History of Medicine
National Library of Medicine: New Frontiers in Health Communication
First established in 1836, the National Library of Medicine started as a few shelves of books housed in an office near the White House. Known at its inception as the Library of the Army Surgeon General, it moved in 1866 to Ford's Theatre, site of President Lincoln's assassination.
Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C.
housed the collection from 1866 to 1887.
Courtesy of Ford's Theatre.
One year earlier the library's collection had been placed in the charge of Dr. John Shaw Billings, a Civil War surgeon. Guided by Dr. Billings, the library moved in 1887 into its own headquarters in downtown Washington, where the library's collection and influence grew dramatically, and where the library began to build its international reputation as the most comprehensive collection of medical data in the world.
Interior view of the "Library Hall" of the new Army Medical Library (circa 1887-1894). John Shaw Billings is seen seated at the right.
In 1956, an act of Congress transferred the collection from the Department of Defense to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and renamed the institution the National Library of Medicine. In 1962, the library moved to its current quarters in Bethesda. A second building, the Lister Hill Center, was constructed in 1980.
A Board of Health doctor in a New York tenement, a wood engraving by W. A. Rogers. This illustration appeared on the cover of volume 33 of Harper's Weekly in 1889. In this interior scene, a doctor listens to the chest of a child who is held by its mother. The older sister watches.