The Doctor and the Herb-Woman

By Kiersten Bryant, archives metadata intern

The McGovern Collections and Research Center is home to an extensive collection of original artwork published in various journals produced by the Medical Arts Publishing Foundation beginning in the early 1950s. One of these artworks is the cover art for the first issue of Heart Bulletin published for March-April 1952. The painting is meant to represent the story of how the foxglove compound digitalis was discovered to be a heart condition remedy in late Eighteenth Century England by Dr. William Withering.

A painting of Dr. William Withering, and an herb-woman with a foxglove plant, used as the cover for the first issue of the Heart Bulletin journal published by the Medical Arts Publishing Foundation

Original painting created for the cover of Heart Bulletin, March-April 1952.

The story, as told in the cover information for this issue, is this:

During the latter part of the Eighteenth Century a dean of one of the colleges at Oxford (England) was stricken with heart disease, for which his physicians could offer him no relief. At the same time, there lived an old herb-woman in neighboring Shropshire who was producing miraculous cures in patients with heart disease through the use of a “magic brew.” The dean sent for the old herb-woman as a last resort, and she fed him a cup of her potent tea. To the amazement of doctors in attendance, the dean recovered. A physician familiar with the dean’s case, Dr. William Withering, managed to obtain the secret from the woman. He found that the effective agent in the potion was made from the roots of a plant called foxglove.

According to the Texas Heart Institute website the foxglove compound called digitalis is still used today as treatment for congestive heart failure and heart rhythm problems.

The cover art is a painting created by Dutch artist Joseph F. Doeve for this issue of Heart Bulletin. Mr. Doeve was a frequent contributing artist to the Medical Arts Publishing Foundation publications, and produced several Heart Bulletin covers.

More images of some of the artwork in our Medical Arts Publishing Foundation collection can be seen here Hallowe’en Season and here Medical Artwork.

George Hermann and the year 1914

By Philip Montgomery
Head of the McGovern Historical Center

In 2015, the Houston Academy of Medicine, Texas Medical Center Library will celebrate 100 years of providing medical knowledge to Texas physicians. However, the year before the library was created in 1915 was a momentous year for the world and Houston. 1914 marked the beginning of World War I, a conflict that would soon engulf the United States. In Houston that year, the death of George Hermann indirectly set in motion the creation of the Texas Medical Center. More on his death in a later blog.

Portrait of George Hermann, June 22, 1914

Portrait of George Hermann, June 22, 1914

In 1914, George Hermann, who became a millionaire with the discovery of oil in Humble, Texas, donated the site of his sawmill to the City of Houston. That donation became Hermann Park. Hermann gave the following picture of himself to an unnamed person and signed the picture and dated it June 22, 1914. By the following October he was dead. His funeral was a major event in the city.

Hermann stipulated in his will that a public, charity hospital be created. Hermann Hospital opened its doors in 1925. In the late 1940s, the Texas Medical Center would take shape on land adjacent to Hermann Hospital.

MS 19, Hermann Hospital records, Box 1, Historical Photos 1918-1940s, G.H. Hermann portrait.

“TEXAS MEDICAL CENTER,” Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed August 08, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Texas Medical Center Library Centennial: Pellagra in a nutshell

by Alethea Drexler, archives assistant

Today’s post combines history, medicine, and food. 

We’ll start with the Harris County Medical Society Bulletin, Volume 3, Number 4, August 1912[1], and an excerpt about pellagra (this image has been photoshopped so that it would fit in one space.  These are from pages 12 and 13):

V03-n04-1912-08-p12-13 750 pellagra

Nineteen-twelve was a long time ago, but not out of reach.  All of my grandparents were born within a few years of 1912; there aren’t many people around who are old enough to remember 1912 but there are plenty of people around who knew somebody who was. 

The disease in question is pellagra.  Pellagra is a disfiguring and disabling disease[2] that was relatively common in the American South well into the twentieth century.  It’s clear from the article above that the Medical Society (along with the rest of the world) didn’t yet know what caused it.  Theories had been bandied about for centuries.

Public health official Joseph Goldberger, M.D.[3], would confirm the corn-diet theory through a series of experiments on patients at the Spartanburg [South Carolina] Pellagra Hospital and on a set of prisoners, between 1914 and 1926[4].  The root cause–lack or inaccessibility of the B-vitamin niacin in the diet–was finally discovered by Conrad Elvehjem[5] in 1937.  (That there was at least one entire hospital devoted to study and treatment of pellagra suggests how widespread a problem it was.)

It would turn out that Gaspar Casal[6], the eighteenth-century Spanish physician who first described the disease’s dermatological symptoms and blamed it in part on a corn-based diet, noted in the article above, had it at least kind of right.  Specifically, the problem was a diet based on unprocessed corn.  Native American populations that had relied on corn for centuries developed a method of processing grain known now by the Nahuatl-derived[9] term nixtamalization[10].  Nixtamalization uses an alkaline solution to break down the grain’s cell walls, making the corn’s niacin[8] content available for absorption when eaten, sparing them from pellagra.  Nixtamalization creates what we would recognize as hominy or masa (masa is the basis for the tender corn mush used in tamales.  You’ll recognize the root word “tamal”).  Populations that relied on a diet of plain corn-meal that had not been processed were at risk of vitamin deficiency because their bodies couldn’t access the vitamin in the grain[4].

This webpage[13] is not academic but it does have a picture of the Spartanburg Pellagra Hospital. 

Works consulted:
1] Harris County Medical Society Bulletin, V.03 N.04, August 1912, pages 12, 13.
2] MedlinePlus: Pellagra
3] National Institute of Health: Joseph Goldberger
4] Wikipedia: Pellagra
5] Wikipedia: Conrad Elvehjem
6] Wikipedia: Gaspar Casal
7] La Fundación Gaspar Casal
8], “A Science Odyssey: Joseph Goldberger
9] Omniglot: Nahuatl
10] Wikipedia: Nixtamalization
11] MedlinePlus: Niacin
12] University of Alabama: Pellagra in Alabama
13] Slobot About Town: Pellagra
14] National Academy of Sciences: Conrad Arnold Elvehjem (1901-1962)

Medical World News: Conjoined Twins

by Sandra Yates, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

The Medical World News Collection is one of the largest and most interesting in the McGovern Historical Center. Comprised of over 80,000 photographic prints, slides, and negatives, it offers an expansive visual tour of medical advances from 1960-1994. For most, if not all, of the images in the collection, we have the best caption of all – a full-text article! The collection also includes bound volumes of Medical World News issues, and each photograph indicates the article title and date of publication.

Gina Leonard, our Archives Assistant, is busy rehousing and labeling the collection, and she has come across several images that have piqued her interest. We feel that you too will enjoy what she’s found and the stories behind the images.

Below is image #6628 followed by the article, “Operation Ends Equality for Siamese Twins.” The article title, date, and page number were identified on the back of the print. With that information, we located the article that details the complications during the separation surgery of 2-month-old twin sisters, Chandra and Charron. Suddenly, this image becomes more than just an x-ray of conjoined twins. It’s a great example of the power of stories behind images. Can’t wait to bring you more as we process this collection!

"Before separation, x-ray reveals that twin girls share liver (triangular mass)" Image from article in the May 31, 1968 issue of Medical World News. Medical World News Collection, McGovern Historical Collection, IC077, Box 119, #6628

“Before separation, x-ray reveals that twin girls share liver (triangular mass)” Image from article in the May 31, 1968 issue of Medical World News. Medical World News Collection, McGovern Historical Collection, IC077, Box 119, #6628

"Operation Ends Equality for Siamese Twins," an article in the May 31, 1968 issue of Medical World News. Medical World News Collection, McGovern Historical Collection, IC077, 5/31/1968.

“Operation Ends Equality for Siamese Twins,” an article in the May 31, 1968 issue of Medical World News. Medical World News Collection, McGovern Historical Collection, IC077, 5/31/1968.

Dr. E. Trowbridge Wolf’s Notes

by Sandra Yates, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

Have you ever wondered what four years of medical school looks like? Or maybe even wondered about the courses, material, and techniques taught in medical schools in the 1930s?

Well, you’re in luck! I came across six volumes of notes taken by Edward Trowbridge Wolf during his studies at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia (1929-1933). They cover all four years of his medical school courses and subjects from Anatomy to Urology.

Six bound volumes of medical school notes (1929-1933).

Six bound volumes of medical school notes (1929-1933). Edward Trowbridge Wolf, MD Papers, MS003, Box 5

Here’s a page from Volume V: Obstetrics and Gynecology. It details Cancer of Uterus, its symptoms and features, which was covered in Dr. Anspach’s Gynecology class on February 9, 1932.

Page of notes about Cancer of Uterus, Feb. 9, 1932.

Page of notes about Cancer of Uterus, Feb. 9, 1932. Edward Trowbridge Wolf, MD Papers, MS003, Box 5

Hope you read the above page thoroughly because it’s time for Dr. Schaeffer’s Gynecology Quiz! The answers are included, so I know you’ll do great!

Gynecology Quiz from Dr. Wolf's medical school notes dated February 16, 1932.

Page 1: Gynecology Quiz from Dr. Wolf’s medical school notes dated February 16, 1932. Edward Trowbridge Wolf, MD Papers, MS003, Box 5

Gynecology Quiz from Dr. Wolf's medical school notes dated February 16, 1932.

Page 2: Gynecology Quiz from Dr. Wolf’s medical school notes dated February 16, 1932. Edward Trowbridge Wolf, MD Papers, MS003, Box 5

Edward Trowbridge Wolf was born in Pittsburgh in 1900. He earned his medical degree in 1933 from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. Not long after, he moved to Houston and established an Internal Medicine practice at 4411 Fannin that lasted 46 years. During World War II, Dr. Wolf was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corp, serving in Australia and New Guinea. Before and after the war, Dr. Wolf was an active member in the Houston medical community as well as the growing Texas Medical Center. He held a faculty position at Baylor College of Medicine from 1943 to 1975. He served on the publication committees for both Methodist Hospital and Harris County Medical Society. He was editor of the Harris County Medical Society’s Medical Record and Annals for ten years. His papers are housed at The TMC Library’s McGovern Historical Center.

Texas Medical Center Library Centennial: Doctors and their cars

By Alethea Drexler

Archives assistant

Next year is the centennial of the Texas Medical Center Library.  The Library started out as the library for the Harris County Medical Society, which was founded in 1903[1], so it predates the Medical Center by several decades.  In celebration, The Black Bag is going to include a series of short posts featuring excerpts from the South Texas Medical Record/Medical Bulletin of the Harris County Medical Society (same publication, different names; kind of like Montrose/Studemont/Studewood Street) from the 1910’s.

The Medical Record/Bulletin published papers by Medical Society members, Medical Society business, information on professional organizations, and “personals”, which were short accounts of events in members’ lives.  The personals were chatty and, as occasion permitted, often humorous.  There was also advertising, although I think some of the full-page ads were removed when the journals were bound, probably to save space and because they were repetitive among volumes.  The ads that remain are interesting in their own rights, and those that don’t appear here will surely be used in later posts.

We’ll start off with what the Harris County Medical Society had to say about cars (V.6, N5, April 1914, page 17):

V06-n05-1914-04-p17 HCMSB on cars 700

As one reads through car-related jibes in the personals, and car-related advertising, two things come to mind:

1) There is definitely a hierarchy of “cool” versus “uncool” cars.

2) Doctors have always liked the cool cars.  Even if it means appreciating them vicariously (V.7, N.3, August 1915, page 27):

ImageFords are uncool.  Fords were starter cars, unrefined cars, plebian cars to be mocked by drivers of cool cars and replaced as soon as finances permitted, in this case, the Bulletin suggests, by an Overland[2] or a Dodge[3] (V.10 No.1, May 1916, page 24):


The first Dodge cars came into production in November, 1914[4] (Dodge had been a parts manufacturer, supplying pieces to earlier auto companies, since the turn of the century), so Dr. Greer was cutting edge in his choice of cars.

Dr. R.D. Wilson, who sounds as though he must have been a bit of an eccentric, got ribbed about his new Ford in September, 1915 (V.9, N.6, page 26):

He must also have been, um, thrifty.  Possibly to a fault (BHCMS, V.9, N.9, January 1916, page 23):

Buicks seem to have been popular.  The column above also mentioned that “Santa Claus” brought a Dr. Cruse a new Buick.  Dr. Jesse Burditt even ordered a new Buick in May, 1915 (V.9, N.5, page 23), and had to wait extra time to get his special-ordered red wheels.  If his car was a coupe, it would have looked like the one seen here[5] (the personals don’t mention the body color, though in 1915 it was probably black).  Alas, Dr. Burditt didn’t get to enjoy his new car very long; Volume 9, No. 11 (pages 16 and 21), in March 1916 published notice of his sudden death at age 45, from heart failure.

Driving in Houston in the early years of the automobile had its own set of hazards.  Sure, traffic was probably slower and less congested, but we can all be thankful we have starter motors[6] and no longer have to crank-start our cars (V.8, N.4, February 1915, page 24):

Here is a YouTube video on how to safely crank-start a Model T.  Safely, so it doesn’t shatter your arm.  My Mazda has a push-button ignition; I don’t even have to fumble for keys on dark winter mornings.  We’ve come a long way, baby.  (Here’s another YouTube of a 1914 Model T touring car in action.)

Of course, even if the car didn’t get you with the crank, you couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t sneak up on you later (V.8 N.5, February 1915, pages 26-27).  It was possible to run yourself over even in the days before automatic transmissions:

This is why it was such a big deal in December, 1915 (V.9 N.8, page 22) when Dr. W. Burton Thorning replaced his stolen Overland with a “self-commencing” Studebaker.

Dun’s Review magazine published an account of and exhibit in Madison Square Gardens, New York, and the Paris Automobile Salon[8] in September, 1912, that made note of the stir caused by new self-starting Overland and Studebaker cars.

It’s of interest that the other car mentioned in the clipping above is a Stearns-Knight.  Stearns-Knight was a luxury car brand produced in the first quarter of the century[10].  It and Overland were both eventually purchased by Willys[11], which survives today as Jeep.

Most of the cars mentioned in the journals belonged to brands that no longer exist; many of them for many decades.  Cadillac (V.3 N.6 October 1912, page 5), Dodge, Buick, and Ford have survived.

Studebaker closed down in 1966[12] (V.6 N.5 April 1914, page 17);

Willys-Overland (as a brand name) disappeared in 1963[13] and Hudson in 1957[14] (V.6 N.5 April 1914, page 22):

The rest were gone long before that:

1) Chalmers[15]: Dr. Roy Wilson’s new Chalmers was “incinerated” (unfortunately, no details are provided) in April 1913 (V.4 N.6, page 25).  Chalmers was absorbed by Chrysler.
2) Oakland[18], a mid-range General Motors brand that fell between Chevrolet and Buick in the prestige hierarchy (V.3 N.2, June 1912, page 5).

3) This ad from October 1913 (V.3 No.6, page 38) features Oaklands, Stearns-Knights, and Rauch and Lang[21] electric cars.  Note the considerable price difference between an Oakland and a Stearns-Knight.  Electric cars were more common early in the century than you might think.  More pictures of Rauch and Langs, and other early electric cars, can be seen here[22].

4) G.W. Hawkins, Co. (V.3 N.1, May 1912, page 6), sold four brands, none of which survived the 1920’s: Stoddard-Dayton[23], a high-end car that would be purchased by Maxwell the following year; its lower-end subsidiary Courier[24]; Maxwell[25], which, in turn, was absorbed by Chrysler; and Columbia[26], and extremely early brand that produced both gasoline and electric models (these would have been available only secondhand in 1912, or perhaps Hawkins also serviced them).

5) Cartercar[28] (V.6 N.5 April 1914, page 18), which gets the award for the best lettering, had been purchased by General Motors in 1909 and would be discontinued the next year.  On a side note: Cartercar founder Byron Carter died in 1908 of gangrene that stemmed from a jaw wound acquired when–drum roll, please–he was crank-starting a car and the crank kicked and hit him in the face[29].  Carter was a friend of Cadillac founder Henry Leland[30], who developed the electric self-starter that would eliminate the dangers of crank-starting.

V06-n05-1914-04-p18 Cartercar 700

The “gearless” Cartercar had a friction-drive transmission[31].  Friction-drive transmissions seem mostly to be used in things like go-karts and record players, which suggests that they weren’t very efficient in big, heavy, cars; the idea was used in a few very early brands but then disappeared.  It has (sort of) reemerged more recently as the continuously variable transmission[32], which is belt-driven but also does not have set gear ratios.  If you scroll through the pictures underneath this 1909 Cartercar[33], you’ll see a picture of the transmission wheel (image 66).

Sources consulted:
1] Harris County Medical Society history.
2] Wikipedia: Overland Automobile
3] Wikipedia: Dodge
4] Meadow Brook Hall: Dodge Brothers
5] Prewar
6] Wikipedia: Starter (engine)
7] Hand cranking – safe and easy, from
8] Dun’s Review, V.20 N.1 September 1912, pages 80-85.  Found on Google Books.
9] Studebaker National Museum
10] Wikipedia: Stearns-Knight
11] Wikipedia: Willys
12] Studebaker National Museum: History
13] Kaiser-Willys Auto Supply, LLC: History
14] Wikipedia: Hudson Motor Car Company
15] Wikipedia: Chalmers Automobile
16] Chalmers Automobile Registry
17] History
18] Wikipedia: Oakland (automobile)
19] GM Heritage Center
20] Oakland Owners Club International
21] Wikipedia: Rauch and Lang
22] Chuck’s Toyland
23] Wikipedia: Stoddard-Dayton
24] Wikipedia: Courier Car Company
25] Wikipedia: Maxwell automobile
26] Wikipedia: Columbia automobile company
27] Hostetler’s Hudson Museum, Shipshewana, Indiana
29] Wikipedia: Cartercar
30] Wikipedia: Henry M. Leland
31] Wikipedia: Friction drive
32] Wikipedia: Continuously variable transmission
33] Vintage Cars
34] “Cartercar: Tracing the origins of the CVT transmission” (July 23, 2009)
35] Motor, V.22 N.6, September 1915, page 94 (Willys-Overland advertisement for electric self-starters)
36] Motor, V.22 N.6, September 1915, page 95 (Cartercar advertisement)

Life and Limb

By Philip Montgomery

The Texas Medical Center Library is hosting a National Library of Medicine exhibit called Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War. Here Sandra Yates, archivist/special collections librarian, arranges lancets and an 18th century bleeding bowl as part of the items on display from the McGovern Historical Center. Creating exhibits is always a fun activity for an archivist. photo