Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico aficionados. Today’s installment is the second in a series we are calling “Portrait of a Fellow,” where we introduce you to notable medical professionals who make up our esteemed body of Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The first article in this series highlighted noted physician and civil rights activist Nathan Francis Mossell. Today, we welcome another guest author to make you better acquainted with another of our past Fellows. I turn the floor over to Xavier Gavin, one of our dedicated team of Mütter Museum docents and an alum of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. He is here to talk about noted otolaryngologist Chevalier Jackson.
Take it away, Xavier!
The Chevalier Jackson collection is a large assortment of objects that were once swallowed by people accidentally. The collection has over 2000 objects, most of which are on display inside of the staircase in drawers on the lower level in the Mütter Museum. The objects range from pins, to buttons, to animal bones, to Cracker Jack figures, and so on.
Chevalier Jackson was born in Pittsburgh in 1865. Jackson’s childhood was full of trouble and trauma. He was bullied in school continuously because of his sensitive demeanor and small stature; once, bullies threw him into an abandoned mine. However, as a child, he always seemed to be drawn to statistics and recording information. When he became interested in skating, he recorded his falls and casualties for reference, which may have helped lead to his interest in records and the like for a future career. Later he worked with pipes and plumbing, inspiring his future endeavors in developing medical tools.
Jackson attended Western University of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh. While in college, Jackson dabbled in art, specifically that of decorating glasses and china. This side work helped him support his family, pay for his medical school, and helped him cultivate his illustrating skills, which he later put to use when illustrating his techniques in bronchoscopy, helping further his goal of educating others in the field.
Jackson earned public recognition through his work as an otolaryngologist, more commonly known as an ear nose and throat specialist. This field was still relatively new in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the time when Jackson was practicing. It was during this period that he started collecting swallowed objects he extracted from patients. Jackson created and tended to this collection in order to help educate doctors on the field and to let them know more about what to expect in the field. Jackson never charged a patient any money for extracting an object. All he asked was that he could keep the object for his records. In 1924, Jackson donated his collection of swallowed objects and records to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Safety pins are probably the most abundant type of object in the collection. It was likely such a commonly swallowed object because seamstresses would hold pins in their mouths, or parents would hold them in their mouths while changing a baby’s diaper, or babies removed them from their diapers. Jackson was said to be even good enough at this craft of removing objects to push a pin down into the stomach where there’s more room, close it, and then safely extract it without puncturing anything vital.
Jackson’s accomplishments earned him the nickname the “father of laryngoscopy.” In addition to his swallowed objects collection, Jackson invented a special tool called a laryngoscope. Jackson’s laryngoscope included a light he used to see into a patient’s throat as well as a long pair of tweezers with clamps on the end to grab the object. Jackson also had a doll named Michelle made so he could practice the procedure on something human-like and teach others his methods for extracting objects swallowed by children.
Jackson is also credited with campaigning for proper labeling and classification of anything containing poison. In all of the procedures of removing swallowed objects he endured, Jackson noticed various burns and injuries due to children consuming lye and other poisonous substances. Jackson realized this was a common problem due to the lack of essential warnings on packages or any federal regulation of hazardous substances. Jackson held countless meetings, presentations, and lectures, and his efforts eventually led to the creation of the Federal Caustic Poison Act in 1925.
Chevalier Jackson has many achievements to his name. Whether people realize it or not, his work is extremely vital to the safety of people of all ages and the advancement of this particular field in medicine. His work goes much further than just what you see in those drawers.
Thanks for the article, Xavier! If you’d like to see the Chevalier Jackson collection for yourself, it is on display (along with lots of other interesting items from the history of medicine) here at the Mütter Museum!