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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c439

Henry Jacob Bigelow papers


The Henry Jacob Bigelow papers, 1840s-1856 (inclusive), 1848-1855 (bulk), principally consist of draft and final or close to final draft medical illustrations, some accompanied by case or specimen notes. Drawings are in pencil, ink, and watercolor. Subjects include a wide variety of pathological conditions, mostly tumors, including epitheliomas, cheloids, cysts, and cancerous growths.


  • 1840s-1856 (inclusive),
  • Majority of material found within 1848-1855 .


Language of Materials

Papers are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Consult Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

Public Domain.


0.75 cubic feet (1 records center carton and 1 oversize flat storage box)

The Henry Jacob Bigelow papers, 1840s-1856 (inclusive), 1848-1855 (bulk), principally consist of medical illustrations, some accompanied by case or specimen notes. The notes generally indicate the medical problem in question in the drawing -- type of tumor, size, duration of growth, spread, etc. -- and in some cases contain sketchy patient notes, including brief biographies. Some conditions were drawn more than once from more than one specimen. Subjects include a wide variety of pathological conditions, mostly tumors, including epitheliomas, cheloids, cysts, and cancerous growths.

The collection consists primarily of drafts of medical illustrations; some are accompanied by case or specimen notes, but the majority are not. The drawings were generated for a planned book on neoplastic growth that was being developed with artist and lithographer Oscar Wallis between 1849 and 1854. Bigelow abandoned the work after Hermann Lebert (1813-1878) published his two volume illustrated Traité d'anatomie pathologique générale et spéciale ou Description et iconographie pathologique des alterations morbides tant liquides que solides observées dans le corps humain, a work Bigelow considered superior to his collaboration with Wallis. The drawings, some of which are signed by Wallis, are pencil, pen-and-ink, and watercolor and include a variety of subjects: epitheliomas, cheloids, cysts, sarcomas, and cancers, and include both gross and histological views of excised tissue. Bigelow also commissioned Oscar Wallis to generate a collection of watercolors for the surgical classroom enlarged from plates in anatomical and surgical works such as Thomas Wormald's 1843 A series of anatomical sketches and diagrams. This collection also includes enlargements of the Wallis tumor work evident in the Henry Jacob Bigelow papers. The 189 piece collection, painted between 1848 and 1856 and part of the holdings of the Center’s Warren Anatomical Museum, was recently photographed by the Boston Public Library’ Boston Public Library/Digital Commonwealth Digitization initiative and has been published in OnView in the exhibit The Bigelow-Wallis and Warren-Kaula Watercolor Collection.

Papers are entirely in English.

Biographical Notes

Henry Jacob Bigelow (1818-1890), B.A., 1837, Harvard College, Boston, Massachusetts; M.D., 1841, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, was a pathologist and Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School in 1849.

Henry Jacob Bigelow was born 11 March 1818, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879), was a well-known medical practitioner in the city. Bigelow attended Harvard College, entering at the age of fifteen in 1833, and graduated with a B.A. in 1837. Afterwards, he began studying medicine with his father and attended lectures at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, given by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894). Bigelow was appointed a house surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston in 1838 and held the post for a year. He traveled to Cuba in the early 1840s and returned to Boston to take his medical degree in 1841.

After completing his M.D., Bigelow traveled to Europe, studying medicine in Paris and London until his return to Boston in 1844 to take up medical practice. In the same year, he wrote the Boylston Prize-winning essay on that year’s topic of the relief of deformity and lameness by muscle division. In 1845, he was elected president of the Boylston Society and in 1846, appointed Visiting Surgeon in the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1849, Bigelow was appointed as Professor of Surgery at the Harvard Medical School.

Bigelow was a pathologist by training, but was active in a variety of other fields, including the popularizing of anesthesia by ether, revising the equipment and technique for lithotrity, and working with the anti-vivisection movement. He was a supporter of the claim of William Morton as the discoverer of anesthetic ether and wrote widely on the subject; Bigelow also favored the immediate adoption of ether anesthetic in surgical operations, claiming to have been responsible for one of the first uses of the discovery in surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Bigelow worked with artist Oscar Wallis on a detailed series of medical illustrations of tumors and other specimens viewed under the microscope. Other drawings on which Bigelow and Wallis collaborated were used in Bigelow's published works or as teaching tools, but the drawings in this collection were mostly intended for a work which was never published.

Bigelow married Susan Sturgis in 1847; she died in 1853, three years after the birth of their only child, William Sturgis Bigelow. Henry Jacob Bigelow died in 1890 at his home in Newton, Massachusetts, several months after a severe fall.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Accession number 2014-081. 2014 May 08.

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine and Warren Anatomical Museum

  1. Papers of Henry Jacob Bigelow. B MS c33.
  2. Henry Jacob Bigelow and Oscar Wallis Watercolor Collection in the Warren Anatomical Museum. Acc. #2013.014.
  3. The Bigelow-Wallis and Warren-Kaula Watercolor Collection. Online exhibit:

Related Collections in the Harvard University Archives

  1. Records of Jacob Bigelow. UAI 15.1031. Online finding aid:

Resources on Henry Jacob Bigelow.

  • Henry Jacob Bigelow: A Memoir. Boston: Little, Brown, & Company, 1900.

Processing Information

Processed by Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, 2014 June.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered and reboxed material and created a finding aid to increase researcher access. The collection was created from works transferred from the Warren Anatomical Museum and a box of records which had been previously cataloged as 1.Mh.1850. Original folders were discarded due to acidity and water damage; annotated folders were photocopied and then discarded. Tissue was interfiled between pencil, pen, and watercolor drawings to protect surfaces.

Bigelow, Henry Jacob, 1818-1890. Papers, 1840s-1856 (inclusive), 1848-1855 (bulk) : Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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