Previous Abstract | Next Abstract
Printable Version
October 21, 2008
9:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Room Hall E2-Area D,
Wood Library-Museum Treasures of John Snow: A Book and Two Diplomas
Clayton A. Smith, M.D., Mark E. Schroeder, M.D.
Department of Anesthesiology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wisconsin
The Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology (WLM) is a rich source of information and artifacts pertaining to the field of anesthesiology. The collection includes two diplomas awarded to John Snow—a prominent 19th century physician and scientist well known for his role in identifying the source of London's cholera epidemic of 1854—and the first edition of a book written by him. How did these John Snow artifacts come to reside at an American anesthesiology museum? How did they unite two pioneer anesthesiologists a continent apart? Answers to these questions were recently brought to light.

Dr. Ralph Waters, the world's first academic anesthesiologist with his appointment to the University of Wisconsin in 1927, was invited to speak before the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in October 1936 on “CO2 absorption2.” With his opening remarks, he stunned the audience: “The greatest anesthetist was an Englishman… John Snow.” The British had all but forgotten that Snow is considered to be first professional anesthetist. Snow wrote two books considered by many to be the first textbooks of anesthesia1: The Inhalation of the Vapor of Ether in Surgical Operations (1847) and On Chloroform and Other Anaesthetics (1858).

Waters' opening comments at the RSM had a profound influence upon Robert Macintosh, who was later appointed the first Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetics at the University of Oxford2. Waters' growing friendship with Macintosh encouraged him to learn more about John Snow, to begin a restoration of Snow's grave monument, and to search for other Snow artifacts. After finding an original copy of Snow's On Chloroform, Macintosh persuaded the owner to donate it to Waters1.

The UW Madison Archives maintains a collection of Ralph Waters' correspondence during his tenure. Some of Waters' and Macintosh's communications enlighten us as to how Snow's fellowship diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in London (1838) and his medical diploma from the University of London (1843) arrived in the US. Macintosh located some of Snow's descendants that had for generations passed down many of Snow's belongings, including original letters, publications, and diplomas. A visitor to Madison, Dr. Michael Nosworthy, brought the diplomas to Waters on behalf of Macintosh as a tentative gift with the understanding that they were “on loan.3” With the death of Snow's grand-nephew four years later, ownership passed to Waters outright2.

Waters donated his original copy of Snow's “On Chloroform” to the WLM in 19671,3. As for the diplomas, the WLM unfortunately does not have an exact date of donation, but it is believed to be sometime shortly afterward.

Ralph Waters and Sir Robert Macintosh are two of the 20th century's great leaders in anesthesia who set the groundwork for formal Anesthesiology training and research not only in the US and the UK, but also across the world. Their shared interest in John Snow promoted their friendship. We are fortunate that their friendship led to the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology owning an original copy of one of John Snow's books and two of his diplomas.

1) Maltby J.R. and B.J. Bamforth. (1990) Anesth Analg 71:288-94.

2) Waters correspondence files, 1927-1949, University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

3) Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology Archives, Park Ridge, IL.

Anesthesiology 2008; 109 A1360