Born in 1849, Sir William Osler rose through the ranks of professional medicine eventually becoming one of the world's most renowned physicians. As chair of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1885, he helped found the American Association of Physicians. Later, in 1893, he helped establish the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 1905, he was appointed the Regius Chair of Medicine at Oxford University, where, in 1911, he received the honorary title of baronet. Throughout his career as an instructor, Osler developed a philosophy of medicine based on equal parts science and humanism. He insisted students talk and listen directly to patients, supplementing their classroom education with participatory residencies in hospital wards. Meanwhile, his many publications, including the much reprinted textbook, The principles and practices of medicine (1892), significantly contributed to the professionalization of medicine in the late nineteenth century. In addition to his medical career, Osler gained fame for his wit and humor. He published several satirical articles under the pseudonym, "Egerton Yorrick Davis." During his farewell speech at John Hopkins, he infamously suggested retired men should be chloroformed instead of burdening society. The self-deprecating remark made nation headlines, sparked debate, and further elevated Osler's notoriety.
Scope and Content
Correspondence forms the bulk of the William Osler papers. These letters are arranged alphabetically by author and span the period from 1893-1939. They include Osler's own correspondence with his former student, C.N.B. Camac, concerning Camac's career and Osler's work. The collection also records the conversations between Osler and the prominent physicians William Sydney Thayer, and Henry Barton Jacobs. Also included are the letters exchanged between Camac, Harvey Cushing, and Lady Grace Revere Gross Osler about William Osler's career and the publishing of his biography. These letters reveal the inner workings of a dedicated scholar and the devotion of his students. Several letters detail the European travels of the Oslers, including postcards from Italy and France and ocean liners such as the Lusitania. Others discuss medical issues ranging from aneurisms to trypanosomiasis and Osler's passion for collecting rare books. There is one folder of miscellaneous correspondence and one letter book of Osler's. One folder includes collected ephemera, mainly newspaper clippings. This material highlights Osler's public persona and medical expertise. A number of obituaries and memorials describe Osler's profound contribution to modern, Western medicine.