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Base Hospital No. 30, One Hundred Years Later – Part One: Organization, Mobilization, and Travel

~This post is courtesy Polina Ilieva, UCSF Archivist.

This is a guest post by Aaron J. Jackson, PhD student, UCSF Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine.

One hundred years ago today, April 24, 1918, the 240 men and women of U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 30—the University of California School of Medicine Unit—left American soil to support the war effort by operating a modern hospital in France. Their stories survive in the UCSF Archives & Special Collections, where they contribute to the rich history of the UCSF and San Francisco communities. In this four-part series, I hope to introduce you to the stories of the men and women of Base Hospital No. 30, and I encourage you to learn more by visiting the UCSF Archives & Special Collections in the Parnassus Library.

Figure 1 – U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 30, World War I

“This book purports to be a record, not merely of the happenings and the activities of Base Hospital Number Thirty, but a permanent record of the personnel with the addresses, that we may always keep in touch with one another and thus preserve the bonds of friendship now existent among us.” – Foreword, The Record

As the foreword to the book they commissioned to commemorate their experience expresses, the men and women of Base Hospital No. 30 formed a tight-knit community during their time in the service in the First World War. When Congress declared war on Germany on April 4, 1917, the American Red Cross Society quickly set to work in establishing, organizing, and supplying medical units in the nation’s leading medical institutions with the intent of creating a system of hospitals in France to treat the inevitable casualties of the war. The American medical community was enthusiastic about the effort. Famed surgeons George Crile and Harvey Cushing had been working with America’s French and British allies since 1915 to establish new medical techniques and organizational methods. Many physicians viewed the war as an opportunity to advance medical knowledge while simultaneously serving their country, and many members of the University of California Department of Medicine felt the same. With the assistance of the Red Cross, Base Hospital No. 30 began to organize in the spring and early summer of 1917. Consisting roughly of twenty-five officers, sixty-five nurses, and one-hundred-fifty enlisted men, the unit marched down Market Street as part of a Liberty Loan parade to raise money for the base hospital and to support the war effort.

Figure 2 – Liberty Loan Parade, San Francisco, Cal.

Unfortunately, the initial excitement of the spring and early summer became a period of uneasy waiting and bureaucratic frustration that dragged into the fall as the unit waited on official orders to arrive. Many members of the unit, including one or two officers and several of the nurses and enlisted men, anticipating immediate entrance into the service, had packed and stored their belongings and quit their jobs, and the commanding officers had to continuously combat rumors that the organization had been broken up or that no more base hospitals would be sent to France. Thankfully, the Red Cross had managed to secure $100,000 in funding, which it used to collect supplies while the Army bureaucracy plodded along. Finally, on November 20, 1917, Base Hospital No. 30 received official orders to muster at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

While the unit drilled and trained in the operation of a military hospital, the nurses received separate orders to travel to New York. They were able to enjoy the Christmas holiday with their friends and family before taking their oath of service at the Presidio on December 26, 1917 and setting out on a five-day, frigid train ride to New York City. They arrived on New Year’s Day and spent the next three weeks on Ellis Island preparing their uniforms and equipment and receiving training. On January 25, they were divided into five groups bound for Army camps in South Carolina, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia, and Virginia, where soldiers gathering from across the nation were coming down with acute infections like measles and mumps in large numbers. While the nurses expressed disappointment at not being able to set out for France immediately, Chief Nurse Arabella Lombard expressed that they were happy to be of service and to gain valuable experience before receiving orders to return to New York in March.

Figure 3 – Nurses of Base Hospital No. 30

Back in San Francisco, the officers spent their time working at clinics in the city and training the enlisted personnel. On March 3, 1918, nearly a year after the declaration of war, the unit received orders to pack their supplies and board the steamship S.S. Northern Pacific en route to New York. The trip took two weeks—a near-record pace at the time—and the unit was assigned temporary barracks at Camp Merritt. While in New York, several of the officers attended clinics on the latest medical techniques, such as instruction on the treatment of pneumonia and meningitis at the Rockefeller Institute and the Carrel-Dakin course on aseptic surgery and wound treatment—essentially the use of diluted chlorine and bleach solution to hasten the separation of dead from living tissue, which was cutting-edge lifesaving technology before the discovery of antibiotics.

On April 22, the nurses rejoined Base Hospital No. 30 as the unit boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan, a former German luxury liner originally named the Vaterland that had been seized by the U.S. government the year prior and converted into a troopship. They set sail on April 24, 1918. More than one year after Congress’s declaration of war on Germany, the members of Base Hospital No. 30 were finally travelling to France. They anticipated the hard but meaningful work of repairing the broken bodies of America’s soldiers, but in France, they would have to overcome a number of unexpected obstacles before that work could take place.

Figure 4 – USS Leviathan


1 – “U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 30, World War I,” circa 1917, UC San Francisco, Library, University Archives, Base Hospital #30 Collection.

2 – “Liberty Loan Parade, San Francisco, Cal.,” circa 1917, California State Library, California History Section Picture Catalog.

3 – “Nurses of Base Hospital No. 30,” January 1918, UC San Francisco, Library, University Archives, Base Hospital #30 Collection.

4 – “USS Leviathan,” 8 July 1918, Naval History & Heritage Command, 19-N-1707.

A Contagious Cause: The Search for Cancer Viruses and the Growth of American Biomedicine

~This post courtesy Emily Gustainis, Deputy Director, Center for the History of Medicine of the Francis A. Countway Library at the Harvard Medical School.

Register now via EventBrite!

The Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, invites you to join us for the lecture A Contagious Cause: The Search for Cancer Viruses and the Growth of American Biomedicine with Robin Wolfe Scheffler, Leo Marx Career Development Professor in History and Culture of Science and Technology at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT.

Throughout the twentieth century, few theories have caused more hope and frustration than the idea that cancer might be caused by a virus. This search for cancer viruses over successive generations of medical, scientific, and organizational advances serves as a lens through which we can understand the political ground upon which biology and medicine merged to form biomedicine in America and which enabled biologists to reimagine the nature of life in molecular terms.

The event will take place on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 in the Minot Room, Countway Library, from 6:00-7:00.  Registration is required.  Please visit our EventBrite page to register.

“Reading Vesalius Across the Ages” and Annual Celebration of the Library

~Post courtesy ALLISON E. PIAZZA, MLIS, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian at the New York Academy of Medicine

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Venue: The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029

Cost: Free; advance registration required

Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to a private reception with the speaker prior to the event; please email if you wish to attend.




How was Vesalius’ Fabrica read across the ages? This talk analyzes how, in the past five hundred years, copies the Fabrica travelled across the globe, and how readers studied, annotated and critiqued its contents from 1543 to 2017. Dániel Margócsy will discuss the book’s complex reception history and show how physicians, artists, theologians and collectors filled its pages with copious annotations. He will also offer an interpretation of how this atlas of anatomy became one of the most coveted rare books for collectors in the 21st century.


Refreshments will be served following the lecture and there will be an opportunity to view new rare book acquisitions of the library collections.


About the Speaker: Dániel Margócsy studies the cultural history of early modern science. He has taught at Northwestern University and at Hunter College, the City University of New York, and received his PhD in the History of Science from Harvard University in 2009. His first book, Commercial Visions: Science, Trade and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age (Chicago, 2014) examined the impact of global trade on cultural production in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He currently lectures on Science, Technology and Medicine Before 1800 at University of Cambridge.