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Thomas R. Neilson papers

Identifier: MSS 2/021

Scope and Contents

This collection of Thomas R. Neilson's papers touches on many areas of the professional career and personal life of this Philadelphia physician, surgeon, and teacher. The bulk of the collection, comprised of professional correspondence and surgical case records, comes from a narrow period of time, 1888 to 1892, years when Neilson was approaching middle age and was well advanced in medical career. His early education, family affairs, and financial situation are also documented.

The Neilson Papers are divided into seven series. Series 1 concerns the education of the young Thomas R. Neilson. An extensive collection of weekly reports on his academic standing and conduct (1865-1873) at the Academy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia is preserved in this series. The reports indicate that each class was small, ranging from nine to fourteen pupils, and although Neilson's grades were good, he was usually ranked in the middle of his class. Series 1 also contains printed materials from Neilson's 1880 graduation from the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. The 1880 class was the first to take medical degree under the new three year plan.

A small amount of personal correspondence concerning domestic matters (1881-1893) from many members of the Neilson family is preserved in Series 2.1. This series also contains a folder of letters of condolence from friends and colleagues sent to Neilson on the occasion of the death of his sister, Sarah, in July, 1892. Physicians represented include H.C. Deaver, Richard H. Harte, Francis Rudderow, and William J. Taylor.

Series 2.3 and 2.4 contain small collections of correspondence relating to professional matters (1888-1893). There are several instances of Neilson's medical testimony being requested during legal proceedings. There are also letters from patients, such as S.S. Brown and Irvin J. Morgan, or about patients, such as the correspondence from Hubert B. Carpenter, C.K. Ingham, and Charles K. Mills which describes the activities and treatment of Willie Ingham in 1893. There are a number of letters from medical colleagues, including Walter Freeman, Robert P. Harris, and J.M. Keating, and a fine letter, dated 19 August 1891, from E.C. Wagner concerning his medical courses at the University of Berlin, antisepsis, prostitution, and American physicians in Berlin.

Series 2.5 is composed of six letters (1879-1880 and 1890), written by noted Philadelphia physicians Alfred Stille, John Ashhurst, Jr., D. Hayes Agnew, and Thomas Wistar, attesting to the medical skill and personal probity of Thomas R. Neilson. Several of these letters recommend Neilson for a position on the surgical staff of Episcopal Hospital.

Records of Neilson's medical practice and teaching career at several Philadelphia institutions are preserved in Series 3. Neilson taught in the Medical Department at the University of Pennsylvania, and Series 3.1 contains some notes, primarily concerning the anatomy and surgery of the hernial regions, for his lectures as well as his 1891 application for the post of Clinical Professor of GenitoUrinary Diseases. Neilson was not, however, appointed to this position until 1903. Neilson, in conjunction with J. William White, also embarked on teaching short courses of post graduate instruction in venereal and genito urinary diseases, probably circa 1891. Neilson's lectures were delivered at the Venereal Dispensary of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Series 3.2 contains a ten page typescript fragment and manuscript notes of one of Neilson's lectures concerning current theories on masturbation and impotence from this course.

The bulk of professional material in the Neilson Papers concerns records from his surgical practice at Episcopal Hospital. In addition to some correspondence, an 1876 printed manual listing descriptions and dosages of pharmaceuticals from the Hospital Dispensary, and a course outline for a nurses' lecture series on surgery, Series 3.4 contains a detailed list of surgical operations performed by Neilson from January through March, 1890, and twenty six files on individual surgical patients from 1890 and 1891. These files include detailed case histories, temperature charts, and descriptions of surgical procedures. Many of the cases deal with skull fractures, amputations, and cancers. Neilson is listed as Attending Physician and Lewis H. Adler as Resident Physician for most of these cases.

The collection shows little evidence of Thomas R. Neilson's activity in many medical organizations. Series 4.1 contains printed copies of Neilson's 1918 address as Acting President of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He describes the achievements and proceedings of the College, changes in Fellowship, new acquisitions of incunabula by the Library, and summarizes the reports of the standing committees, Sections, and Council. Neilson was also a Fellow of the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery, and a few items of correspondence are preserved in Series 4.2. Transcripts of Neilson's remarks during two discussions of cases, one on fixation of the knee presented by H. Augustus Wilson, the other concerning compound skull fractures presented by DeForest Willard, are also part of this series.

Series 5 is comprised of Neilson's financial records from 1886 to 1892. His account books contain information about not only his personal expenses but also fees from his professional practice. A few miscellaneous items are contained in Series 6. The series includes a biographical memoir, presumably written by Neilson in 1933, concerning Charles Berkeley Taylor, a Philadelphia lawyer; calling cards; and copies of the printed charter and by laws of the Church of the Ascension in Philadelphia and correspondence concerning the church's organ. Neilson was an active member of the Vestry of the Church of the Ascension.

Series 7 of the Neilson Papers contains a fine collection of photographs, mostly of Thomas R. Neilson and his family. There is also a set of four photographs depicting Neilson performing surgery at Episcopal Hospital; photographs of the 40th, 50th, and 60th reunions of the University of Pennsylvania's Class of 1877; and photographs and copies of engravings of John B. Deaver.


  • 1865 - 1937


Biographical / Historical

Thomas Rundle Neilson was born in Philadelphia on 29 October 1857. His parents, Thomas and Sarah Claypoole Lewis Neilson had nine children, William, Robert Henry, Sarah, Thomas Rundle, Lewis, Emma Florence, Mary Alice, and Frederick Brooke.

On 12 January 1898, Thomas R. Neilson married Louise Fotterall. They lived in Devon, Pennsylvania, and had one son, Thomas Rundle, Jr. When Thomas R. Neilson died in Bryn Mawr Hospital on 25 October 1939, just a few days short of his 82nd birthday, he was survived by his son, his brother Lewis, his sisters, Emma Florence and Mary Alice, and one granddaughter, Louisa.

Neilson was a devout Episcopalian, a keen organist, and a member of the Vestry and Rector's Warden at the Church of the Ascension in Philadelphia.

Thomas R. Neilson attended Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia from 1865 to 1873. In 1873, he entered the University of Pennsylvania and became a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity. He received an A.B. from the University in 1877 and, continuing to study at Penn, received his A.M. and M.D. in 1880. His graduate thesis on gelatinous arthritis was accorded distinguished merit. Neilson began an internship at the Hospital of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1880 and was licensed to practice medicine in the following year.

From 1886 to 1891, Thomas R. Neilson was Attending Surgeon at Episcopal Hospital; he was promoted to Surgeon in 1891. He was an "exceptionally clever diagnostician" and paid "strict attention to asepsis". In 1907, Neilson was elected President of the Medical Board at Episcopal and held this post until his death. He became Surgeon Emeritus in 1924.

At St.Christopher's Hospital for Children, Neilson served as Attending Surgeon from 1887 until 1916 and as Consulting Surgeon from 1916 until his resignation ca.1920. He was President of the Medical Staff at St. Christopher's from 1900 to 1916. Neilson also maintained a private practice in Philadelphia.

As a teacher of medicine, Neilson was associated with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine for many years. From 1882 to 1883, he served as 3rd Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at Penn. He was the Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy from 1883 until 1895. From 1883 to 1888 and again from 1895 to 1900, he served as Assistant Demonstrator of Surgery. From 1885 to 1892, he was Instructor in Genito Urinary Diseases, became Clinical Assistant Professor in this area in 1901, and finally Clinical Professor in Genito Urinary Diseases in 1903. He held this position until 1915 when he was named Professor of Genito Urinary Surgery. He retired in 1923 on account of his age and was an Emeritus Professor from that time until his death. Neilson was also Professor of Genito Urinary Surgery at the Philadelphia Polyclinic and College for Graduates in Medicine.

Neilson was active in many local medical organizations including the Pathological Society of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia County Medical Society. He was a Fellow of the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery from 1890 to 1939 and Secretary from 1892-1896. In 1887, he became a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Neilson served as Secretary to the College from 1896 to 1914, was a Censor, and then President from 1922 through 1924. He was also a member of the American Medical Association, the American Surgical Association, and the American College of Surgeons.


0.9 Linear feet (1 document box, 1 oversize document box, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

This collection of the papers of Thomas R. Neilson was donated to the Historical Collections of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia by Susan Neilson Tutolo, the daughter of Thomas R. Neilson, Jr. The collection was originally received by the Mutter Museum on 13 December 1988; certain artifacts were retained by the Museum, and others returned to Susan Neilson Tutolo. The Neilson Papers were received by the Historical Collections on 16 February 1989 although most of the photographs came in a separate accession on 15 March 1989. Before the donation, a partial inventory of the collection was made by Joseph F. Tutolo, Jr.

The collection was processed in July, 1989, and separate inventories of the surgical case records and photograph were prepared.

Separated materials - oversize

Flat file no. 1, drawer 1

Contents: 8 photographs
Thomas R. Neilson papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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