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Objects of Art: Colonel John Shaw Billings, M.D.

Portrait of John Billings Shaw

Location: Main Reading Room, Building 38
Portrait of Colonel John Shaw Billings, M.D.
(1838-1913)
First Director of the Library 1865-1895
Artist: Cecilia Beaux*
Presented to the Library at a testimonial banquet in Philadelphia on November 30, 1895 by 260 physicians of the United States and Great Britain in recognition of the services of Dr. Billings

Dr. Billings studied medicine at the Medical College of Ohio and in 1861 entered the Army where he spent four years of distinguished service as a surgeon, becoming Lieutenant Colonel and Medical Inspector of the Army of the Potomac. In the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, he performed many operations and was the first surgeon in the war to attempt, with success, excision of the ankle joint. After the war, he was appointed Librarian of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office (now the National Library of Medicine).

Under his thirty years of leadership, the collection grew from 2,000 volumes into the largest collection of medical literature in the world. In 1879 he published the first volume of the Index Medicus® and, in 1880, the first volume of the Index Catalogue of the Library appeared. Among Dr. Billings' other accomplishments were the planning of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and the New York Public Library.


*Cecilia Beaux - 1863-1942. American portrait painter, born in Philadelphia, Pa., won many honors throughout her long career. She studied in Philadelphia under William Sartain and Thomas Eakins, in Paris in the Julien and Lazar schools. She painted, among other celebrities, Henry James, Clemenceaux, and Cardinal Mercier. Her works are exhibited in museums in the U.S. and Paris.

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