CPP Curiosities: “Thou Shall Not Suffer a Witch to Live:” Witchcraft and Malleus Maleficarum

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Hello again, fellow historio-medico aficionados, and welcome to the latest installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular series delving into interesting, unusual, or otherwise thought-provoking episodes in medical history. We are in the midst of October and Halloween is just around the corner. While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the shape of the season, we at the Center for Education are in the Halloween spirit. We feel, global pandemic or not, there is never a wrong time for a scary story. Past ghoulish entries include medical treatments involving eating human remains, the cryonically frozen head of baseball legend Ted Williams, and graverobbing on top of graverobbing on top of graverobbing.

In the spirit of the season, Amanda McCall is back again to talk about a unique item in The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century guidebook to finding and prosecuting suspected witches.

Take it away, Amanda!

In this season of spooky and haunting things, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to tell you about a very spooky and seasonally appropriate book we at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia have hidden away in our amazing Historical Medical Library. The Malleus Maleficarum, or, as usually translated, The Hammer of the Witches, has been part of the library collection since The College acquired it from a renowned New York bookseller sometime prior to 1922. The Malleus Maleficarum played a pivotal role in how the prosecution of witches and witchcraft hysteria progressed throughout history.

The Malleus Maleficarum was written in 1486 by two German clergymen, Henrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger. Kramer’s place as a churchman and inquisitor put him in a position to notice how the search for, and trial of, witches were conducted, and he seemed to believe the methods could be improved upon. He petitioned Pope Innocent VIII for more power and authority in the hunting and prosecution of those accused of witchcraft. In response, in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a Papal Bull (a decree issued by the Pope) that acknowledged witchcraft as a real and a serious threat and granted Kramer and Sprenger the extended power Kramer had requested. Approximately a year later, Heinrich Kramer was expelled from the town of Innsbruck where he was overseeing the trial of several accused witches after a local bishop accused him of taking an inappropriate interest in one of the accused. It is believed that because of this criticism, Kramer began writing the Malleus Maleficarum.

Cover of 1669 edition of Malleus Maleficarum Credit: Wellcome CollectionImage Credit: Wellcome Collection; Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0); no changes made.

The Malleus Maleficarum is split into three main parts that highlight the reality of witchcraft, what witchcraft looks like in practice, and how best to try and convict them. The first part discusses the foundation of what witches believe in, specifically the complete renouncement of God and the Catholic faith. It also sets out to solidify the belief that witches are indeed real, stating that the Bible specifies the existence of witches. By extension, Kramer and Sprenger argue not believing in witches and witchcraft is heresy. The second part of the Malleus Maleficarum explores the different ways witches can cause harm, highlighting specific spells and methods of sorcery. There are several stories in this section taken directly from the authors’ inquisitions. The third section examines the best practices for trying and convicting suspected witches. It outlines the different ways the inquisitor and judge are allowed, even encouraged, to mislead and lie to the accused. For example, judges and inquisitors are allowed to withhold the name of the accuser and lie to the accused, falsely promising immunity if they confess. This section also explains how best to interview the accused witch including methods of torture for gathering a confession.

Before the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, witchcraft and the witches that practiced it, were perceived in a vastly different way. Trials for witchcraft still occurred, but they only took place in church courts, and witches only appeared in front of these courts if their “magic” and “spells” had directly harmed someone (maleficia). Punishments were also much less severe, frequently no more than spending a day in the stocks. It was a pale shadow of the brutality that would come later. One of the most dramatic changes that the introduction of the Malleus Maleficarum enacted was the belief that witchcraft was no average crime but actually a form of heresy. Declaring witchcraft heresy proclaimed it a crime against God. This meant that not only must it be prosecuted no matter what, but it also moved the prosecution of witches into the realm of civil courts and the elite members of society, seemingly making it a more public and hysteria inducing event.

“A Witches’ Sabbath.” (ca. 1800s). Image Credit: Wellcome Collection; Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0); no changes made.

The Malleus Maleficarum significantly changed what being sentenced to witchcraft meant and how the inquisitors and judges conducted themselves. It influenced the course of witchcraft hysteria by making it a widespread, rampant issue rather than the seemingly infrequent religious matter it once was.

For more information on the copy of the Malleus Maleficarum in The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, check out this video featuring former College Librarian Beth Lander.


Birks, Arran. “The ‘Hammer of Witches’: An Earthquake in the Early Witch Craze.” The Historian. Accessed October 21, 2020.

Hoffman, Whitney and Stephanie Bortis. “Malleus Maleficarum: The Hammer of Witches.” The Witching Years. Accessed October 21, 2020.

“Malleus Maleficarum.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 21, 2020.

As always, thank you Amanda for another fascinating and insightful piece. If you want to read more entries by Amanda, check out her pieces on corpse medicine, Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells, and the contested legacy of James Marion Sims. We hope you all have a safe, healthy, and happy Halloween season. Don’t forget to wear a mask, and we’ll catch you on the strange side!

CPP Curiosities: James Marion Sims: Father of Modern Gynecology or Abuser?

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Greetings, fellow historio-medico aficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular series on unusual and thought-provoking subjects in medical history. This month, we are continuing to look back at the contributions of people of color to the history of medicine. We are also shedding more light on the ways medicine has sometimes come at the expense of exploiting marginalized communities and reinforcing or perpetuating racial prejudices. In the past, we have examined accomplished 18th century African American physician James Durham; the Holmesburg Prison Experiments, where inmates of Philadelphia’s Holmesburg prison were part of a controversial series of dermatological experiments conducted by College of Physicians Fellow Albert Kligman; and Henrietta Lacks, an African American women whose clinically immortal cells, which physicians harvested without her knowledge or consent, went on to make significant contributions to medical and scientific knowledge.

This month’s installment also examines the ethics of medical research done at the expense of marginalized and disempowered communities. Contributor Amanda McCall examines the work of J. Marion Sims and the contributions of enslaved women to modern gynecology. 

Do the positive contributions a person makes to a field of study negate any harm inflicted on the journey to that point? Can the people who have been taken advantage of be brushed to the side just because whatever knowledge was gleaned at their expense is seen as benefitting the greater good? These are questions that need to be asked when discussing James Marion Sims and his unofficial title of the “father of modern gynecology.”  Sims perfected tools and surgical methods that would go on to aid an entire field of medicine and save countless lives, but at what cost? What is the bigger story behind these discoveries?

Photograph of a statue of J. Marion Sims atop a stone pedestal

Statue of J. Marion Sims that stood in New York’s Central Park. In 2018, following public outcry, the New York City Public Design Commission relocated the statue to Green-Wood Cemetery, where it currently stands. (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

James Marion Sims was born in 1813, and went on to study at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, medical training was of a shorter duration than what we could consider normal today, lasting only around a year and three months. After he completed his training, Sims eventually settled in Montgomery, Alabama, and began acting as the physician on call for the surrounding plantations. During his time in Montgomery, Sims was asked to help an enslaved woman who had fallen from a horse and was suffering from back and abdominal pain. Upon his initial examination, Sims decided he needed to see into the patient’s vagina in order to properly diagnose her. After placing the patient on all fours, Sims examined her using a bent spoon to help him better see inside her vagina. This led him to invent the precursor to the modern speculum and diagnose the patient with a vesicovaginal fistulae, a tear in the lining between the vagina and the bladder. With this discovery, Sims dedicated himself to the underdeveloped fields of gynecology and obstetrics, and search for a surgical cure for vesicovaginal fistulae. From 1845 to 1849, Sims attempted to solve the problem of vesicovaginal fistulae using approximately twelve enslaved women that had been “loaned” to him by their enslavers.

Illustration of two hands holding a vaginal speculum. A caption reads, "Mode of holding Sims' speculum."

Illustration of J. Marion Sims Vaginal Speculum (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

These women, only three of whom have surviving record of their names, developed a vesicovaginal fistulae (VVF) after suffering through particularly traumatic birthing experiences. It is likely that Betsy, Lucy, and Anarcha all wanted their VVF repaired. It was a painful, unpleasant medical condition that allowed urine (and feces in the case of rectovaginal fistulae) to leak out of the vagina. Infection is common, as are very unpleasant odors. Vesicovaginal fistulae commonly caused women to be ostracized from their communities due to the hygienic issues it creates. The enslavers also had motivation to have VVF healed. Affected enslaved women weren’t able to birth more children, and they were less productive in the fields and home because of their condition, thus making them less profitable for their owners. In order to more easily treat his patients, Sims built a small hospital at the back of his property.

During the four years Sims spent perfecting his surgical technique to repair VVF, he subjected these enslaved women to numerous experimental surgeries, each with minimal healing time between them, according to Sims’ journals. Sims operated on Anarcha thirty times before declaring her healed. Repairing the VVF was challenging, and it took Sims many, many attempts to achieve his goal. He operated on these women while they were naked and bent forward on their knees and elbows, a pose known today as a Sims position. The use of anesthesia was in its infancy when Sims began his VVF surgical experimentation, and despite the fact that the efficacy of anesthesia was beginning to emerge in medical circles of the time, Sims never administered any during these surgeries. In his notes he reported that the pain the women experienced was not great enough to justify the trouble or risk despite recording that Lucy’s pain was visibly immense during one of her surgeries.

Portrait titled "Illustration of Dr. J. Marion Sims with Anarcha." An African American woman (Anarcha) kneels on a table covered in a white sheet. Around her are three white men (one on the right [Sims] and two on the left) looking at her. To the left of the portrait, two African American women look on from behind a white sheet.

Illustration of Dr. J. Marion Sims with Anarcha by Robert Thom. Courtesy of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Pearson Museum.

J Marion Sims did eventually develop a successful method to close VVF thanks to the sacrifices of the enslaved women he used to refine it. Armed with this revolutionary knowledge he moved to New York City and opened a women’s hospital to treat other, predominately white, women afflicted with VVF. The problems vesicovaginal fistulae present have largely been solved in the much of the world, but because of the stigma associated with women’s bodies and their sexual health, VVF can go unacknowledged and untreated in some poor, rural areas.

James Marion Sims’ search for a surgical cure for vesicovaginal fistulae is well documented in the journals he kept while he was practicing in his backyard hospital. But that is just one side to the story, and the only account we have of the enslaved women’s stories is the one Sims gives us. Sims reported that the women “clamored” for the surgery and willingly submitted to the repeated procedures. While there is no doubt that this is an issue the affected women would want fixed, did they ever have an opportunity to say no? As enslaved women, did they have any say in the frequency of the surgeries or how their body was regarded during the procedure? They were operated on naked, in a vulnerable position, often with multiple other physicians observing. During this time in medical history the common belief was that African American patients did not feel as much pain as white patients did, and, according to Sims’ journals, he felt the same way. Reportedly, Sims favored quick surgeries to lessen blood loss, and that was one reason he preferred not to use anesthesia even after it was introduced. But how much did Sims’ opinions on his enslaved patients pain tolerance influence how he treated them during his experimental procedures? Sims needed these enslaved women for many reasons, but their contributions to his discoveries are not held in the same regard as his. Not only were they the subjects of Sims’ surgeries, they also stepped in to act as nurses and surgical assistants after Sims’ white colleagues left. They were trained in a respected career that required specialized knowledge but were only able to benefit from this in a very limited way.

Cover page of the 1867 edition of "Clinical notes on uterine surgery" by J. Marion Sims

Cover page of the 1867 edition of “Clinical notes on uterine surgery” by J. Marion Sims. The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has several different editions in the collection

James Marion Sims did contribute a great deal to the progression of gynecology and obstetrics. He saw an opportunity to create a name for himself in a field many physicians thought beneath them at the time, but the women whose bodies he built this knowledge on are mostly forgotten to time. Lucy, Anarcha, Betsy, and the other unnamed enslaved women gave so much to further the medical field, yet no first-person account of their stories or voices exist.  If Sims is considered the father of modern gynecology, should they not be considered the mothers of modern gynecology? Sims may deserve recognition for the advancements he made possible, but the sacrifices and bravery of his enslaved patients deserve it as well.


Cooper Owens, Deirdre. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017.

“More Than a Statue: Rethinking J. Marion Sims’ Legacy.” Deirdre Cooper Owens. August 14, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2020.

Holland, Brynn. “The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Slaves.” History. December 4, 2018. Accessed September 22, 2020.

Wall, L.L. “The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: a fresh look at the historical record.” Journal of Medical Ethics 32. No. 6. June 2006: 346-350.

Thanks, Amanda, for your insights. If you want to read more articles by Amanda, please check out her aforementioned article on Henrietta Lacks as well as her work on corpse medicine

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

The Junior Fellows Become Experts in “Civic Health”

Zoom meeting with students

What a year it has been. Few of us thought that the curve would still not be flattened in all these months. Needless to say, it has been challenging and frustrating. The pandemic has been especially challenging for our youth programs, which converted to a 100% virtual model after The College shut down in-person operations in March. It has certainly been an adjustment, but we are proud of our students’ resiliency and what they have accomplished under these trying circumstances.

Last month, the current cohort of the Junior Fellows program completed their intensive two-week summer program, a staple of their first two years in the program. Every year, our activities and guest speakers center around an overarching theme. This time around, given the global pandemic, the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election, and the protests over systemic racial injustice and police violence against people of color, we would be remiss if we didn’t try our best to give our students the tools they need to become both the healthcare professionals and leaders of tomorrow. To that end, our theme was “civic health,” addressing the intersections of health, policy, civics, and the political, social, cultural, economic, and racial factors that influence personal and public health.

Slide mapping out the functions of the Electoral College

Our guest speakers discussed their experiences in the healthcare and medical fields as well as the important topics facing the country today. College Fellow Carmen Guerra, an outspoken health professional and public health advocate, examined racial disparities in care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul Wolff Mitchell, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral candidate in anthropology, discussed scientific racism and the way racially-biased medicine helped provide scientific justification for oppression. Graduate students in Drexel University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology worked with our students to develop theoretical plans for responding for epidemics such as coronavirus. Students in Drexel’s physical therapy program explained how physical therapists help patients who have experienced injuries. The students also bolstered their knowledge of civics, with lessons on the electoral college, the evolution of voting rights, defunding the police, and mass incarceration.

As our students grappled with complex and challenging subjects, we also emphasized the importance of self-care. Over the course of two “Wellness Wednesdays,” we addressed ways they can help maintain their mental health in a stressful world. College Fellow Kamilah Jackson discussed the importance of self-care and the challenges faced by mental health professionals. Our own Jacqui Bowman took our students on a virtual tour of the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden and introduced them to aquarium and aquatic life care, a personal passion of hers. Drexel nursing student Laura Baehr hosted a virtual yoga session. Our own Meredith Sellers guided them through a skull drawing workshop.

Jacqui Bowman, co-director of living exhibits, in a mask gestures to a plant in the Rush Garden

Our students addressed all these topics with energy and maturity, asking penetrating questions and sharing their thoughts and insights on the state of the world. We have no doubt they are ready, willing, and able to take on the challenges of the future both as healthcare experts and leaders in their communities.

Now Accepting Applications for the Girls One Diaspora Club

Students in the Girls One Diaspora Club walk through the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Herb Garden

Attention, Philadelphia high school students, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is now accepting applications for the Girls One Diaspora Club.

The Girls One Diaspora Club is an after-school internship program for teen girls in Philadelphia who are from Africa or the African Diaspora, were born outside of the U.S. or are first-generation Americans, and have an interest in healthcare or STEM careers.

The internship program addresses the unique challenges facing teen girls of African and/or Afro descent while providing a safe environment to share and voice their concerns and  learn about careers in science and medicine. The club is a forum for academic and personal support to assist these young women with issues related to schooling, ancestry, ethnicity, and the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. The facilitators of the club also provide mentorship and assistance with academic issues including tutoring, career development, and college/career preparation in a safe, positive, affirming space.

Sessions meet weekly during the school year. There are no costs to enroll or remain enrolled in the program, and all participants are paid a stipend. In accordance with social distancing, all activities during the Fall 2020 semester will be virtual.

If you’re interested in joining, you can fill out our application. Applications are due by Saturday, September 12, 2020, at 11:59PM. If you have any questions, consult our website or email Jeanene Johnson, Girls One Diaspora Coordinator.

Docent Discussions: Benjamin Rush and The Medicinal Plant Garden

Greetings and salutations, fellow Mütter Museum fans, and welcome to the latest installment of Docent Discussions, our monthly series where we share insider accounts of the Museum as told by our docents. Past entries examined the Chevalier Jackson collection of swallowed objects and the connections between HPV (human papillomavirus) and a tumor secretly extracted from President Grover Cleveland.

Today’s entry comes from Julie Rakestraw, who is here to talk about The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Medicinal Plant Garden and its namesake: Benjamin Rush, a statesman, physician, and one of the founders of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.  

Take it away, Julie!

Closeup photo of Julia Rakeshaw

My family has been visiting the Mütter Museum for years, and I was always fascinated by the people behind the artifacts. When I retired after 29+ years working at DuPont in 2019, I finally had the time to become more involved and to bring information about the displays to others. After shadowing and practicing, I completed my first tour on March 2 of this year, just before the pandemic was officially declared.

What is your favorite exhibit?

My favorite place in the Mütter Museum is the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden. I love the tranquility of the garden during any season of the year. It’s fascinating to follow the plants through the seasons of spring awakening, summer bloom, fall leaf changing, and the winter outlines of bare branches and dormant perennials. During the Mischief at the Mütter event, the garden is transformed into an outdoor bar filled with people in spectacularly creative costumes. In her genealogy research, my mom has discovered that Benjamin Rush is actually a distant cousin of ours, which made me even more interested in his story.

Photo of a Saarracenia plant with a label that reads "Sarracenia Carnivorous Pitcher Plant"

A Brief History of Plants in Medicine 

Native plants have been used for centuries to treat various maladies of both animals and people. A Sumerian clay slab from ~5000 years ago is the first written use of plants to treat conditions of the human body, describing 12 recipes for preparation of various products.

Native Americans noted that animals often sought out certain plants when they were ill, so they began to consume specific plants as well. The ancient Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, and Romans were all herbalists, using the native plants for specific remedies. Before the establishment of universities in the 11th and 12th centuries, monasteries served as medical schools. In addition to copying ancient texts, the trainees tended the “physick” gardens which were designed to include specific plants which provided the medicines of the time. The chemicals of these naturally occurring medicines have been used to develop many pharmaceuticals of today, including digitalis, found in the leaves of the foxglove plant for the treatment of congestive heart failure.

A few examples of some common plants and the illnesses or conditions they can treat include:

  • Cinchona: The bark contains quinine which is an effective treatment for malaria
  • Foxglove: Digitalis extracted from the leaves is used to treat heart failure and cardiovascular disease. However, it can be toxic at higher doses.
  • Ginger: A root used to ease nausea and motion sickness
  • Mint: The leaves can be brewed into a tea which soothes digestion problems and can be made into a salve to reduce skin inflammation and itching. Mint has been used since at least the first century A.D. as recorded by Pliny in ancient Rome.
  • Rhubarb: For treatment of diarrhea and other intestinal issues
  • White willow bark:  To treat insomnia, dysentery, and reduce fevers. The salicin found in the bark is converted to salicylic acid in the human body and is the inspiration for acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin.

Tags in the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden at the Mütter Museum display the names of the plants and some of their potential medical uses.

A Brief Look at Benjamin Rush

Rush was born outside Philadelphia in 1746. As the son of a blacksmith, his family was not wealthy, so he needed to make his own living. His brilliance was recognized early and he graduated from college at the age of 14. He apprenticed as a physician in Philadelphia and then went to the University of Edinburgh for medical school before returning to Philadelphia. Rush treated patients of all colors and social standing, as he needed to make a living. He became active in revolutionary politics, encouraging the publication of various pamphlets and writing his own. He signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of the Pennsylvania delegation in 1776. He was active in the field hospitals of the Continental Army and crossed the Delaware alongside George Washington in the famous Christmas Eve crossing in December 1776.

Portrait of Benjamin Rush

1783 portrait of Benjamin Rush by Charles Wilson Peale (Image Source: Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library)

During the Revolutionary War, he actively promoted improvements in the hospitals for the soldiers, as well as for better nutrition, short hair (to reduce lice), and changes to army plans such as not initiating marches during the early spring months when changeable weather was more likely to promote disease. Rush was a primary force behind inoculation of the Revolutionary War soldiers for smallpox, which had been a major cause of illness and death. Some of his treatments, like bloodletting, were later found to be useless or actually harmful and discontinued.

Before leaving the Army medical service, Rush issued a pamphlet which began “Fatal experience has taught the people of America the truth…that a greater proportion of men perish with sickness in all armies than fall by the sword.” Helping to change that ratio was a focus of his life’s work.

His family convinced him to focus on his career and not to marry until he reached the age of 30. His wife, Julia Stockton, was the daughter of the President of The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He first met Julia when he was a student at Princeton and she was just a young child. When the new couple moved into their house in Philadelphia, Rush arranged to have a library of books for his wife, encouraging her to pursue her own intellectual interests.

He believed in the concept of overall health, encompassing physical, mental, spiritual, economic, political in both the public and private spheres. This idea is not dissimilar from today’s concept of global health. Dr. Rush had the “peculiar happiness” of believing that as more became known about science and medicine, many of the cures and treatments of his time would be superseded. Rush opposed slavery, advocated free public schools, and sought improved education for women and a more enlightened penal system. However, he believed that male and female students should be educated separately and felt that the education of women should focus on poetry, religious writings and avoid science and mathematics.

Rush was interested in mental health as well as physical health and published “Medical Inquiries and Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind” in 1812. Some of his early thoughts in this area have been disproved as well, including his beliefs that many mental illnesses resulted from sensory overload and could be treated by devices like a centrifugal spinning board or a special restraining chair with a sensory deprivation helmet. However, he also promoted therapeutic treatment for alcohol addiction and improvements in the hospitalization conditions for the mentally ill.

After the Revolutionary War, Rush helped create The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1787. He encouraged College Fellows to maintain a medicinal garden as a natural and cooperative way to replenish their medicine chests. He trained over 3000 apprentice medical students.

A closeup of a hellebore flower

The College established the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden adjacent to the Mütter Museum in 1937. The garden contains more than 60 different kinds of herbs that have historical and sometimes contemporary medicinal value.

Thanks for your insights, Julie! If you want to know more about the Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden, including upcoming events and the full list of plants currently in the Garden, check out the Garden’s homepage. If you want to read more about Benjamin Rush, we recommend our recent article on his correspondence with African American physician James Durham.


Bauer Petrovska, Biljana. “Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage.” Pharmacognosy Reviews 6, No. 11 (January – June 2012): 1-5.

“Benjamin Rush.” Wikipedia. Accessed July 13, 2020.

The Benjamin Rush Medicinal Plant Garden. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Blanco, Richard. “Medicine in the Continental Army, 1775-1781.”  Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 57, No. 8 (October 1981): 677-704.

Block, Melissa.  “‘Rush’: the Other Founding Father From Philadelphia Named Benjamin.” NPR, September 2, 2018.

“A Brief History of Herbalism.” University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library. Accessed July 16, 2020.

“Digitalis.” Britannica. Accessed July 16, 2020.

Fried, Stephen. Rush: Revolution, Madness and Benjamin Rush: The Visionary Doctor who Became a Founding Father. New York: Penguin Random House, 2019.

Gifford, Jr. George E. “Botanic Remedies in Colonial Massachusetts.” Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Accessed July 31, 2020.

“A Guide to Common Medicinal Herbs.” University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Malone-Brown, Eileen B. “Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks.” Monticello. Accessed July 13, 2020.

“Medicinal Botany.” U.S. Forest Service. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Medicine and Health on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Miller, Christine. “The Apothecary in Colonial America.” Herbal Medicine: Open Access 3, No. 2. July 31, 2017. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Moerman, Daniel. “The Medicinal Flora of Native North America.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 31, No. 1 (February 1991): 1-42.

Patricia Schafer, A Manual of Cherokee Herbal Remedies: History, Information, Identification, Medicinal Healing. Unpublished M.A. thesis. Indiana State University (1993). Accessed July 16, 2020.


CPP Curiosities: James Durham, 18th Century African American Physician

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Welcome, fellow historico-medico aficionados, to another installment of CPP Curiosities, The Center for Education’s series on interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking accounts from the history of medicine. This month’s installment continues our recent examination of the achievements of people of color in medicine. Last month, guest writer Amanda wrote about Henrietta Lacks and her monumental contributions to medical research. This time around, we are digging further back into the history of American medicine to focus briefly on a notable eighteenth century African American physician with ties to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

James Durham was born into slavery in Philadelphia on May 1, 1762. He changed hands between several enslavers during the early part of his life. Some of them happened to also be physicians, and Durham learned about medical practice. His last enslaver was Dr. Robert Dow, a physician in New Orleans who put Durham to work as his medical assistant.

In 1783, 20-year-old Durham purchased his freedom and began practicing medicine in New Orleans where he earned financial success and professional distinction. His ability to read and write and his fluency in three languages—English, French, and Spanish—likely served him well as a community doctor. In 1788, during a trip back to Philadelphia, Durham met Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician and statesman. In 1788, Rush was a former representative in the Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of numerous reform organizations in Philadelphia. He was also one of the founders of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which he helped establish alongside 23 other Philadelphia physicians the previous year. Rush, an ardent abolitionist, likely met Durham at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. In a November 14, 1788, letter to the Society, Rush praised Durham’s expertise in disease treatment:

There is now in this city a black man of the name James Durham, a practitioner of physic, belonging to the Spanish settlement of New Orleans on the Mississippi…I have convened with him upon most of the acute and epidemic diseases of the country where he lives, and was pleased to find him perfectly acquainted with the modern simple mode of practice in those diseases. I expected to have suggested some new medicines to him, but he suggested many more to me. (Wynes 330).

The pair formed a professional relationship and maintained regular correspondence between 1789 and 1802.

Portrait of Benjamin Rush

1783 portrait of Benjamin Rush by Charles Wilson Peale (Image Source: Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library)

Through their letters, Durham and Rush shared their knowledge on disease treatment and handling epidemics. Rush also shared Durham’s findings with prominent members of the Philadelphia medical community. In 1790, Rush presented Durham’s paper “An Account of the Putrid Sore Throat at New Orleans” to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Apparently, based on a letter from Durham dated March 30, 1790, the paper was not well received, although there are no details as to why. The two physicians were also on the front lines of yellow fever epidemics in their respective cities: Rush during the 1793 Philadelphia outbreak and Durham in New Orleans the following year.

Durham continued to practice in New Orleans until at least 1801; however, he longed to return to Philadelphia. In a letter to Rush dated May 20, 1800, he asked the Philadelphia physician if there were any work opportunities in the Quaker City, “Sir if you think I can get a living in Philadelphia[,] for I want to leave New Orleans and come live in the states, you will please write to me.” Changes in local policy in New Orleans likely also played a role in his desire to relocate. In 1801, the Spanish-run local government mandated all physicians practicing in the city had to have a medical degree, which Durham did not despite significant practical experience. Contemporary records mention a free Black man named “Derum,” whom local officials barred from medical practice save for treating throat ailments. Historian Charles Wynes argued in a 1979 article that “Derum” was likely James Durham. This is in part because of the similarity of the names (spelling was rather relative at the time) and Durham’s expertise in diseases of the throat as evidenced in the paper he sent to Rush to present at The College. A letter to Rush dated April 5, 1802, demonstrates Durham remained in New Orleans for at least another year, although it offers no insights whether he was still practicing medicine. Unfortunately, this letter is the last known correspondence between the two, and it is the last known record connected to Durham. Did he return to Philadelphia? Did he seek opportunities elsewhere? Did he die suddenly? We may never know.

On a side note, there are at least two images circulating online that are incorrectly attributed to Durham. One is a lithograph portrait of a man with white hair and a dark mustache while the other is a photograph of a heavyset man with a goatee. The former is actually an image of James McCune Smith (1813-1865), a New York-based physician and abolitionist. The latter is Blanche Bruce, a 19th century Mississippi politician who was the first African American man to serve a full term in the United States Senate. For examples of both images associated with Durham, see this article from The African American Registry and this one from America Comes Alive! 

1888 engraving of James McCune Smith from Daniel Alexander Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons). This image has been misattributed to James Durham.


Photograph of Blanche Kelso Bruce

Matthew Brady photograph of Blanche Kelso Bruce (Image Source: Library of Congress). This image has been misattributed to James Durham.

Several sites also claim Durham was the first African American man to practice medicine in the United States. However, there are several issues with this bold assertion. First, given the limited source material, there’s no evidence of Durham practicing in the United States. At the time, New Orleans was part of Spain and would not become part of the United States until 1803, when the U.S. acquired the city from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Second, medical practice and education were decentralized and informal at the time. Saying Durham was the “first Black physician” paints a narrow definition of “physician,” one that ignores the diverse array of medical practices beyond formalized medicine in the modern sense. There were no medical certification programs in the eighteenth century and most who practiced received little in the way of standardized training save for apprenticeship under another physician, as Durham did in his youth with Robert Dow. Given the generally loose credentials required to be a doctor in those times, it is not unlikely there were numerous African American people engaging in some manner of treatment or healing of the sick or injured.

None of this is to diminish Durham’s accomplishments. He was a noteworthy individual who achieved considerable success and acclaim in medicine while breaking into in the “mainstream” (in this context, the white, educated, upper class) medical community of the time. His accomplishments as a physician are a testament to the longtime contributions of African Americans to medicine.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!


“James Derham (ca. 1762-1802?), First Black Physician,” America Comes Alive! May 3, 2012.

“James Durnham, a pioneering physician and skilled healer,” African American Registry.

Steve Graff, “Diving into Penn’s African American History,” Penn Medicine News, February 27, 2015, accessed June 26, 2020,

Betty L. Plummer and James Durham, “Letters of James Durham to Benjamin Rush,” The Journal of Negro History 65, No. 3 (Summer 1980): 261-269.

Charles E. Wynes, “Dr. James Durham, Mysterious Eighteenth-Century Black Physician: Man or Myth?” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 103, No. 3 (July 1979): 325-333.

Now Accepting Applications for the 2020-21 Out4STEM Program

A student from the Out4STEM Program dissects a sheep's brain.

Attention, Philadelphia high school students: we are excited to announce The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is now accepting applications for the 2020-21 cohort of the Out4STEM Internship Program!

The Out4STEM Internship Program is a one-year, after-school internship program aimed at LGBTQIA high school students in Philadelphia who have an interest in healthcare/medicine or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Program also seeks to address the unique challenges facing Philadelphia LGBTQIA youth in an accepting, STEM-oriented safe space. The Program takes advantage of the unique resources of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, including the world-famous Mütter Museum, the Historical Medical Library, and our vast network of Fellows to create a unique educational experience.

The program provides an opportunity for Philadelphia high school students to learn about science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and healthcare/medicine and the career opportunities they provide. The program provides a space where they can cultivate relationships between like-minded, motivated Philadelphia LGBTQIA students and professionals.

In addition to learning about STEM fields and careers, the Out4STEM program aims to give students involved a greater understanding of LGBTQIA history and opportunities to engage with scientists, educators, activists, medical practitioners, and historians who are part of the community.

Out4STEM started as a collaborative program between The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Educational Justice Coalition, and the University of Pennsylvania’s LGBTPM+. It has since grown into an after-school program hosted at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. It is currently organized by Victor Gomes (he/him), a PhD student in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how children learn language. If you have any inquiries about the program, please feel free to contact Victor at vgomes@collegeofphysicians.org.

During the course of the program, students will achieve the following goals:

  • Learn about careers related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and healthcare/medicine.
  • Cultivate relationships between like-minded, motivated Philadelphia LGBTQIA students.
  • Develop a greater understanding of the body’s physiological response to stress.
  • Facilitate stress relieving techniques.
  • Address the impact of bullying and discrimination and develop responses.
  • Learn about LGBTQIA history and foster connections with members of the community.
  • Learn to communicate, heal, and build a community.

Out4STEM Students showing off their masks at the Masquerade 2015

Sessions will take place every other week during the 2020-21 academic year. All sessions will be coordinated by staff from The Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

Depending on local, state, and federal health recommedations, the program will either be held virtually or in person at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (19 South 22nd Street). The Center for Education will make all necessary precautions to provide adequate social diatancing for any in-person activities. Transit tokens to and from any in-person events will be supplied by The Center for Education. Students will also receive a stipend upon successful completion of the program.

In order to be eligible for the Out4STEM Internship Program, candidates must meet the following requirements (Note: There are no costs to enroll or be enrolled in the Out4STEM Internship Program):

  • Currently enrolled in a high school within the Philadelphia School District, including public, private, parochial, or charter schools.
  • Possess an interest in healthcare, medicine, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math)

If you are interested in joining the Out4STEM Internship Program, you can fill out our online application. We require all students receive permission from a parent or guardian and provide contact information for a teacher or other adult mentor (coach, youth group leader, religious leader, etc.) who will serve as a reference. In order to better get to know you, we ask that you include in your application the answer the following questions:

1) “What aspect of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is most interesting to you and why?”
2) “What do you hope to get out of being a member of the out4STEM Program?”

Your answer can take the form of a brief essay (MAX 500 words) or a video (MAX 5 minutes). If you choose to create a video, the format is up to you; just remember to answer the above prompt. Selected applicants will be asked to take part in an interview. All applicants must be prepared to submit a work permit (information on how to obtain one can be found here).

Application materials must be submitted no later than 11:59PM on SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 2020.

If you have any questions, contact Victor Gomes, the Out4STEM Coordinator. You can also learn more about the Out4STEM Internship Program by consulting our website or checking our Frequently Asked Questions.

Docent Discussions: What Does Grover Cleveland’s Tumor Have to Do with Genital Warts?

Welcome, Mütter fans and medical history enthusiasts, to the latest issue of Docent Discussions, The Center for Education’s ongoing series that offers you an inside perspective on the Mütter Museum as told by our dedicated team of museum docents.

Last time, Lindsay Freed opened our series with a look at Chevalier Jackson, a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia who collected over 2,000 swallowed objects he extracted from patients. Today, we turn the reigns over to Joe Walsh. Joe first visited the Mütter Museum in 1975. He became a docent in 2013 following a 34-year career as an OB/GYN physician. When he isn’t giving tours at the Mütter Museum, he is applying his love of science, history, and education at the Franklin Institute and in a monthly hyper-local history column for the Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park

Photograph of Mütter Museum docent Joe Walsh holding a skull next to a bust of Thomas Dent Mütter

Take it away, Joe!

My goal on tours is to make connections between the items, rather than have a linear trip through disconnected items. The Worden Room, often considered the “side room” on the lower level contains several fascinating objects which have connections that may not be immediately obvious at first glance. This post discusses two fascinating objects: the oral tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland and a necklace made of genital warts.

Grover Cleveland’s Tumor and The Genital Wart Necklace

A jar containing parts of a tumor removed from US President Grover Cleveland

Wet specimen jar containing Grover Cleveland’s tumor.

President Grover Cleveland noticed a rough surface inside his mouth in 1893. His physicians felt the area was an oral cancer and needed an immediate operation. However, there were significant political considerations, as Cleveland was a supporter of the Gold Standard and wanted to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. His Vice President did not share those views, so Cleveland was reluctant to hand over power, even temporarily. The surgery was conducted in secret aboard the Oneida, a boat owned by his friend Commodore Elias Benedict. The tumor may be seen in a case in the center of the Worden Room.

A clear glass jar containing a set of genital warts connected together by string

Wet specimen jar containing a “necklace” of genital warts.

The necklace of genital warts was created not to be worn as jewelry but to allow easier study of the warts suspended in liquid in the storage jar from a string. The collection from an unknown donor is from the 19th Century. Treatment at the time included an injection with cocaine to provide pain relief followed by the application of “powerful caustics” such as nitric or chromic acid. Modern treatments involve numbing with local anesthetic and then removal via surgery, cryotreatment, or laser treatment.

What’s the Connection?

Cleveland’s verrucous carcinoma has a controversial association with human papillomavirus (HPV), but in the years since, many oral cancers have definitively become confirmed as associated with HPV. It has been known that HPV is associated with cervical cancer since 1982. Genital warts are caused by certain strains of HPV and are often the first external manifestation of the presence of the virus. HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact and can rarely lead to female and male genital cancers and anogenital cancers.

The HPV vaccine is the only vaccination that helps protect both men and women from many different types of cancer associated with exposure to strains of HPV. About 150 strains of HPV have been identified, but the vast majority of cancers are caused by 40 of those strains. The initial vaccine, Gardasil by Merck, was made available for girls between ages 9 and 26 in 2006. Gardasil covered four subtypes of the virus.

In 2011, the CDC recommended that boys also be vaccinated. In 2014, the latest vaccine, Gardasil 9, which covers 9 subtypes of HPV was approved. In 2018 the Gardasil-9 vaccine, the only one currently available, was recommended up to age 45, expanding the age group targeted for vaccination.

HPV-related cervical and vaginal cancers have decreased since the introduction of the vaccine, but rates for oro-pharyngeal and anal related cancers have increased.

Thanks, Joe, for your insights. If you want to hear more from our docents, check out Lindsay’s piece on Chevalier Jackson as well as an interview with several of our docents about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about Grover’s Cleveland’s secret surgery, check out our article on the subject.


“Genital Warts Necklace,” Memento Mütter, accessed July 2, 2020.

“Grover Cleveland – Secret Surgery,” University of Arizona Health Sciences Library, accessed July 2, 2020.

“The HPV Vaccine: Access and Use in the U.S.” KFF, accessed July 2, 2020.

CPP Curiosities: Henrietta Lacks, HeLa, and Medical Consent

Logo for CPP Curiosities

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our latest installment of CPP Curiosities. In the past we have focused on interesting, unusual, and thought-provoking topics from the history of medicine. 

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia denounce the racial injustices and systemic racism directed at people of color. We must strive to have a Philadelphia within which every person’s potential is recognized and encouraged to develop. Because of our unique position, we are morally obligated to speak about health and health care disparities as a cause, as well as a result, of inequality. As an institution so committed, we stand firmly with Black Lives Matter.

We must also acknowledge the role of medicine, as well as people affiliated with this organization, in perpetuating and advancing injustice. While medical advances theoretically benefit everyone, in numerous cases those advances came at the expense of communities of color. Medical science has also provided justification for bigotry, intolerance, and the exploitation of people of color. For example, a past article in this series examined the Holmesburg Prison Experiments, a series of dermatological experiments conducted on Philadelphia inmates by Albert Kligman, a Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. We also examined College of Physicians Fellow William S. Forbes, who utilized African American remains stolen from a Black cemetery in Philadelphia as medical cadavers. Today, guest writer Amanda McCall has chosen to highlight the contributions of Henrietta Lacks to the advancement of science, addressing the important ethical questions raised when scientists make those advancements without individuals’ knowledge or consent.   

Her name isn’t as familiar as many others throughout scientific history. She wasn’t a part of genetics or cancer biology textbooks until recently, but she has played an enormous role in the progress of cellular biology and scientific research in general. Her name is Henrietta Lacks, and her cells gave rise to the immortal cell line HeLa.

Henrietta Lacks was born August 1, 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia. She spent the first part of her life working her family’s tobacco fields and running around with her siblings and cousins. When she was twenty-one, she married her cousin David, or Day as he was known in the family. Soon after their marriage, Henrietta and Day moved to Baltimore in pursuit of better job opportunities.

Photograph of Henrietta Lacks

Image Source: © July 3, 2001 vol. 98 no. 14 7656-7658; National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.

In 1950, just before she learned she was pregnant with her fifth child, Henrietta felt that something was off with her body. She felt something she described as a ‘knot’ in her womb before and during the pregnancy, and it did not go away as expected after she gave birth. She continued as normal for about four months until she found blood in her underwear. It wasn’t time for her period, so she was concerned. Henrietta went to her usual doctor who thought she might have contracted syphilis, but she tested negative. Her doctor suggested she see a physician at Johns Hopkins’ gynecology clinic, the only major hospital in the area that would admit Black patients. A Johns Hopkins gynecologist found a nickel-sized lump the color of ‘grape jelly’ on the mouth of her cervix. A biopsy revealed the lump was malignant, and she planned to have it treated at Hopkins. She didn’t tell her family, not wanting to worry anyone about something she would be able to deal with on her own.

At that time, radium was the standard treatment for invasive cervical cancer like Henrietta’s. During one treatment, the doctor in charge removed two tissue samples—one healthy and one cancerous—from her cervix. Neither the hospital nor the physicians told Henrietta they were doing this or asked for her permission. After one more radium treatment, Henrietta received weekly X-Ray treatments. The treatments appeared to be working and Henrietta returned to her normal life. However, in June 1950, Henrietta began experiencing abdominal pain and trouble urinating. During a trip to her doctor, her physician looked her over but could not find anything obviously wrong and sent her home. She returned to the hospital a couple of weeks later, again reporting pain. Again, doctors found nothing of concern and sent her home. Three days later, the pain had grown so intense that Henrietta could barely walk. She returned to Johns Hopkins again whereupon doctors found a large mass attached to her abdominal wall that had almost completely occluded her urethra. The cancer had spread throughout her body. Her doctors deemed her condition inoperable and sent her home to rest. She was later treated with increasing doses of radiation to help alleviate her pain but neither that nor morphine could help relieve it. In August 1951, Henrietta came back to Johns Hopkins, and this time she wanted to stay. By late September, the cancer was so widespread, and Henrietta was in so much pain that her doctors discontinued all treatments except pain management. Henrietta Lacks died on October 4, 1951.

Meanwhile, the cells doctors removed from Henrietta Lacks’ cervix continued to multiply and thrive. George Gey, the cellular biologist tasked with working with Henrietta’s cells, was extremely excited to discover that her cell line was immortal. This meant Henrietta’s cells were capable of dividing and surviving indefinitely if they were cultured in an appropriate environment. This made them an indispensable tool for cellular research. The cell line was named “HeLa” after the first two letters of her first and last name. The HeLa cell line quickly became highly sought after by researchers. It was used in countless research projects, including the Salk Polio vaccine, projects to illustrate that cancer was not communicable, and tests to examine the toxicity of certain substances on cells.

Image of HeLa cells

HeLa cell, immortal human epithelial cancer cell line, SEM. Credit: Anne Weston, Francis Crick Institute. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Henrietta Lacks’ family did not learn about her immortal cells until the 1970s. In 1970, researchers learned that the HeLa cell line had contaminated several other cell lines. Researchers at Johns Hopkins reached out to Henrietta’s family, asking for blood samples to help them differentiate between the different contaminated cell lines. Her family was confused. This was the first that they had heard of her cells being saved and used for research. They didn’t have much of a science education so they didn’t understand what the scientists on the phone were telling them. Was Henrietta still alive? No one had asked them for permission to use her cells or explained to them how her cells would be used, and research involving her cells had gone on for twenty years without her family’s knowledge.

HeLa cancer cells

Human HeLa cancer cells, mitosis. Credit: Paul Andrews/Univ. Dundee. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Henrietta Lacks’ cells introduced the question of who “owns” cells or tissues once they’ve been removed from a patient’s body. Does the patient have any say in what is done with their tissue? In 1951, when physicians removed Henrietta’s cells, the law said that no patient consent was necessary and that cells no longer belonged to the patient after removal. In 1981, the federal government introduced “The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects,” also known as “The Common Rule.” According to the Common Rule, physicians must notify patients if any part of their case might be used in research and obtain their consent.

Henrietta’s family also thought they had a right to a portion of any money that might come from the use of her cells. Johns Hopkins reported that they had never made any money from her cell line. In fact, her cells had been sold to thousands of laboratories around the world by George Gey and his research department. Currently, her cells are still available for purchase with no restrictions, but the National Institutes of Health did reach an agreement with the Lacks family in relation to her genomic sequencing information in 2013. Now if a scientist wanted to access Henrietta’s gene sequence they would need to apply for access and be approved by a board on which two of her family members sit. It is a small victory for the Lacks family.

The case of Henrietta Lacks brings up a lot of important ethical questions. Yes, the HeLa cell line has gone on to play an enormous part in so many important scientific innovations. But is it right? Should we continue to benefit from the medical developments her cells brought about when her family is in an economic position to not be able to enjoy those same benefits? Henrietta and her family gave modern medicine a gift but what have they been given in return?


DeNeen l. Brown, “Can the ‘immortal cells’ of Henrietta Lacks sue for their own rights?” Washington Post, June 25, 2018.

Wynne Parry, “Controversial ‘HeLa’ cells use restricted under new plan,” LiveScience, August 7, 2013.

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010).

Docent Discussions: Chevalier Jackson Collection of Swallowed Objects

Welcome, medical history enthusiasts, to the debut issue of a brand new series hosted by the Center for Education of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Docent Discussions is an ongoing series that gives you an inside perspective on the Mütter Museum as told by our dedicated team of museum docents.

Our first installment is hosted by Mütter docent Lindsay Freed.

Headshot of Mütter Museum Docent Lindsay Freed

Mütter Museum docent Lindsay Freed

What is your favorite exhibit in the Museum and why?

The Chevalier Jackson Collection of Swallowed Objects is definitely my favorite thing in the museum. I love it so much because it speaks volumes to the dedication that one physician embodied to his trade, to public health, to research, and to the improvement of protocols designed to save lives. The objects in the cases are fun, quirky, and astonishing, but they tell a much deeper story about Dr. Jackson’s life and his incredible work. He created the catalogue of objects in order to better his own and the field of otolaryngology’s understanding of what “foreign bodies” might look like, how they ended up in the throats and airways of children and adults, and how to most safely remove them. He was also clearly a deeply weird and deeply focused guy, which I relate to on a spiritual level. Chevalier Jackson’s work revolutionized the removal of foreign bodies, making the procedure safer, less surgically invasive, and much less likely to lead to infection, complications, or death. His various biographies, including The Life of Chevalier Jackson — An Autobiography tell all about him and his amazing contributions to medicine, and can be acquired on the internet.

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Chevalier Jackson Collection

Dr. Jackson created a collection of objects retrieved from his patients.  Often, if the patient (or the child patient’s parents) could not afford to pay for the procedure, Dr. Jackson asked only to keep the retrieved item.  The Mutter Museum has 2374 items which were either inhaled or swallowed and then retrieved by Dr. Jackson during his nearly 75 years of practicing medicine.

Biographical Information:

Chevalier Jackson was born in 1863 and grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania.  His first known retrieval from a tube was using an instrument he developed to retrieve a dropped drill bit from a well on the family farm.  This extraction led to a career in which he developed the endoscope, first used in 1890 to remove a ‘tooth-plate’ from the esophagus of an adult.

Jackson attended what became the University of Pittsburgh and attended medical school at what became Thomas Jefferson University.  He returned to Pittsburgh to practice and decided to specialize in laryngology.  In addition to being known as the Father of Endoscopy, Dr. Jackson also successfully lobbied for the passage of the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927, which required the labeling of poisonous or corrosive substances.


Dr. Chevalier Jackson

How has this exhibit inspired you to do something different in your own life?

I think the Chevalier Jackson Collection honestly inspires me to buckle down on making sure I have a life’s work. The prolific nature of the swallowed objects is an indication of Dr. Jackson’s passion for his work, and his unwillingness to compromise standards for data collection and the pursuit of better solutions to serious issues. I’ve been putting off applying for programs to get a Master’s in Public Health for about a year now, but looking at this exhibit helps me write a few emails and attend a few info session webinars and start getting serious about it.

What is the strongest or most unusual reaction you’ve seen in the museum?

People playing a sort of “tag yourself” /meme / game with the Chevalier Jackson Collection (“Oh I’m this one, the prosthetic gold tooth! This monopoly piece is so you, though!”)

More information about the Chevalier Jackson Collection at the Mutter Museum may be found here.


Chevalier Jackson: The Father of American Bronchoesophagoscopy, Arthur D. Boyd, MD; https://www.annalsthoracicsurgery.org/article/0003-4975(94)91037-5/pdf

Wikipedia page