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Four Physicians Operating on a Patient in an Operating Room (1902)

Operating Room, 1902

During the course of an archivist’s work, sometimes materials arrive with little information available about them. As a result,these items need to be arranged and described to the best of the archivist’s ability, with very little help from the items themselves. The image shown here is one such item.

Why keep the item, if most of the information about it is unknown? In some cases the item’s provenance; ie, information about how, when, and where it was acquired may be of value in itself. Occasionally, with just that information, some of the rest of the item’s background can be gleaned as well. This operating room image is representative of the types of images found in the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Archives, about which little is known, including how they came to be there.

Found among the ACS Library Committee records, the image was enclosed in an ACS envelope with 55 East Erie, as the return address, and with a typewritten label, “Operating Room, 1902, Gift of Dr. Hawley, June 5, 1958.” Paul Hawley, MD, FACS, Director of the College from 1950 to 1961, most likely presented it to the Library, which at that time served as the College’s archival repository and housed its historical collections. As to how Dr. Hawley happened to acquire the image, no record has been found, although a handwritten inscription on the back may give a clue: “Compliments of Maurice Dimon, Ft. Grant, A.T., July 1902.” The College’s headquarters was at 55 East Erie in Chicago from 1963 until 1997, so the label was typewritten sometime after 1963.

The photo was enclosed with some news clippings of the September 9-11, 1920 Sectional meetings from Oregon newspapers, articles which may or may not be related to the photo. The photo was also accompanied by an envelope labeled “Miss Prime-Library” and “Rec’d 10/30/30.” Miss Prime worked at the ACS from 1921 to 1960, the last 29 years of which she served as Director of the Library and Department of Literary Research.

In looking at the photo, note the instruments the doctors are using, the anesthesia being administered, the large basins, and that the doctors are not wearing gloves. At this point, none of the surgeons have been identified. If you can help with making identifications, given the few clues available, we welcome you to do so by contacting the ACS Archivist.

ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.