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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

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Abel Lawrence Peirson Papers

Abel Lawrence Peirson (AM 1812, MD 1816, Harvard University) studied medicine with James Jackson at Harvard Medical School and was a surgeon in Essex County, Massachusetts. He wrote the first published account of the use of ether in surgical operations outside of Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1832, he traveled in Europe, studying in Paris and elsewhere, and learned auscultation (the action of listening, with ear or stethoscope, to the sound of the movement of heart, lungs, or other organs) and other techniques. On his return to the United States, he specialized in surgery and was consultant to the Massachusetts General Hospital beginning in 1839. Peirson died in 1853.

The full collection of papers at the Countway Library contains correspondence pertaining to medical matters, such as the use of ether, patients, and Dr. J. S. Bartlett’s expulsion from the Massachusetts Medical Society, as well as some family correspondence. It also includes manuscripts of Peirson’s lectures and writings, including several on temperance and alcoholism and on the need for bodies for dissection; lecture and student notes from Harvard and abroad; notes on patients he was treating; bills and receipts; account books (1844–1866) of his own and belonging to his son Edward Brooks Peirson; and newspaper clippings. Among the writings, noted below, is a detailed account written circa 1832 of the cholera epidemic originating in Bengal, South Asia, that spread to Europe.