This Collection: | Timeline | Search/Browse | Contributors | Permissions | Help | HOME

Cholera Epidemics in the 19th Century

The Great Plague of London, 1665

The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721

“Pestilence” and the Printed Books of the Late 15th Century

Spanish Influenza in North America, 1918–1919

Syphilis, 1494–1923

Tropical Diseases and the Construction of the Panama Canal, 1904–1914

Tuberculosis in Europe and North America, 1800–1922

The Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia, 1793

General Materials

Notable People

Related Links


James Jackson, 1777–1867

James Jackson was an influential and highly respected physician who, with others, initiated reforms in the practice and teaching of medicine in North America. He was among those who pioneered smallpox vaccination in New England, and he later devised protective measures against the possible spread of cholera. Jackson, together with John Collins Warren, cofounded Massachusetts General Hospital, reorganized the Massachusetts Medical Society, and relocated the Medical Institution of Harvard University from Cambridge to Boston under its new name, Harvard Medical School. Jackson’s medical writings promoted accuracy in clinical observation. In medical practice, he was most sensitive to the needs of his patients and the paramount importance of recording the symptoms and progress of an illness or disease.

From Harvard to London

In 1796, Jackson received his AB from Harvard College and then attended lectures at the Medical Institution of Harvard University. In 1797, Jackson began a two-year medical apprenticeship under Edward Augustus Holyoke, who was the foremost physician in New England and a founder and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. After moving to London, Jackson trained in the emerging practice of vaccination at St. Pancras Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital under physician and superintendent William Woodville.

Smallpox Vaccination

Jackson returned to Boston in 1800 and, with Benjamin Waterhouse and Lyman Spalding, promoted vaccination with mixed success. Jackson’s association with the “vaccination movement” ended in 1808 when his commission published a careful and critical report that endorsed the controversial vaccination procedure.

Medical Education Reform

Jackson led the reform of medical education after Harvard’s Medical Institution was relocated to its new site in Boston and renamed Harvard Medical School (1810). Jackson’s earlier work at the charitable Boston Dispensary (1802) enabled him to provide clinical instruction at Harvard Medical School.

In 1812, Jackson succeeded Benjamin Waterhouse as the Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School. He was also appointed first physician of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), helping to form the close association between MGH and Harvard Medical School that continues today.


In 1832, Jackson’s son, James, published his observations on the clinical history and pathology of cholera during the early 1830s Paris epidemic.

Correspondence between Jackson and his son reveals Jackson’s unrelenting concern his son’s well-being. Jackson frequently advised that James remain in Paris and return to his studies only after cholera had disappeared.

Medical Writings

Jackson published extensively in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery and remained a frequent contributor into the 1860s. Among his best-known contributions to medical scholarship was his concise, but detailed, description of the symptoms and treatment of a debilitating neural affliction he named arthrodynia a potu, which he attributed to excessive alcohol consumption. Jackson’s Letters to a Young Physician Just Entering Upon Medical Practice was also highly acclaimed.


Selected Contagion Resources

This is a partial list of digitized materials available in Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. For additional materials on the topic “James Jackson, 1777–1867,” click here or search the collection’s Catalog and Full Text databases.

Web Pages

Benjamin Waterhouse, 1754–1846
Cholera Epidemics in the 19th Century


James Jackson Papers
   Letters to James Jackson, Jr., [1827?]–1833
   Letters to James Jackson, Sr., 1831–1833
Massachusetts Medical Society Records
Abel Lawrence Peirson Papers
Lyman Spalding Papers
   Letter from Edward Jenner, Nov. 12, 1805.
   Tickets to a lecture given by Aaron Dexter, 1795–1796
   Tickets to a lecture given by Alexander Ramsey, [n.d.]
   Ticket to a lecture given by Benjamin Rush, 1809
   Ticket to a lecture given by John Warren, 1796
   Ticket to a lecture given by Benjamin Waterhouse, 1795
   Draft of a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1800
   Letter from Luther Jewett, Apr. 30, 1807
   Letter from Samuel Foster, Nov. 17, 1810
   Cases of typhus fever…from 1817 to [1818], 1817–1818.
   A description of the kinepox extracted from a letter to the professor of medicine in Dartmouth College, [1800?].
   Influenza, [n.d.]
   Vaccination, [1818?].
   Bill of mortality for Portsmouth, N.H. for A.D. 1811, 1811.
   Cases of supposed incipient phthisis pulmonalis, cured by sulphate of copper & ipecacuanha, 1817–1818.
   George McThay : malignant fever, [n.d.].
   Reflections on the kine pock, Apr. 1818.


Jackson, James. A Memoir of James Jackson, Jr., M.D.: With Extracts from His Letters to His Father: and Medical Cases, Collected by Him. Boston: Printed by I. R. Butts, 1835.
Putnam, James Jackson. A Memoir of Dr. James Jackson: With Sketches of His Father, Hon. Jonathan Jackson, and His Brothers, Robert, Henry, Charles, and Patrick Tracy Jackson: and Some Account of Their Ancestry. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1905.

From Harvard to London

Crookshank, Edgar M. and H.K. Lewis, eds. History and Pathology of Vaccination. London: H.K. Lewis, 1889.

Smallpox Vaccination

Massachusetts Medical Society. Report on Vaccination: Presented and Accepted at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society, June 1, 1808 and Ordered to Be Printed in an Appendix to the Second Part of the Second Number of the Medical Papers of the Society. Boston, 1808.

Medical Education Reform

Boston Dispensary. Institution of the Boston Dispensary: For the Medical Relief of the Poor. [Boston, 1829].
Boston Dispensary. Institution of the Boston Dispensary: For the Medical Relief of the Poor. Boston: Press of James Loring, 1837.
Boston Dispensary. Institution of the Boston Dispensary: For the Medical Relief of the Poor. Boston: Eastburn’s Press, 1851.


Jackson, James, Jr. Cases of Cholera Collected at Paris, in the Month of April 1832, in the Wards of MM. Andral and Louis, at the Hospital La Pitié. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co., 1832.

Medical Writings

Jackson, James, Jr. Letters to a Young Physician Just Entering upon Practice. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company; New York: J. C. Derby, 1855.


The following sources were used in writing this page.

Bynum, W. F., and Helen Bynum, eds. Dictionary of Medical Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007.
Jackson, James. “On a Peculiar Disease Resulting from the Use of Ardent Spirits.” New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 11 (1822): 351–353.
Kelly, Howard A. and Walter L. Burrage. Dictionary of American Medical Biography: Lives of Eminent Physicians of the United States and Canada, from the Earliest Times. New York: D. Appleton, 1928.


OCP Home | Selection of Web–Accessible Collections | HOLLIS | Harvard Libraries | Harvard Home | Contact | ©2018 The President and Fellows of Harvard College