The Otis Historical Archives

The Otis Historical Archives of the National Museum of Health and Medicine was created in 1971 to house the Museum’s rare and historic books.

“The Archives has several strengths. The Museum’s unique heritage makes it a rich repository for information on American military medicine, particularly the Civil War period. The archives is also home to an extensive photographic collection, including many early photomicrographs, abundant examples of medical illustration from the Civil War and World War I, films and videos, and trade literature and advertisements from the late 19th century.”

I know that the next time I visit Washington, DC, if I can arrange in advance, I hope to spend an afternoon looking at the medical documentation about the Civil War, especially the experiences in prisons and field hospitals.

If you plan to visit, check their website first, as their hours are currently Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4 p.m., by appointment only. You can contact the archivist at: (202) 782-2212.

The Archives has begun a program to digitize portions of its collection “written or held by the Museum and not in copyright” and make them freely available on its website. Among the titles available on the Otis Historical Archives Download Page are:

  • The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865), (published between 1870 and 1883). A monumental, six-volume work on this critical subject. During the Civil War, more soldiers died of disease and in medical treatment than in direct combat. This describes the state of the medical profession in the field, and the nature of Civil War wounds, illnesses, and treatments. It is indispensable for the Civil War researcher.
  • Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, another quite extensive set of volumes, fifteen in all, published between 1923 and 1929. I have not delved into this one, but want to see what I can learn about the Spanish Influenza epidemic, which killed more Americans than World War I itself. (Among the victims were my great grandmother, Alice Margaret Gregg, her daughter Bethene Blanche Johnson, and Alice’s niece, Charlotte Gregg. Another nephew probably died of it, though it may have been too early in the epidemic to have been correctly diagnosed.)
  • The Annual (Yearbook) of the Walter Reed General Hospital from 1921, 1923, 1925, 1926, and 1927, and Taps, the yearbook from 1929, 1930, and 1931.
  • A Medical Survey of the Bituminous-Coal Industry (1947), Coal Mines Administration, US Department of the Interior.
  • Decorations and Medals of the United States of America (1943), John Wyeth and Brother.

The two titles that were published by the Museum itself and are available on their website are:

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