Name and location of repository
Level of description
William Beaumont Papers
- 1807-1853 (Creation)
8.00 Linear Feet
Name of creator
William Beaumont was born on November 21, 1785 in Lebanon, Connecticut. In 1810, he apprenticed himself to Dr. Benjamin Chandler of St. Albans, Vermont. After serving two years as an apprentice, Beaumont was licensed by the Vermont Medical Society to practice medicine. When the War of 1812 broke out between England and the United States, Beaumont joined the army as a surgeon's mate where he served much of his time treating soldiers at York (now Toronto, Canada) and Plattsburgh, New York. He resigned his commission from the army in 1815 and opened a private medical practice in Plattsburgh.
Beaumont rejoined the army in 1820, where he was granted the rank of post surgeon. Before leaving for his new post at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island) in Michigan, he married Deborah Platt Green. While stationed at Fort Mackinac, he treated a French Canadian named Alexis St. Martin who had been accidentally shot in his left side. Beaumont saved the patient's life, but St. Martin's wound healed with a permanent opening in his abdomen through which the interior of his stomach was exposed. This accident, along with St. Martin's cooperation during the following two decades, afforded Beaumont the opportunity to conduct experiments on the functions of the human stomach. Beaumont eventually published the results of these investigations in Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion, a landmark of American medical research.
Following his service in Michigan, Beaumont continued serving in the army where he was transferred to Fort Niagara (New York) in 1825, to Fort Crawford (Wisconsin) in 1829, and finally to Jefferson Barracks (Saint Louis, Missouri) in 1834. While stationed in Missouri, he was appointed Professor of Surgery at the Medical Department of Saint Louis University in 1837. Rather than be transferred again, Beaumont finally resigned from the army in 1839 at the age of fifty-two. Upon his resignation, he remained in Saint Louis where he maintained a private practice until his death on April 25, 1853.
Scope and content
The Beaumont collection includes correspondence, notebooks and casebooks, pre-publication drafts, notes, certificates, press clippings, and legal and financial documents. The major subject of the collection is the Alexis St. Martin case and the pioneering and controversial experiments on St. Martin that illuminated the physiology of human digestion. The papers also document Beaumont’s strong influence on his family including his wife, parents, siblings, and children; his career as a U. S. army surgeon, 1812-1939; land speculation in Plattsburgh, Green Bay and Saint Louis; and his service on the U.S. Army Board and professional associations. Of local interest is the correspondence on Beaumont’s medical practice in Saint Louis, 1939-1853; two malpractice lawsuits; the Saint Louis Medical College where Beaumont served as a faculty member; and the politics in the Saint Louis medical community.
The manuscript collection described below consists of three document series arranged predominantly in chronological order. Series 1 includes all items that were described in the 1968 Index. For reasons never discussed in the 1968 Index, many items in the gift of papers to Washington University were omitted from its elaborate analysis. These items now make up Series 2 and Series 3 of the Beaumont Papers. Beaumont’s notebooks are compiled into Series 2. Newspaper clippings and book reviews that were once in the possession of Beaumont and his family make up Series 3.
System of arrangement
Little is known about the original arrangement of the Beaumont Papers. Beginning in the 1960s, the School of Medicine Library staff began a project to organize and index the collection. The documents were placed in chronological order, and four indexes were created to facilitate access to the collection: name, place, date, and subject indexes. These four indexes were published in 1968 as the Index to the Wm. Beaumont, M.D. (1785-1853) Manuscript Collectioncompiled by Phoebe A. Cassidy and Roberta S. Sokol, with an introduction by Estelle Brodman.
At the time that the 1968 Indexwas compiled, the collection was stored in a series of folders that were housed in metal filing cabinets. Within the folders, each document was protected by a separate paper sheath, most of which bear annotations by Brodman on which the indexing was based. Brodman discusses the rationale for this system in her introduction to the 1968 Index.
In the interest of preservation, the documents were placed in acid-free folders and document boxes in 2010. The chronological document order of the original 1968 Indexwas maintained, and the date indexwas used to create the container list below. The 1968 Indexincluded many helpful elements such as author, author’s location, recipient, and recipient’s location. This information is included in the new container list as well. Additionally, new box and folder numbers were assigned to each document in the collection. The place indexand name indexwere updated to include these changes. The 1968 subject index proved to be of little use to researchers, and was therefore omitted from the present finding aid.
Conditions governing access
The collection is open and accessible for research.
Note that some letters included in the Beaumont Papers are typescripts or photocopies of the original documents which are located in other repositories, notably at Yale University. Most of the items in the first two boxes of Series 1 fall into this category. Users are advised to credit the holder of the originals when writing scholarly citations.
Conditions governing reproduction
Users of the collection should read and abide by the Rights and Permissions guidelines at the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives.
Users of the collection who wish to cite items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication must request, sign, and return a Statement of Use form to the Archives.
For detailed information regarding use of this collection, contact the Archives and Rare Book Department of the Becker Library (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.
Languages of the material
Scripts of the material
Language and script notes
The Beaumont Papers were presented to the Washington University School of Medicine on April 28, 1915 by Miss Lucretia Beaumont Irwin, a granddaughter of William Beaumont.
Immediate source of acquisition
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related archival materials
Several editions of William Beaumont's book, "Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion," are cataloged and stored separately in the Rare Book collection at the Bernard Becker Medical Library.
Rules or conventions
"Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS), 2013."
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