Legal Medicine and Medical Jurisprudence
In the 1920s, New England heiress Frances Glessner Lee (d. 1962) became fascinated with the colorful crime-solving career of George Burgess Magrath (1870-1938), the medical examiner for Suffolk County and an instructor in legal medicine at Harvard Medical School. Mrs. Lee contributed funds to endow a professorship in legal medicine, a visiting lectureship, and a fellowship program and created the Nutshell Studies in Unexplained Death—a series of miniature crime scenes for student analysis. In 1933, she made an additional gift to establish the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine and, as its honorary curator, continued to acquire and donate rare books and manuscripts in legal medicine and medical jurisprudence. By 1964, the Magrath Library held some 3,700 volumes, and when its holdings were transferred to the Countway Library, legal medicine and jurisprudence became another significant subject strength of the collection.
Highlights of the Magrath Library include rare trial accounts, works on criminology, toxicology, and poisoning, including a 15th century manuscript of Petrus de Abano’s De Venenis, and a collection of unique material concerning Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James A. Garfield, including poems written by Guiteau while in prison, his own copy of his autobiographical work The Truth and the Removal, and the diary of his spiritual counselor, William Watkin Hicks. The holdings of the Magrath Library are complemented by transcripts and newsclippings of the John White Webster trial for the murder of George Parkman in 1849, along with the original dental casts of Dr. Parkman. Used during the trial to assist in identification of the body, the Parkman casts are one of the earliest examples of dental evidence employed in a case of forensic pathology.