Boston Medical Library: a Reconstruction of the Collection of 1805 and Its History

The Boston Medical Library of 1805

At the beginning of the 19th century, Boston was on the verge of becoming one of the leading centers of medical education and research in the United States. Although Harvard's medical school had been in existence in Cambridge since 1782, it would soon move across the Charles River to Boston. The Massachusetts General Hospital would be incorporated in 1811, and other hospitals—the Boston Lying-In and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary—would soon join it. The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery would begin publication in 1812 and soon merge with The Boston Medical Intelligencer (established in 1823) to form The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, one of the country's most influential and long-lasting medical periodicals. The Massachusetts Medical Society, which was formed in 1781, would be joined by an array of professional organizations, including the Boston Medical Association, the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, and the Boylston Medical Society. But some of the local developments in medicine are less well-known—and have proved less enduring. One of these is the first Boston Medical Library.

Formed by a small group of physicians in 1805, the library's collection grew quickly, and yet just twenty years later had all but disappeared. This exhibit traces the few facts known about this library and the aims of its founders and attempts to reconstruct the collection's history from the surviving remnants which have found their way into the Countway Library of Medicine.


The Boston Medical Library is an exhibit curated by Jack Eckert for the Center for the History of Medicine. The online exhibit was created in OnView by Andra Langoussis in February 2014.