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COLLECTION Identifier: B MS c10

Benjamin Waterhouse papers,

The Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1797-1829 (inclusive), consist of Waterhouse's (1754-1846) letters to colleagues, including Lyman Spalding (1775-1821), concerning smallpox inoculation and other medical topics. There are also copies of manuscript letters to the Harvard Corporation in which Waterhouse defends himself against allegations he was working against the interests of Harvard Medical School.

Dates

  • 1797-1829 (inclusive).

Language of Materials

Collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Access requires advance notice. Contact Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Boston Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.

Extent

0.13 cubic feet (1 flat storage box)

The Benjamin Waterhouse papers, 1797-1829 (inclusive), consist of Waterhouse's (1754-1846) letters to colleagues, including Lyman Spalding (1775-1821), concerning smallpox inoculation and other medical topics. There are also copies of manuscript letters to Harvard Corporation in which Waterhouse defends himself against allegations he was working against the interests of Harvard Medical School.

The correspondence to Spalding regards Spalding's plan to establish a smallpox hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Waterhouse's conditions and fees for transmitting samples of vaccine matter to him. Waterhouse also offered instructions on how to extract additional matter from patients following inoculation. In Waterhouse's correspondence to Harvard Corporation, written over a number of weeks in February 1812, he attempts to respond to a variety of accusations leveled against him by his Harvard Medical School colleagues, including allegations that he planned to establish a rival medical school, and that he had embarrassed his colleagues by voicing opposition to the removal of Harvard Medical School from Cambridge to Boston. The collection also contains two copies of a certificate entitling its bearer to cowpox vaccination, signed by Waterhouse.

Collection is entirely in English.

Biographical Note

Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846) was the first Hersey Professor of Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School. He introduced vaccination against smallpox using cowpox matter in the United States in 1800. He was also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was the head physician at the United States Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts from 1807 to 1809.

Benjamin Waterhouse was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on 5 March 1754, to Timothy and Hannah Waterhouse. He was apprenticed to a physician in Newport at age 16. In 1775, Waterhouse traveled to Europe, where under the guidance of his mother's cousin, physician John Fothergill, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, studying medicine with professors such as William Cullen, and then at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands, from which he earned an M.D. in 1780. While attending Leyden, Waterhouse stayed in the home of John Adams, then American minister to the Netherlands. After returning to the United States, he became the first professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (1782) and was one of the three original members of the Harvard Medical School faculty, alongside John Warren (1753-1815) and Aaron Dexter (1750-1829).

After reading a book by English physician Edward Jenner on the use of cowpox matter to vaccinate against smallpox, Waterhouse began to study vaccination, reviewing the available published materials and exchanging letters with colleagues in England, including Jenner. Waterhouse obtained a sample of cowpox matter, a thread soaked with cowpox lymph and placed in a sealed glass vial, which he used to vaccinate his son Daniel, on 8 July 1800. Waterhouse subsequently vaccinated three of his other children, Elizabeth, Benjamin, and Mary. The four children were then experimentally inoculated with smallpox at the Brookline smallpox hospital of Dr. William Aspinwall, and they were found to be immune. Waterhouse sought unsuccessfully to establish a universal vaccination program in the United States, although his supporters included President Thomas Jefferson.

In addition to his position as professor of medicine, Waterhouse was a lecturer in natural history from 1788 until 1809, when his course was abolished by Harvard, and keeper of the Harvard mineralogical cabinet, until this role also was taken away in 1809. Waterhouse's relations with his colleagues were strained by his ambivalence over relocating Harvard Medical School from Cambridge to Boston, and in 1811, members of the medical school faculty sent a letter to Harvard Corporation accusing Waterhouse of publicly embarrassing them and working against the interests of the school. He was dismissed from his position in 1812. Waterhouse subsequently sought work from the United States government. He was appointed hospital surgeon for the First Military District in 1813 and was honorably discharged in 1821.

Waterhouse published a number of medical works, including several on vaccination using cowpox. He also published The Botanist (1811), series of essays on natural history, and an Essay on Junius and his letters, which hypothesized that William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was the author of letters criticizing George III under the pseudonym "Junius."

Waterhouse married Elizabeth Oliver in 1788 and they had six children: Andrew Oliver (1789); John Fothergill (1791); Elizabeth Watson (1793); Daniel Oliver (1795); Benjamin, Jr. (1797); and Mary (1799). Elizabeth Oliver Waterhouse died in 1815, and Waterhouse remarried in 1819 to Louisa Lee. Benjamin Waterhouse died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1846 at the age of 92.

Arrangement

  1. The papers are arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Includes accession number 99-12.

Digitized Items

View digitized items from this collection: https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/collections/show/83

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

  1. Benjamin Waterhouse papers. H MS c16.
  2. Collection of Waterhouse family papers. H MS c17.
  3. Correspondence book of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.1.
  4. Memoranda book of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.2.
  5. Memoranda book of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.3.
  6. Place book of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.4.
  7. A prospect of eradicating the smallpox -- part the second...., by Benjamin Waterhouse H MS b16.5
  8. Memoirs of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.6.
  9. Commonplace book of Benjamin Waterhouse. H MS b16.8.
  10. On the difficulty of preserving the vaccine virus on thread or glass in very hot weather, by Benjamin Waterhouse.B MS b10.2.
Related Collections in the Harvard University Archives
  1. Records relating to the Benjamin Waterhouse controversy, 1812. UAI 20.812.

Resources about Benjamin Waterhouse

  • Cash, Philip. Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse : a life in medicine and public service (1754-1846). Sagamore Beach, MA, USA: Boston Medical Library ; Science History Publications/USA, 2006.

Processing Information

Processed by Brooke McManus in 2015 November.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the papers, and created a finding aid to improve access in 2015. The collection was described in a card catalog at an earlier date; the folder titles, as previously devised by staff, were retained.

Please note the following abbreviations have been used in folder titles: "A.L.s." for autographed letter signed; "MS.S." for manuscript signed; and "P.D." for printed document.
Link to catalog
Title
Waterhouse, Benjamin, 1754-1846. Papers, 1797-1829 (inclusive): Finding Aid.
Author
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Sponsor
Preservation and description was supported in part by the Arcadia-funded Colonial North American Project at Harvard University.
EAD ID
med00220

Repository Details

Part of the Countway Library of Medicine Repository

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