In mid-18th century Boston, health care providers could be classified into these general categories: physicians, midwives, nurses and relatives. Most doctors were not formally trained in medical schools but gained their training by apprenticing with older physicians. The few degree holding doctors were for the most part concentrated in the port towns of Massachusetts. Until Harvard established New England’s first medical school in 1782, most Boston physicians who studied abroad preferred London, as opposed to Edinburgh, the other medical center. John Warren, a surgeon at the Continental Army hospital in Boston, began giving lectures at Harvard in 1780. The next year he was appointed as a professor of anatomy at Harvard. By 1782 the college had appointed 3 medical professors. In 1810, Harvard Medical School moved from an isolated Cambridge to Boston, where most of the patients were.
History of Medical Societies in Massachusetts
The Medical Society in Boston was established in 1735. Its founding may have had some connection with Boston’s diptheria epidemic during the summer of that year. Among this early Medical Society’s founding members were Thomas Bulfinch, John Cutler, William Davis, William Douglass, Hugh Kennedy and Nathaniel Williams (see Origins of the Medical Society in Boston, 1736). The last record of the Medical Society in Boston was in the Fall of 1741.
The Boston Medical Society was founded in May, 1780 and the Massachusetts Medical Society was incorporated on November 1, 1781. Its charter was signed by President of the Massachusetts Senate, Samuel Adams and Massachusetts Governor John Hancock (see
Act of Incorporation of the Massachusetts Medical Society)
In 1796, The Boston Dispensary was founded with the purpose of visiting the sick in their own houses. See The Boston Dispensary Records, 1871-1955.
The Footnote Activity
Footnotes can be a bountiful source of additional information and may spark curiosity in entirely new directions. See for yourself!
According to Catherine M. Scholten’s “On the Importance of the Obstetrick Art: The Changing Customs of Childbirth in America, 1760-1825”, women monopolized the practice of midwifery in America through the middle of the eighteenth century. And, as Wyndham Blanton points out, in addition to assisting in delivery, “they testified in court of cases of bastardy, verified birthdates, and examined female prisoners who pleaded pregnancy to escape punishment. In many cases, midwives gave women in labor hard liquor or mulled wine.”
As more male physicians became professionally trained after 1770, they became more involved in the practice of obstetrics. By 1820 Walter Channing reported that midwifery was almost”entirely confined to physicians”.
Nurses were common in administering to the day0to-day needs of the sick. Towns sometimes hired nurses to help the poor. Men usually nursed men and women usually nursed the females.
Both midwives and nurses were paid by the town for comforting the poor.
Using the The Overseers Finances, 1738-1769 chapter, what years did ‘Nurse Kenny’ administer the poor?
Note: Philip Cash cites the following on page 90 of “The Professionalization of Boston Medicine, 1760-1803” in Medicine in colonial Massachusetts, 1620-1820:
“One was the successful effort in 1784 of the Boston Medical Society to deny students of the Harvard Medical institution access to the infirmary at the Boston Almshouse.” Citation: Memorial of the President and Fellows to the General Court, 5 February, 1784. State House Archives, House File no. 1405.
Doctors of Colonial Boston Administering the Poor, 1738-1769
These names were taken from the chapter The Overseers Finances, 1738-1769 .Using this chapter and this worksheet, find the years that the following doctors were paid to administer to the poor. This is one example of the type of information that can be summarized from these records.
Dates in parentheses signify years of service
William Davis Died March 28, 1746 Admin. Estate
William Clark Born in Boston, 1709. Died in Boston, 1760. Harvard Graduate (1726). Also educated in London (1731). Returned to Massachusetts in 1733. Commissioned surgeon of “Castle William”, 1745 Louisburg. Member of the First Boston Medical Society, 1735.
Jonathan Delhond (aka Lawrence Dalhonde) Born in France (?). Died in Boston, 1746. Huguenot refugee. Served in French army in Italy, ca. 1694 and Flanders. Practiced in Boston: 1721. Anti-inoculation. Son in medicine.
Hugh Kennedy Born in Scotland (?). Died in Boston, 1752. Education unknown. “Surgeon”. Twice married. Arrived in Boston in 1720. Favored inoculation in 1720’s. Member of the First Boston Medical Society, 1735 On May 7, 1746, unanimously chosen physician for almshouse but refused.
Gilliam Tayler (aka Taylor)
James Pecker Born 1724. Died 1794. Harvard graduate. No advanced medical training. No military experience. Congregationalist / Anglican. Tory / Federalist.
Silvester Gardner Born in Rhode Island, 1707 (?) or 1710. Died in Rhode Island in 1786 or 1788. Private education with brother-in-law Rev. James Malsparran. Apprenticed to physicians in Boston and London. Gave lectures on anatomy with materials bought from Paris and London. Skilled Lithotomist.
John Sprague Born 1718. Died 1797. Harvard graduate. No advanced medical training. Received Honorary medical degree from Oxford. No military experience. Congregationalist. Whig / Federalist.
Thomas Boylston Born in Brookline, MA in 1715. Died in Brookline, c. 1771. Apprenticed to father Rabdiel Boylston, London, “to acquire further knowledge of the healing arts”.
Jonathan Davis Of Roxbury, MA.
Nyott Doubt Born in Boston in 1727. Died in Boston in 1764. Harvard graduate, 1747. Also educated in Britain. Attended the medicinal needs of the almshouse. In 1764, innoculated gratis in Boston.
“The professionalization of Boston medicine, 1760-1803” by Philip Cash
and “The influence of Europe on colonial Massachusetts medicine” by C. Helen
both published in:
Colonial Society of Massachusetts. 1980. Medicine in colonial Massachusetts, 1620-1820: a conference held 25 & 26 May 1978. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, v. 57. Boston: The Society.
Green, Samuel A. 1980. History of medicine in Massachusetts: a
centennial address delivered before the Massachusetts Medical Society
at Cambridge, June 7, 1881. Boston: A. Williams.
dates of service are determined by: The Overseers Finances, 1738-1769 (112.53 kB)