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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c531

D. DeForrest Douglass papers


The papers consist of correspondence and financial documentation reflecting the family life and professional work of Darwin DeForrest Douglass, an artificial limb designer and maker.


  • 1819-1901 (inclusive)
  • Majority of material found within 1850-1900


Language of Materials

Papers are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.


1.5 cubic feet (2 records center cartons, 1 flat file box)

The papers consist of correspondence and financial records reflecting the personal and professional activities of Darwin DeForrest Douglass (1828-1902), a designer and maker of artificial limbs, mainly legs.

Included here is correspondence sent to and from Douglass as well as correspondence pertaining to his wife, Susan, and daughter, Jennie Grace. Jennie Grace was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music; this is reflected in the collection. Correspondence often crosses the boundary between personal and professional, discussing family business in the same letter as, for example, Douglass’s travel in pursuit of sales. Included among the correspondence are letters to and from patients requesting Douglass’s services as a limb maker and fitter. Box 2 includes a index card box containing small items found with correspondence: primarily business and calling cards, a single photograph, and a roll of correspondence which could not be disassembled for interfiling. Also included is a large amount of financial documentation, including bills, receipts, and invoices for household, personal, and professional items such as sheet music, wood, paint, clothing, food (tea, sugar, flour, vegetables, meat, milk, coffee, etc.), as well as promissory notes, bills for rentals, gas, coal, and ice bills, and property records. Also included are bills Douglass submitted for payment for his professional services as a prosthetist and copies of his and his wife Susan's wills.

Papers are entirely in English.

Biographical Note

D. DeForrest (Darwin DeForrest) Douglass (1828-1902) was a manufacturer of artificial limbs.

Douglass was born in 1828. He was employed as a workman for Benjamin Franklin Palmer (born 1824), one of the first large-scale prosthesis manufacturers in the United States. "The Douglass leg" never achieved the commercial success of the "Palmer leg" and Douglass never established a factory or secured the government contracts for supplying veterans that allowed manufacturers like Palmer to expand after the Civil War. Douglass rented office space in and around Boston, Massachusetts, and travelled widely over the New England area to meet with patients requesting his services.

Douglass was married (Susan) and had at least one daughter (Jennie Grace).

Collection Arrangement

  1. I. Correspondence and Personal Records, 1819-1899
  2. II. Financial Records, 1820-1901

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection purchased from Terry Alford, 24 September 1974.

Processing Information

Processed by Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, September 2017.

Staff at the Center for the History of Medicine foldered and boxed material and created a finding aid to improve researcher access. Material was cleaned and flattened to allow easier access. One large, artificially created roll of correspondence was disassembled into its constituent parts; another, smaller roll was stored in an acid-free tube for preservation.

Douglass, D. DeForrest (Darwin DeForrest). Papers, 1820-1901 (inclusive), 1850-1900 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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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