Jeffries Wyman papers are open for research

By , December 18, 2017

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the Jeffries Wyman, 1814-1874, papers are open for research. Jeffries Wyman was the Hersey Professor of Anatomy at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1847 to 1874, as well as the first curator of what came to be known as the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology (1866-1874), also in Cambridge. He was the President of the Boston Society of Natural History (1856-1870), and a councilor of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Though a graduate with a medical doctorate from Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, following graduation Wyman chose to focus on naturalist research, including but not limited to studies of human and comparative anatomy, physiological observations, as well as paleontological and ethnological examinations of fossils, and observations of animal habits. The papers include records relating to his work as a researcher, professor, and author, as well as related professional activities.

Wyman was born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts on 1814 August 11 to Ann Morrill Wyman and Dr. Rufus Wyman (1778-1842), the first physician at the McClean Asylum for the Insane and professional partner of Dr. John Jeffries, after whom his son was named. He attended Philllips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and entered Harvard College in 1829, graduating at age nineteen in 1833. Wyman went on to attend Harvard Medical School, acting as house pupil at Massachusetts General Hospital during his four years of study. He graduated with his medical doctorate in 1837. He became a Demonstrator for John C. Warren at Harvard Medical School (1838), and began to shift the focus of his career away from medicine towards anatomy. Wyman then became the Curator at the Lowell Institute, Boston, in 1839, where he delivered a series of public lectures, and remained an affiliate until 1842. Over the next several years, Wyman traveled to Europe to study with doctors, anatomists, scientists, and naturalists such as Richard Owen (1804-1892), P. (Pierre) Flourens (1794-1867), Francois Magendi (1783-1855), H.-M. Ducrotay de (Henri-Marie Ducrotay) Blainville (1777-1850), Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1805-1861), and H. (Henri) Milne-Edwards (1800-1885). Wyman then returned to the Boston area, and on 1847 April 03 was appointed the first Hersey Professor of Anatomy at Harvard University, as this position was moved from Harvard Medical School in Boston to Harvard University in Cambridge following the resignation of John C. Warren. He returned to the Lowell Institute for a series of twelve lectures on Comparative Physiology in 1849. Wyman was involved with the formation of the Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, and in 1866, when George Peabody (1795-1869) founded what became known as the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology in 1866, Wyman became its first curator.

Wyman is known for his work on topics that span human and comparative anatomy, physiological observations, paleontological and ethnological studies of fossils, observation of animal behaviors and habits, and the study of cells, muscular, and bone structures of various animals. He wrote papers on large apes and was responsible for naming the gorilla, and studied the eye and hearing organs of fish in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. He examined the passage of nerves throughout the body and carried out various experiments relating to the impact of heated or boiling water on organic matter and living organisms. Wyman furthermore studied the development of mold, the impact of light on tadpole development, and created methods for measuring the velocity and force of ciliary movements. He went to the Dutch colonized islands in the Guianas to study various species of fish, and traveled down the east coast of the United States and into Florida examining the natural landscape and its flora and fauna. Additionally, he was involved with the trial of Dr. John White Webster for the murder of Dr. George Parkman; for which he studied bone fragments and assisted with the identification of the body of the deceased. He also studied the brain and skull of Daniel Webster, examining the arrangement of the spiculae of bone in the neck of the femur and making observations on the cranial structure.

Wyman married Adeline Wheelright in 1850, and they had two daughters, Mary (1855-) and Susan (1851-1907). Wheelright died in 1855. Wyman then married Anne Williams Whitney in 1861, with whom he had one son, Jeffries Wyman, Jr. (1864-1941). Whitney died in 1864. Wyman, who had suffered from pneumonia during his undergraduate study at Harvard College, dealt with pulmonary infections throughout his life. He died from a related illness on 1874 September 04 in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. His grandson, Jeffries Wyman III (1901-1995) was a molecular biologist and biophysicist, and was also a professor at Harvard Medical School and later the University of Rome.

The papers are the product of Wyman’s professional activities during his career as a naturalist and anatomist, carrying out scientific research during travels and research in residence at Harvard University and the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, and teaching at Harvard University and the Lowell Institute. The papers include numerous diaries, sketches, and anatomical drawings recording his observations, and correspondence with peers and colleagues including Charles Darwin on topics of anatomy and evolution, as well as correspondence with family members and friends. T

The finding aid for the Wyman papers can be found:

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the  Public Services staff.


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