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William W. Keen correspondence

Identifier: MSS 430


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.

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.

This small collection of correspondence dates from 1876 to 1927, and fills in gaps found in the William W. Keen papers (MSS 2/076-01 – MSS 2/076-07).

Series I contains letters received by William W. Keen and copies of his replies, 1918-1919, along with a few newsclippings concerning controversies over vivisection in the late 19th and early 20th century. Keen's letters define his defensive position on vivisection. Previously catalogued as 10a 320.

Series II holds general correspondence between Keen and other physicians for the years 1876 to 1927. Previously catalogued as 10a 321.

Series III spans the years 1882 to 1912 and includes correspondence related to Keen’s involvement with the Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Previously catalogued as 10d 147.

Series IV holds a card index, which lists the correspondents by last name for both Series II (General correspondence) and Series III (Library correspondence). Previously catalogued as 10a 321.


  • 1876-1927; undated



.8 Linear feet (1 document box and 1 pamphlet box)

Language of Materials