MHL highlights: Mendicant collection

By , September 5, 2012

A selection from the Center for the History of Medicine's mendicant collection

In 2003, the Center for the History of Medicine acquired a collection of about 200 pamphlets, books, and ephemera, ranging in date from the early 19th century to the 1960s, intended to be sold by the disabled. Loss of vision, limbs, and mobility through war, occupational accidents, and disease are recurring themes. Most of the earlier examples are poems in 4 or 5 stanzas describing the cause of the disability and appealing to strangers for charity. These ephemera offer a unique look at American life in the 19th and 20th centuries: the rise of the railroads and industry, the Civil War, the temperance movement, and the scarcity of community or social support for some ranks of the disabled are amply documented in this collection.

A small selection of the collection has recently been digitized and is now available through the Medical Heritage Library. The scanning of these items was funded by the Library Services and Technology Act, provided through the Boston Public Library’s Digital Commonwealth program.

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