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NLM Opens Exhibition on 19th Century Icon, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

"Physician at the Breakfast Table: Oliver Wendell Holmes as Popular Icon"

History of Medicine Division Reading Room

August 17, 2009 to January 11, 2010

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (August 29, 1809 - October 7, 1894), noted physician, lecturer, poet, novelist, and father of the Supreme Court Justice with the same name. Through his wit and turn of phrase, Holmes became an iconic figure in popular American culture, most notably through his book of essays, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, first published in 1858. His image and quotations from his works became ubiquitous, and he was one of the most sought after lecturers in America on topics ranging from medicine to literature.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is most known in medicine for his work, The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever (1843), in which he challenged the medical establishment about its treatment of women during childbirth. He was professor of anatomy at Harvard for over 30 years and was an immensely influential figure in American medicine.

The Exhibition includes 22 items related to Holmes, including a color lithograph portrait by Leslie Ward (a.k.a. SPY) from Vanity Fair in 1886 (pictured below) and nine colorful editions of Holmes' noted Autocrat. Materials in the Exhibition are from the collections of The National Library of Medicine and Marilyn Barth of Washington, DC.

Caricature of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., by Sir Leslie Ward, from Vanity Fair, June 19, 1886.

Caricature of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., by Sir Leslie Ward, from Vanity Fair, June 19, 1886.

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