OHSU

Rare books on Health and Healing at OHSU Library

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Books Featured in Exhibit | Exhibit Images

For nearly a century, rare and historic books in the health sciences have distinguished OHSU Library’s collections. OHSU Historical Collections & Archives collects, preserves, and provides access to these hard-to-find primary resources. Health professionals, educators, students, historians, artists, and the general public use rare books for research, teaching, and personal study.

OHSU Library’s rare book collections began development under Bertha Brandon Hallam, the first professional librarian at University of Oregon Medical School (forerunner to today’s School of Medicine). Beginning in 1919, Hallam engaged the support of the Portland Academy of Medicine, the city’s leading organization for medical professionals. PAM directly funded many acquisitions, and facilitated donations of books from members.

George Emanuel Burget, Ph.D., Chair of the UOMS Library Committee, was instrumental in fundraising and also donated his own book collection to the library. Included were several rare works by Claude Bernard; Félix Vicq-d’Azyr’s 1786 Traité d'anatomie et de physiologie; and titles by Marcello Malpighi, John Hunter, Alexander von Humboldt, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, R.T.H. Laennec, and many more.

Portland’s medical community continued to provide substantial support for the library’s rare book collections throughout the 20th century. PAM and Library Committee members including Adalbert Bettman, M.D., Noble Wiley Jones, M.D., and Ernst A. Sommer, M.D., made individual donations of books, including works by Theodor Billroth, William Beaumont, S. Weir Mitchell, and William R. Gowers. An important donation from Joseph Leggett Miller, M.D. brought works by Roger Bacon, Hermann Boerhaave, Richard Bright, Ambroise Paré, and Benjamin Rush, along with dozens of other titles.

The medical school’s first dedicated library building (now OHSU’s Old Library) was completed in 1939. Original plans for a rare book room were not completed, due to funding shortfalls. In 1964, the History of Medicine Room was finally established through the support of PAM and the medical school. At this time the History of Medicine Collection included around 400 16th-19th century volumes.

In 1980, biophysicist and inventor Norman Holter donated his copy of the 1555 edition of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica to the library. As one of the greatest works of Western medicine and a landmark of the Renaissance, Holter’s donation raised the profile of OHSU Library’s rare book collections, and encouraged future donations of rare medical classics. Thanks to donations from faculty, alumni, and the general public, the History of Medicine collection today includes over 3000 titles, and is among the finest collections of rare medical books in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2003, the library acquired its first collection of rare books on dentistry. The History of Dentistry Collection originated in the School of Dentistry’s library in the 1970s, under the guidance of J. Henry Clarke, D.M.D., and the school’s History of Dentistry Committee. The transfer of the collection to OHSU Library established a new partnership for preserving and providing access to the school’s unique historical collections.

The dental school built the History of Dentistry Collection to around 550 titles, with strengths in orthodontics, periodontology, anesthesiology, pathology, oral surgery, and dental practice in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2003, over 100 additional titles have been added to the collection, including several historic works on 18th-19th century dental anatomy and technology.

In 1966, Hallam wrote to PAM President Daniel H. Labby, M.D.: 

“Hopefully, at some future date, this Historical Book Collection may be unique among medical historical book collections in some facet. This may turn out to be because of subjects covered, or authors represented or selectivity, or depth of coverage or some other factor chosen for stressing by its sponsors. Such is a dream for the future.”

Since Hallam’s time, OHSU Library’s book collections have indeed evolved as a unique resource, primarily for their unparalleled coverage of the history of health sciences in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest Collection consists of over 2000 titles, including texts by OHSU faculty, local histories and biographies, and official publications of OHSU. Many titles are entirely unique to the collection, held in no other public or research libraries.

In the twenty-first century, our rare book collections are growing through the support of individual donors, university departments, the OHSU History of Medicine Society, and a modest acquisitions budget. We continue to build on traditional collection strengths such as neurology, dentistry, and the Pacific Northwest, while also developing new areas such as women in medicine, health technology, ophthalmology, and nursing history. The library displayed many of these new titles in the summer 2013 exhibit Rare Books on Health and Healing: Select New Acquisitions.

HC&A is proud to provide free public access to OHSU’s collections of rare books, archival materials, and artifacts. Visitors may conduct research in the History of Medicine Room in the Old Library. We are also expanding access to many of our collections through digitization. 

Maija Anderson
Head, Historical Collections & Archives