“The Advent of Anesthesia”

By , March 16, 2016

Administration of ether anesthesia

Administration of ether anesthesia [#0003819]

After the February screening of the 1950 MGM film “Mystery Street,” our colleague Sarah Alger at the Paul S. Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation, alerted us to the existence of another medical history film–“The Advent of Anesthesia”, a 1933 silent short produced by the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company.  The film depicts the experiments of William T. G. Morton with ether anesthesia and recreates the first public demonstration of the operation on Gilbert Abbott on October 16, 1846.  The entire film is available on YouTube at: Advent of Anesthesia.

John Peabody Monks as William T. G. Morton [#0003821]

John Peabody Monks as William T. G. Morton [#0003821]

The most unusual dimension of the film is its use of the Ether Dome and other facilities at Massachusetts General Hospital and the casting of MGH staff and personnel, including John Peabody Monks as Morton, Somers Hayes Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott, and Edward D. Churchill as surgeon John Collins Warren.  “The Advent of Anesthesia” was first shown in the Ether Dome itself on May 31-June 2, 1933, before a one-reel version was sent for display at the Century of Progress International Exhibition in Chicago.  Of the film, Dr. Churchill noted that “the widespread interest in the film was evidenced by a brisk demand for tickets that made it necessary to give four or five performances on three successive days.  Members of the present hospital staff and personnel formed the cast and the Ether Dome was restored as far as possible to its appearance in 1846…. Painstaking efforts were made to establish the exact events and personages concerned in the discovery so that the film may be accredited with historical accuracy.”

Somers H. Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott

Somers H. Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott [#0003820]

In addition to copies of a Boston newspaper article about the film, Dr. Churchill kept a file of still photographs of the actors.  Shown here are Drs. Monks, holding a replica of the first inhaler, and Sturgis, with a tumor on the side of his neck.  These photographs along with a selection of others are preserved with the personal and professional papers of Edward D. Churchill [H MS c62], here in the Countway’s Center for the History of Medicine.

Digital Highlight: John Warren’s Lectures at Harvard Medical School

By , October 19, 2010
John Warren;s lectures at HMS

The earliest surviving lectures from Harvard Medical School (H MS b3.13, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

Partially in the handwriting of Dr. John Warren (1753-1815), this volume of lecture notes on anatomy, beginning in December 1783, is the earliest surviving record of teaching at Harvard Medical School.  Warren’s plan for medical study had been adopted by the Harvard Corporation on September 19, 1782, and he became the first faculty member appointed at the Medical School.  These lectures were delivered in Harvard Hall, on the Cambridge campus.

After summarizing the history of his subject, Dr. Warren then justifies dissection as an essential component to anatomical study: “At the first view of dissections, the stomach is apt to turn, but custom wears off such impressions.  It is anatomy that directs the knife in the hand of a skilful surgeon, & shews him where he may perform any necessary operation with safety to the patient.  It is this which enables the physician to form an accurate knowledge of diseases & open dead bodies with grace, to discover the cause or seat of the disease, & the alteration it may have made in the several parts.”

The lecture notes were bequeathed to Harvard in 1928 by Dr. John Warren, the great-grandson of the first Warren.  Through the generosity of Dr. Susan C. Lester, Assistant Professor of Pathology, and the Manual of Surgical Pathology Fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the volume was recently conserved and then digitized in its entirety and is now available from the HOLLIS catalog at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.COUNT:4435974.

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