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John B. Roberts papers

Identifier: MSS 2/024

Scope and Contents

The first extensive autograph collection of Fellows of the American Surgical Association was donated to the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia by John B. Roberts in 1903. Roberts had been working on this project for some years. The collection, viewed as an adjunct to a similar photograph collection, was sorted alphabetically and housed in a post binder. An envelope containing a few additions made on 17 January 1917 was filed with this binder. On 16 April 1925, Astley P. C. Ashhurst, probably operating on behalf of the Roberts estate, presented a collection of 168 additional autograph letters and 13 photographs to the College; each letter received in this donation bears the typewritten legend, "Collection of John B. Roberts, April 16, 1925". These letters were filed in the Autograph Case of the Library while the photographs were integrated with the existing collection in the Museum. It is likely that additional John B. Roberts correspondence was added to the Autograph Case at various times. The Roberts correspondence was removed from the Autograph Case and roughly sorted, possibly by W. B. McDaniel II in 1957. In 1989, the 1903 and 1917 autograph collections along with a card index file of Fellows' information, were transferred to the Historical Collections of the Library of the College of Physicians from the Mutter Museum (Library Transfer 1989-8). [The photograph collection had been transferred circa 1980-1982, unframed, and integrated with the existing photograph collections in Picture File 1 and 2. In the Portrait Catalogue, each item from the photograph collection has received the designation (ASA).]

The Roberts autograph collections and correspondence were processed in July, 1989. The contents of the three autograph collections were filed alphabetically, dated, and listed. No attempt was made to integrate the three collections, and there is some amount of overlap.


  • 1868 - 1930


Biographical / Historical

John Bingham Roberts, Philadelphia surgeon, was born on 29 February 1852 of Caleb Cresson and Helen S. Bingham Roberts. John B. Roberts married Anna H. Roberts in 1866; she died later that year. He then married Mary Eleanor Roberts, a cousin of Anna, in 1897. They had two sons and one daughter. On 7 October 1924, Roberts was struck by a truck at Broad and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia; he did not recover from this accident and died of his injuries on 28 November 1924.

Roberts received his A.B. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1871 and an A.M. in 1874. That same year, he received an M.D. from Jefferson Medical College and won the Gross Surgical Prize. He then trained at Pennsylvania Hospital from 1875 to 1877. Roberts received a second M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1888. From 1877 to 1880, he served as Instructor in Surgery at Jefferson, and, in 1878, he became a lecturer in anatomy at the Philadelphia School of Anatomy and Operative Surgery. Roberts was a leading figure in the foundation of the Philadelphia Polyclinic and School for Graduates in Medicine in 1882-1883. He then was Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the Polyclinic until 1918, when it merged with the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, and held this position at the University from 1918 to his resignation in 1920. Roberts also was president of the hospital at the Polyclinic from 1890 to 1900.

His career included several other appointments such as Surgeon to St. Mary's Hospital (1883-1889), the Jewish Hospital (18881903), and St. Agnes' Hospital (1888-1889). Roberts was Consulting Surgeon to the West Philadelphia Hospital for Women (1890-1899) and to the Kensington Hospital for Women (18911899). He lectured on clinical surgery at the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia and was Professor of the Principles and Practices of Surgery at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania from 1889 to 1899.

John B. Roberts published many books and articles on surgical topics, including: Paracentesis of the pericardium (1879); Compendium of anatomy (1881); Surgery of the human brain (1885); Treatise on modern surgery (1885); Modern practice and homeopathy (1895); Fractures of the radius (1897); Modern treatment of fractures (1899); Deformities of the face (1900); and War surgery of the face (1918).

He was very active in professional societies, including the Philadelphia County Medical Society (President, 1891-1892); the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania (President, 1895); and the American College of Surgeons (President, 1920). He helped to organize the Philadelphia Academy of Surgery in 19061907 and served as the Academy's first Recorder. Roberts had a particular interest in the American Surgical Association. He served twice as Vice President (1889 and 1895) and was President in 1921. He organized the Association's Committee on Fractures and diligently assembled a collection of photographs and autograph letters of every Fellow of the ASA. Roberts was elected to Fellowship in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1878 and served as Treasurer for four years and on the Committee of Finance for a decade. He also gave the Mutter lectures at the College in 1899 and 1900.


1.6 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

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John B. Roberts papers
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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