A woman in an apron and cap scolds three young girls in a bed.

Making a Medical Heritage Milestone

By Michael J. North

The Medical Heritage Library (MHL) has achieved an important milestone by adding the 50,000th item to its online collection housed in Internet Archive. The MHL was formed in the summer of 2009 when curators of historical collections at the medical libraries of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and the National Library of Medicine together with the Open Knowledge Commons collectively received a start-up grant of $1.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to digitize over 30,000 books relating to the history of health and medicine from their collections over the following three years.

A fancifal illustraton of a woman surrounded by cupids holing art, writing and music implements.
The Doctor’s Advice, 1898
NLM #63610540R

As it turned out, it was the National Library of Medicine that scanned and uploaded that 50,000th item: Alvarado Middleditch’s The Doctor’s Advice, published in Philadelphia in 1898. This popular advice guide for families, most likely designed as a gift book, contains a treasure-trove for cultural historians of the American Victorian household, with chapters on topics such as: “how, when and what to eat and drink, how to secure good health and long life, … what mothers and nurses ought to know, how to care for baby, and give our boys and girls the best moral, mental, and physical culture, when and whom to marry, and how to choose a wife or husband, and how to be happy.”

Included are over 20 illustrations showing ideal middle class Victorian family scenes and elaborate chapter headings, such as this one for “Occupations for Women,” whose text begins, “Our girls—Shall we educate our girls to be genteel, and shall gentility mean to us only idleness, helplessness and a lolling mien?” The author, Alvarado Middleditch (1829–1909), was a physician based in Waterloo, Iowa, where he was a general practitioner and known for his skill in electrotherapeutics.

The Medical Heritage Library was formed with the goal of creating a vast digital library of historical materials relating to health and medicine. Since then, many libraries have joined the MHL or contributed important digital collections. And they aren’t all printed books: The University of California-San Francisco contributed over 3,000 videos relating to the tobacco industry in the United States, ranging from commercials produced during the 1950s to news casts about the progress of anti-smoking campaigns from the 1990s.

The National Library of Medicine’s initial contribution to the MHL endeavor was the Medicine in the Americas project, whose scope was to digitize all the Library’s monographs published in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America up to the year 1865: a total of over 8,000 items and over 1.5 million pages, most of which can be seen on NLM’s Internet Archive Collections page. Since the completion of that project, NLM has begun the second phase of Medicine in the Americas: scanning American books dating from 1866 to 1900. Additionally, the Library has just completed a project to digitize all NLM Publications going back to the 1860s.

The NLM is proud to have contributed this interesting title to the Medical Heritage Library, and to continue scanning and uploading many more in the coming years. This book and over 9,000 more digitized by the NLM are also available in our Digital Collections, and new items are added regularly as we continue our digitization efforts.

Michael J. North in the incunaMichael J. North is the Head of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.


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