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Beginning of the Library of the Surgeon
BOOKS IN THE OFFICE OF SURGEON GENERAL JOSEPH LOVELL, 1818–1836
EW of the world's great libraries started out with the intention of being
that. The National Library of Medicine, the greatest or one of the greatest medical libraries in number of volumes and service rendered to patrons, began as a few books in the office of a Surgeon General of the Army in 1818 or '19. The officer was Joseph Lovell, 30 years old, a native of Massachusetts, who had joined the Army in 1812 and been appointed chief of the Medical Department in 1818.' There had been medical officers with titles of Physician General and Surgeon General in the Continental Army during the Revolution and in the United States Army during the following third of a century but the present-day Medical Department began in 1818 when the Army was reorganized, and a regular succession of Surgeons General began with Lovell.
Lovell's first office was in one or two rented rooms in some privately owned building (which building is not known) in Washington. During the summer of 1819 he moved to a room in an early War Department building, now demolished, on Pennsylvania Avenue at Seventeenth Street, N.W. His furnishings were simple; a table, six chairs, and a bookcase." From this office, with assistance
a from a clerk who copied outgoing correspondence, filed incoming letters, and
a maintained records, Lovell directed approximately three score post surgeons, regimental surgeons, and surgeons' mates who served at forts, barracks, posts, hospitals, and arsenals within the United States.
The Army expected medical officers to buy whatever medical and scientific books they preferred to read, study, and consult, but it provided them with a reference book for each branch of medicine. Among the volumes purchased by the Medical Department during the early years for distribution to officers were the following: John Pringle, Observations on the Diseases of the Army, with notes by Benjamin Rush;" Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America;6 Robert Thomas' Modern Practice of Physic and Samuel Cooper's Surgical Dictionary;? “Bell on venereal,” Surgeons' Vade-Mecum, and Thomas Sydenham, The Works, on Acute and Chronic Diseases . with notes by Rush;' John
Syng Dorsey's Elements of Surgery, and Thomas Miner and William Tulley, Essays on Fevers ....9
The department also subscribed to a medical periodical for each officer to enable him, even when he was isolated at a frontier post, to keep up with advances in the profession. The Medico-Chirurgical Journal and Review, published in London, was usually distributed, but apparently a different journal might be sent if an officer preferred. 10
Surgeon General Lovell also procured, within limits of his tiny budget, whatever official documents, medical journals, newspapers, and reference books he needed as director of the Army's physicians. In 1823 he noted that he had purchased, during the 5 years he had been in office, an American atlas, seven maps of states and Mexico, Peter Force's National Calendar," Laws of the 16th Congress, the Washington newspaper National Intelligencer, Judah Delano's Washington Directory, the Medical Recorder, and the Medical Repository for 1821.12 He probably bought other publications, but the only one of which there is a record is John Godman's Western Quarterly Reporter of Medical, Surgical and Natural Sciences. 13
During 1820 and 1821 the department spent approximately $400 each year for n:edical publications, presumably for books and journals furnished to officers. In 1822 and 23 the amount dropped to $300 a year. In 1824 the funds spent for books and “vaccine matter” were lumped together at $400 a year and from 1825 to 1836 at $500 a year, without any indication of the proportions spent for publications and vaccine matter. 14
Books and journals purchased with government funds sat in the office book