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Edward Oram Shakespeare papers

Identifier: MSS 2/338

Scope and Contents

The papers of Edward Oram Shakespeare reflect the versatility of his interests. The bulk of the medically-related papers concern his work on the Cholera Commission, as an attendee at the International Sanitary Conference and during his service in the Spanish American War. Other medical material includes publications and correspondence. Most of non-medical material consists of family papers, which contain a great deal of genealogical material.

Original order was almost completely lacking when the collection was accessioned, except some material was sorted into envelopes or secured together with rubber bands. Series were determined by considering the various aspects of Shakespeare's life and career, and fall into three large groupings: medical, military, and family. Subseries are arranged alphabetically by type of material, title, or author, depending upon the subseries. Researchers should check each series for the subjects of their interest.

Series I consists of professional correspondence. Of particular significance is his correspondence with Thomas J. Burrill and Frank S. Billings about the nature of the hog cholera and swine plague bacilli, and Shakespeare's correspondence with publisher J. C. Slay about Dietetics and Hygiene Gazette (Shakespeare was an editor). It was Shakespeare's idea to send advanced copies of his editorials to newspapers to encourage interest in the publication. Other correspondents include Philadelphia Mayor William Smith (requesting E. O. Shakespeare's help in dealing with the epidemic in the Plymouth, Pa. [1885]), Louis Pasteur, Benjamin Meade Bolton, Auguste Chaveaux, Robert Koch, James Paget, John Guiteras, Friedrich Loeffler, and Joseph Toner.

Series II represents the work of the Cholera Commission, established by Executive Order by President Cleveland on 10 Oct. 1885, with Shakespeare as chair. Appointment documents and letters of introduction (signed by among others Secretaries of State Thomas Bayard and James Blaine) are included in this series, as is correspondence from the various U. S. consulates, mainly from Spain, which was the initial focus of Shakespeare's investigations. There are also financial records, a diary kept by Shakespeare during his first trip to Spain, and articles and reviews about Shakespeare and his work.

Series III focuses on Shakespeare's service as an official United States delegate to the International Sanitary Conference of 1894. Included in this section is a preliminary report to the President regarding the American concern for the transportation of cholera to America through European emigration as well as the list of delegates and various notes and invitations received while attending the conference. Correspondents include Grover Cleveland, Robert Koch, and S. Weir Mitchell.

Series IV covers Shakespeare's service on the National Rifle Team, which went to Camp Wimbledon in England in 1883. Invitations to dinners and parties, including two by the Prince of Wales, are found in this series.

Series V contains material about Shakespeare's service during the Spanish American War. He was appointed in June of 1898 to be chairman of the Committee on Sanitation of the National Relief Commission and asked in September of the same year to be Brigade Surgeon in the U.S. Volunteer Army by George Sternberg, the Surgeon General. Included in this series are reports regarding Shakespeare's crusade for proper sanitary conditions in the army. There are also army orders and clippings about camp sanitation.

Series VI holds miscellaneous papers concerning Shakespeare's military service, such as notices of promotion.

Series VII contains publications by E. O. Shakespeare. Topics are varied and consist of such topics as the anatomy of the eye and the post-mortem exam of presidential assassin Charles Guiteau. Included in this section is an address from a special committee of the College of Physicians concerning the necessity for national control of maritime quarantine, and an interview with a newspaper.

Series VIII holds miscellaneous professional papers. Of interest are an advertisement for an ophthalmometer (perhaps the one designed by Shakespeare) and a petition signed by prominent Philadelphia physicians agreeing to give a dinner for Shakespeare.

Series IX consists of certificates and notices of awards. Shakespeare's certificate of Fellowship in the College of Physicians is in the series.

Series X contains various personal photographs as well as photomicrographs used in his work. Of interest is the photograph of E. O. Shakespeare in Shakespearean dress and a photograph of him in a uniform. There are also two glass negatives of his father as well as a photograph of his entire family taken in California.

Series XI is family papers. The largest subseries has the records of Shakespeare's genealogical research; Shakespeare was fascinated with his pedigree and tracing his ancestry to the Bard's brother. The material includes pages of charts on the family history. Of note is the professionally executed pedigree of William McIntire Shakespeare, Sr. of Dover, Delaware from 1673 and the pedigree provided by Francis C. Hersey in 1895. E.O. Shakespeare compiled this genealogy by corresponding with relatives and searching various parishes in England. The correspondence section is highlighted by John Herr Musser's report on Shakespeare's health and that of his children. The financial records are replete with family deeds from the 1800's as well as with records from the disposition of the estate of Stephen Shakespeare.


  • 1727 - 1916
  • Majority of material found within 1876 - 1900


Biographical / Historical

Edward Oram Shakespeare, physician, public health official, and bacteriologist, was born in Dover, Delaware, in 1846,the son of William McIntire Shakespeare and Catherine Haman Shakespeare. He died in 1900. In his genealogical research (of which he was fond), Edward Oram traced his ancestry to the playwright William Shakespeare's brother. A graduate of Dickinson College and the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania, Edward Oram Shakespeare distinguished himself early in his career as an ophthalmologist, lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania, and practicing eye surgery and refraction at Philadelphia General Hospital. He devised his own ophthalmoscope and ophthalmometer, publishing the results of his findings in The American Journal of Medical Sciences.

Ophthalmology, however, represents a small fraction of his varied interests. His skillful work in the laboratory at Philadelphia General Hospital helped to establish a role for investigative medicine in American hospitals and medical schools, and he soon became a scientific consultant to governmental bodies. In 1885, he was commissioned by the mayor of Philadelphia to study the cause of typhoid fever in Plymouth, Pa. The results of this work, summarized in "The Lesson Taught by the Epidemic at Plymouth Concerning Typhoid Fever," emphasize the importance of a pure water supply and proper sanitation.

Later that year, Shakespeare was appointed by Grover Cleveland to travel to Spain and elsewhere to study a cholera epidemic. His five years of travel and study resulted in his work, Report on Cholera in Europe and India. This thousand-page report was regarded as an encyclopedic history of the disease and was presented to Congress in 1890. The American Medical Association hailed it as a "great work" and Shakespeare was regarded as the leading expert on cholera. He served as port physician in Philadelphia during the cholera scare of 1892 because of this background.

Together with Walter Reed and Victor Vaughan, Shakespeare as Major and Brigade Surgeon of the U.S. Volunteer Army investigated the health conditions in army camps during the Spanish American War. Their conclusions discounted the results of clinical examinations when they were contradicted by bacteriological findings. Measures for proper hygiene and cleanliness were to be implemented in the camps if typhoid was to be eliminated. Before his completed work was published, Shakespeare died suddenly.

Shakespeare was an early proponent of germ theory, becoming a pioneer in bacteriology in Philadelphia. He was a supporter of Robert Koch, discoverer of both the tuberculosis and cholera bacilli, and like Koch contributed to the emerging field of public health and preventive medicine.

Shakespeare was elected a Fellow of the College of Physicians in 1877.


2.8 Linear feet (7 document boxes)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The papers of Edward Oram Shakespeare were donated to the College in January of 2001 by his grandson, Edward Oram Shakespeare. They had been in the family's possession since his grandfather's death and arrived at the College in a suitcase. Charles Greifenstein, Curator of Archives & Manuscripts, examined the collection and initially organized it, foldering and boxing material in acid-free housing. The collection was fully processed in 2002 by Catherine Clawson, an intern from Temple University.
Edward Oram Shakespeare 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