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William W. Keen papers

Identifier: MSS 2/076-01-06

Scope and Contents

The William W. Keen papers are comprised of six separate collections, including correspondence, photographs, diaries, and newsclippings. Much of the correspondence deals with eithr family matters or the controversy vivisection. For more detail on the materials contained the Keen papers, please see the "Scope and Content" note for each series.


  • 1855 - 1932


Biographical / Historical

William Williams Keen, surgeon and neurologist, was born on 19 January 1837 in Philadelphia. He was the third son of merchant William W. Keen and Susan (Budd) Keen. Keen married Emma Corinna Borden in 1867; they had four daughters, Corinne, Florence, Dora, and Margaret. William W. Keen died on 7 June 1932.

Keen graduated from Brown University in 1859. He entered Jefferson Medical College in 1860, left in 1861 to become Surgeon to the 5th Massachusetts Regiment, then returned to Jefferson and received his M.D. in 1862. He then became Acting Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army and worked in a succession of military hospitals, including the Turner's Lane Hospital in Philadelphia, where he studied gunshot wounds and other neurological problems with S. Weir Mitchell and George R. Morehouse.

From 1864-1865, Keen studied medicine in Europe. From 1866 to 1875, he taught pathology at Jefferson Medical College and was the head of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy. He was also Professor of Artistic Anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1876-1889). From 1884 to 1889, Keen was Professor of Surgery at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. From 1889 to his retirement in 1907, he was Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College.

In 1887, at St. Mary's Hospital in Philadelphia, Keen performed the first successful removal of a brain tumor in the United States. He was the first physician to perform a decompression of the skull and also the first physician in Philadelphia to use Lister's antiseptic surgical practices. Keen was interested in focal epilepsy and microcephaly as well.

William W. Keen edited Gray's anatomy in 1883 and wrote numerous articles and monographs, including, in conjunction with J. William White, the American text book of surgery (1892). Keen was the author of A system of surgery (1906-1921) also.

He was elected to fellowship in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1867 and was its president (1900-1901). Keen was also a member and president of many other professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Philosophical Society, American Surgical Association, and the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery. In 1920, he was president of the International Society of Surgery and presided over the society's 1923 meeting in Paris.


9 boxes (approximately 9 boxes and 2 oversize folders)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The William W. Keen papers consist of six separate collection. Several of the collections were donated to the College of Physicians by W.W. Keen Butcher (Keen's grandson). For a more deatiled provenance, please see the "Custodial History" note for each series.
William W. Keen papers
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Repository

19 S. 22nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States