Manuscripts and Archives of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Albert S. Ashmead papers Edit


MSS 2/029


  • 1869 – 1910 (Creation)


  • 5 boxes (Whole)

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  • Biographical / Historical

    Albert Sydney Ashmead, Jr., was born in Philadelphia on 4 April 1850. His parents were Albert Sydney Ashmead, amerchant, and Elizabeth Graham. After receiving his primaryeducation at the Hastings Academy in West Philadelphia,Ashmead received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvaniain 1869. He then took an auxiliary medical course at theUniversity as well as a post graduate course at JeffersonMedical College. From 1871 to 1873, Ashmead practicedmedicine in Philadelphia.

    In 1873, he was called to Washington to attend Prince Adzumo,brother of the Emperor of Japan. Ashmead was subsequently appointed Foreign Medical Director of the Tokyo Fu Hospital in Japan. He also taught the first class of students at the medical school of the Tokyo Charity Hospital. Ashmead returned to the United States in 1876. He then practicedmedicine in Doniphan County, Kansas, was the first assistant surgeon for the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad, and examining surgeon for the U. S. Pension Bureau. In 1882,Ashmead moved to New York City to practice medicine.

    In New York, Ashmead pursued his primary medical interest the study of leprosy. He was a motivating force behind the formation of the first International Leprosy Congress, held in Berlin in 1897; representatives of twenty two governments were present. Absolute isolation of all lepers was proposed but defeated during the course of the conference. Ashmead was a firm believer in the contagiousness of leprosy and was the author of the Platt leper bill which came before the U.S.Senate on 22 January 1902. The bill advocated the appointment of a national commissioner of leprosy, the foundation of a national leper home, funding for leprosaria throughout the country, strict isolation of all lepers in American, and a ban on emigration of lepers into the country.

    Ashmead also pursued research in syphilis, insanity,pellagra, and Asiatic diseases such as beriberi. He was a keen anthropologist, particularly interested in the origins of diseases, and, in the 1890s, became involved in a scholarly dispute with Rudolf Virchow over leprosy in preColumbian Peru.

    He was a member of the University of Pennsylvania medical club, a corresponding member of the Berlin anthropological society, and the Medical Society of Japan.

    Ashmead married Florence M. Fleming in 1873. They divorced in1880. They had one son, David Fleming Ashmead. Ashmead then married Isabella M. Wale in 1883; they had three sons,Graham, John, and Robert, and three daughters, Jean, Anne,and Allie.

    Albert S. Ashmead died in Philadelphia on 20 February 1911 after an intestinal operation.

  • Scope and Contents

    The Albert S. Ashmead Papers (1875-1910) are a fine collection documenting the professional experiences of a well known American leprologist. The focus of the collection is Ashmead's correspondence with other leprologist and international figures concerning the 1897 Berlin lepra conference. The collection also contains manuscripts of Ashmead's articles, the text for an unpublished anthology on Japanese medicine, and research notes and translations of articles concerning leprosy and anthropology.

    Series 1, Biographical and Genealogical, contains newsclippings and a typescript entry with Ashmead's mendations from the National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1894-1909).

    Ashmead's correspondence received (1875-1910) in Series contains the most historically significant items in the collection. There is extensive correspondence concerning the 1897 Berlin Lepra Conference from Edvard Ehlers, Jules Goldschmidt, G. Armauer Hansen, and Jonathan Hutchinson.

    Other highlights include: Luis F. Alvarez, who describes the use of Carrasquilla's serum to treat leprosy; A. F. Bandelieron the illnesses of Peruvian Indians; G. M. Bowie's reports of leprosy cures; C. H. Branson's extensive account of his experiences as a leper (1910); D. G. Brinton's theories on the history of leprosy; correspondence from Juan deDiosCarrasquilla and Sebastian Carrasquilla; C. L. Conrardy's descriptions of his missions to lepers in Louisiana and china; Francisco Grana's 1907 account of inoculating llamas for syphilis; R. G. Haliburton on anthropological matters; a 1903 letter from Charles Hartzell, Acting Governor of Puerto Rico, concerning a scandal at the leper colony on Cabras Island; correspondence and a photograph from A. W. Hitt concerning leprosy in India; Luther F. McKinney on leprosy in Columbia; an 1895 letter from Clarence B. Moore on archeological evidence for pre Columbian syphilis;correspondence from H. Polakowsky concerning the dispute with Rudolf Virchow; correspondence from Alfred Stille describing his reactions to Ashmead's published writings; and correspondence from Julio C. Tello. Many items not written in English have Ashmead's translations attached.

    Series 2 also contains copies of Ashmead's outgoing correspondence (1896-1897) concerning the 1897 conference. Major correspondents are Edvard Ehlers and Jules Goldschmidt.

    Photographs of lepers (1896 and 1901) and of a Japanese leprosy nurse (ca. 1885), are contained in Series 3.

    A small collection of Ashmead's manuscripts are preserved in series 4. There is one folder of miscellaneous short pieces,mostly newspaper submissions (1880-1909), as well as four lengthy manuscripts on leprosy, tuberculosis, and Japan. Series 5 contains printed materials and folders of newsclippings on ambidexterity, anthropology, and leprosy. The leprosy folder also contains a handbill, dated 22 January 1897, concerning the proposed conference which was sent to international leprologists from Ashmead as well as the text of the 1902 Platt leper bill.

    In 1893, Ashmead assembled numerous translations of German and French articles on leprosy, kakke [beriberi], and miscellaneous Japanese medical and descriptive matters. Many of these articles were written by Albrecht Wernich, and some were translated by Ashmead himself. The collection was dedicated to the medical profession of Japan, as Ashmead maintained that:

    These valuable sources of information on subjects deeply interesting to the Japanese people ought to be made easily accessible to that large majority of Japanese physicians who speak English and are not proficient enough in German or French to avail themselves of some remarkable ideas and experiments published in these languages. This extensive text, entitled "Collection of some foreign opinions on pathological matters peculiar to Japan" does not appear to have ever been published.

    Series 7 consists of Ashmead's research files on several subjects, principally leprosy. There are several texts and translations and information on the Berlin anthropological society debate with Rudolf Virchow.

    A few documents written in Japanese, including a history of medicine in Japan (1874) and a report sent to Ashmead on sickness in the Japanese army in 1874-1875, are contained in Series 8. This series also includes a newsclipping concerning Jesse James and some leaves from a wreath placed on James' tomb.

  • Custodial History

    The Ashmead Papers were presented to the Library of the college of Physicians by Albert S. Ashmead on 15 February 1910. This gift also included some four books and fifty six pamphlets which were integrated with the Library's holdings.In a letter, dated 4 February 1910, to Charles Perry Fisher,Ashmead says: "Altogether the collection represents to me many years of persistent, hard study and almost unendurable toil. It is a collection pertaining to the work of one American physician. When we take into the account of work done by so many others of us, we can foot up a sum in behalf of American Medicine that would compare favorably with that of any other country on the globe."

    The collection was roughly sorted by Lisa Frierman during the winter of 1974-1975, and a calendar of the correspondence was produced. The collection was fully processed in August 1989.