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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