Giving Thanks

By Elizabeth A. Mullen and Jeffrey S. Reznick

In the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, we have a lot to be thankful for this season. During the past year, we have completed a number of great projects, many of which have been featured here on Circulating Now. And the blog is itself one of the great projects we have achieved in 2013…thanks to you! Thank you for reading Circulating Now, and sharing our posts with others.

The subject of giving thanks for health and well-being is a recurring theme in the history of medicine. The experience of injury and disease fuels powerful offerings of gratitude for health and family. Here, from our collection, is a thanksgiving discourse from 1795, when our nation was still very young, long before Abraham Lincoln established an annual national Thanksgiving holiday 150 years ago in 1863.

In the colonial period it was common for authorities to designate a day of thanksgiving in honor of a particular instance of good fortune. And this practice continued throughout the early years of the nation.  In this discourse the speaker renders thanks for peace and for fruitful seasons and ends with special gratitude for the swift end of an epidemic fever:

“Lastly, That the Lord hath, in his merciful kindness, removed the sickness which has been so “fatal to the lives of many in our principal city, and in sundry places of this and other states.” This has been reserved for the last particular, because it was, no doubt, a principal cause of our solemn thanksgiving, especially at so early a day. From the extent of the mortal disease, and the alarms and embarrassments which attended it, it is to be considered as a national judgment, and the removal of it as a national blessing.”
—A Discourse, Delivered on the 26th of November, 1795; Being the day recommended by the Governor of the State of New-York to be observed as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, on account of the removal of an Epidemic Fever, and for other National Blessings by William Linn D.D. One of the Ministers of the Reformed Dutch Church in the City of New-York, page 22.

So as November draws to a close and the busy holiday season is upon us, take time to remember what you’re thankful for, and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Photo of Elizabeth Mullen outside in front of a building.Elizabeth A. Mullen is Manager of Web Development and Social Media in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine
Portrait of Jeffrey S. Reznick in the HMD Reading RoomJeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, is Chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.