Skip to main content

Essays from the Board of Naval Surgeons of the United States Navy Bureau and Medicine Department

Identifier: MSS 1/001-02

Scope and Contents

The collection contains a series of 74 brief essays on an array of subjects, 1841-1848, with a few related letters and testimonials, from physicians applying to the Board of Naval Surgeons, for entrance into or promotion in the U.S. Navy. The Board appears to have been convened at the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia and Surgeon John A. Kearney was its president. Many of the applicants were graduates of the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania. The collection conveys the nature of the essay phase of the naval examination process and identifies many 19th century physicians who entered the U.S. Navy.


  • 1841 - 1848


Biographical / Historical

During the 19th century, applicants seeking admission into the Medical Corps of the United States Navy or Assistant Surgeons desiring promotion were required to submit themselves to examination by a Board of Naval Surgeons appointed by the Secretary of the Navy. By the 1860s, the board was convened on an annual basis at the close of each academic year.

After a physical examination and submission of a statement attesting to age, birthplace, and education, each applicant was assigned an essay topic to be considered in a set amount of time. On the basis of the essay's merits, the board determined whether or not to proceed with the examination process. Subsequent steps of the examination process included a series of written answers to questions, an oral examination consisting of identification of chemical and therapeutic substances, patient diagnosis, and cadaver dissection. An Assistant Surgeon seeking promotion presented testimonials from the surgeons with whom he had been associated as well as his case book. The Board of Naval Surgeons then made its report on each applicant to the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.


2 boxes (77 items)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The essays addressed to the Board of Naval Surgeons were purchased by the Historical Collections of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia from the Manuscript Company of Springfield in 1991. The essays appear to have once been bound together in a single volume but were subsequently disbound.

The collection was processed and catalogued in 1991.
Essays from the Board of Naval Surgeons of the United States Navy Bureau and Medicine Department
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

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