals and military units, and these early endeavors provided invaluable experience once America came into the war and the need to organize and staff base and mobile hospitals for the U.S. Army became critical to the war effort.

Noble Work for a Worthy End, a new exhibit at the Countway’s Center for the History of Medicine, charts Harvard’s participation in this medical relief work and experiences in military medicine and surgery through the wealth of first-hand documentation preserved by the men and women who volunteered their time and labor, sometimes at great sacrifice, to helping the sick and wounded of the First World War. Highlights of the display include records of the Harvard University Service organized by Harvey Cushing at the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris.  This unit’s brief sojourn in the spring of 1915 is documented through photographs and postcards, publications, and a copy of Elliott Carr Cutler’s daily journal of his experiences.

The Medical School’s most enduring contribution to the war effort was the Harvard Surgical Unit, which first arrived in Europe in July 1915.  Inspired by Sir William Osler, the unit provided physicians, surgeons, dentists, and nurses to staff the British Expeditionary Force’s No. 22 General Hospital at Camiers, France. The exhibit includes photograph albums, letters, drawings, newsclippings, Paul Dudley White’s diary account of a case of shell shock, medical field cards and case notes, and unusual ephemera, including an armband worn by members of the Unit and an enamel pin presented by the Harvard Corporation to the unit’s nurses, along with a testimonial of gratitude from King George V.

Final Inspection of the Harvard Unit at Fort Totten, N.Y., May 11, 1917 [0003947]

Final Inspection of the Harvard Unit at Fort Totten, N.Y., May 11, 1917 [0003947]

Once the United States entered the European conflict, Harvard faculty and students became involved with staffing base hospitals for the Army. The exhibit also chronicles the work and experiences at Base Hospital No. 5, a unit formed from Harvard and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital personnel.  Base Hospital No. 5, one of the first units to reach France, remained on loan to the British Expeditionary Force for the duration of the war, at which point it had treated some 45,000 soldiers, and, notably, sustained casualties from an air raid bombing on September 4, 1917. Photographs, a letter from Harvey Cushing describing the air raid, and records of Walter B. Cannon’s research on surgical shock are all included.

Noble Work for a Worthy End: Harvard Medical School in the First World War is on display on the first floor of the Countway Library of Medicine and open to the public, Monday through Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm. A companion online exhibit is also available here .