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Visit: Historic Medical Sites near Washington DC

Façade of the Army Medical Museum and Library on the Washington DC Mall

Explore Historic Medical Sites in the Downtown Area

United States Capitol Former Site of Armory Square Hospital Former Site of Army Medical Museum and Library Smithsonian Institution Former Site of US College of Veterinary Surgeons Former Site of Washington Infirmary Old Patent Office Building Ford's Theatre Historical Site F Street, NW Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Benjamin Rush Statue Columbia Hospital for Women Former Site of George Washington University Medical Center Samuel Hahnemann Memorial

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United States Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

A color view of the Capitol from across the Reflecting Pool.  Several birds are on the water and one is flying over the Reflecting Pool.

A View of the Capitol from the Reflecting Pool
Courtesy of Inci Bowman

The United States Capitol remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington. Yet many people may not know that the original architectural drawings of the Capitol were designed by a physician. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, William Thornton (1759–1828), was practicing in Tortola, British West Indies, when he submitted his plan for the competition in 1793. President George Washington selected Thornton's plan for its "grandeur, simplicity and convenience." Dr. Thornton has the distinction of being the first Architect of the Capitol.

Inside the Capitol building, several statues are of particular interest to the health professions. The National Statuary Hall Collection dates back to 1864, when states were invited to provide two statues each of individuals who brought distinction to their home states. Of the 96 individuals honored in the Statuary Hall and adjacent corridors of the Capitol, the following are of special interest:


Father Damien (1840–1889), a Belgian priest who spent 16 years at the Molokai colony taking care of lepers and became a victim of leprosy himself (statue given by Hawaii)


John Gorrie (1802–1855), a physician whose interest in tropical diseases led to his invention of a machine to make artificial ice, which he patented (statue given by Florida)


Crawford W. Long (1815–1878), a country doctor who first used ether in surgery in 1842 (statue given by Georgia)


Ephraim McDowell (1771–1830), a country doctor who successfully removed an ovarian tumor in 1809 (statue given by Kentucky)


John McLoughlin (1784–1857), a Canadian physician who governed the Oregon territory (1824–1843) and became a US citizen in 1849 (statue given by Oregon)


Florence Sabin (1871–1953), a pioneer in science and public health, and first woman to become a full professor at a medical school, The Johns Hopkins University, (statue given by Colorado)


Marcus Whitman (1807–1847), a physician who is known for his medical missionary work among native Americans in Washington territory (statue given by Washington)


During the Civil War, the Capitol was used as a fort, barracks, bakery (producing 60,000 loaves a day), and hospital. Two thousand cots were were set up in the House and Senate chambers, and the Rotunda. The first group of wounded arrived from the Second Battle of Bull Run and later from Antietam in September 1862.

For additional information about Dr. William Thornton and his architectural plan, and other individuals honored in the Statuary Hall, see the website sponsored by the office of the Architect of the Capitol (See under Capitol Complex/Works of Art).

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United States Capitol

Related NLM Resources:
Images of the United States Capitol
Kalaupapa: From Harsh Exile to Healing Community
Profiles in Science: The Florence R. Sabin Papers

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Directions to the United States Capitol

Former Site of Armory Square Hospital

Independence Avenue and 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20597

A black and white general view of the Armory Square Civil War Hospital complex with the Capitol in the distance.  Complex is comprised of 12 pavilions and overflow tents, spread across the National Mall and including quarters for officers, service facilities, and a chapel.

Armory Square Hospital on the Mall, ca. 1864
Courtesy Images from the History of Medicine
National Library of Medicine

One of the largest Civil War hospitals in the area was located on the National Mall, where Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum stands today. Constructed in 1862, the medical facility was named after the Armory of the District of Columbia (building on the right), erected in 1856. This 1,000-bed hospital complex, with twelve pavilions and overflow tents, spread accross the Mall and included quarters for officers, service facilities, and a chapel. The wounded from the battlefields of Virginia were brought to the nearby wharves in southwest Washington and taken to the Armory Square Hospital. After the war, the Armory Building was used as storage facility, and later housed the offices of the United States Fish Commission (after 1903, Bureau of Fisheries). It was demolished in January 1964.

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Related NLM Resources:
Images of Armory Square Hospital
“The President is Somewhat Restless...:” Languishing

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Directions to the former site of the Armory Square Hospital

Former Site of Army Medical Museum and Library

Independence Avenue and 6th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20597

A black and white front angled view of the Army Medical Museum and Library on the Mall - a three story building surrounded by several small trees.

Army Medical Museum and Library on the Mall
Courtesy Images from the History of Medicine
National Library of Medicine

This structure was the third location, successor to the Ford's Theatre facility, occupied by the National Library of Medicine. Opened in 1887, it was envisioned and built by John Shaw Billings working with Adolph Cluss of the architectural firm of Cluss and Schulze to house the Army Medical Museum, the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, and some of the medical records. Between 1893 and 1910, it also housed the Army Medical School. The Museum and the Library remained in this location until the 1960s, when they were moved to their present separate locations, while the old building was razed and replaced by Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum. The Army Medical Museum evolved into the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, DC, and the Library of Surgeon General's Office became the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

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Related NLM Resources:
Images of the Army Medical Museum and Library

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Directions to the former site of the Army Medical Museum and Library

Smithsonian Institution

The National Mall, Washington, DC 20560

A color image of the front view of Smithsonian Institution - a multi-story brick building in the National Mall surrounded by Cherry Blossom trees and several colorful flower gardens on the grounds.

Smithsonian Institution Building dates from the early 1850s
Courtesy of Inci Bowman

The world's largest museum complex, the Smithsonian Institution houses an impressive medical sciences collection. It dates from 1876, when about 600 crude drug specimens, displayed at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, were deposited in the U.S. National Museum. Since then it has grown into one of the largest collections of medical objects in the world, encompassing almost all fields of medicine and health care.

The medical sciences collection is a part of the National Museum of American History (14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW). Administered by the Division of Science, Medicine, and Society, the diverse collection includes patent medicines, drug-manufacturing apparatus and containers, biologicals, alternative medicines, laboratory equipment, eyeglasses, prosthetics and artificial organs, surgical instruments, dental equipment, microscopes, radiology and other body imaging devices, diagnostic instruments, quack medical devices, veterinary medicines, uniforms, public health materials, and biotechnology instrumentation. These are supplemented by trade catalogues, posters, advertising literature, business records, and audiovisual and manuscript materials.

Some of the earliest fauna and flora specimens at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW) date from the 1850s. Federally sponsored expeditions such as the United States Mexican Boundary Survey (1848–1855), Pacific Railroad Survey (1853–1855), and Northwest Boundary Survey (1857–1861) had physician-naturalists accompanying the surveying teams. These expeditions produced large collections of animals and plants which were deposited at the Smithsonian. Many physician-naturalists, including Caleb B.R. Kennerly, James G.Cooper, George Suckley, Adolphus L. Heermann, and John S. Newberry, contributed to early collection building at the Smithsonian.

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Smithsonian Institution

Related NLM Resources:
Hosting the Secretary of the Smithsonian

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Directions to the Smithsonian Institution

Former Site of United States College of Veterinary Surgeons

222 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20010

A black and white front view of the U.S. College of Veterinary Surgeons - a multi-story brick building at the foot of Capitol Hill.

United States College of Veterinary Surgeons, ca. 1893
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Founded in 1894 by C. Barnwell Robinson, the United States College of Veterinary Surgeons was located at 222 C Street NW, at the foot of Capitol Hill. (The 200 block of C Street was obliterated by the construction of Interstate 395, and is now covered by United States Labor Department's Frances Perkins Building.) Robinson, a native of Ontario, was an 1882 graduate of the Montreal Veterinary College, where he was taught by Duncan McEachran and William Osler. He was President and Dean from the College's inception until 1924. His son, C. Jabel Robinson, ran the college until its demise in 1927. The College's first graduates appeared in 1895 and by the time it closed it had produced 419 veterinarians. Its better known instructors included John R. Mohler and Rush Shippen Huidekoper. Never affiliated with a university, it is now known chiefly as being the last such veterinary college in the United States or Canada.

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Related NLM Resources:
A register of the members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons: from January 1794 to December 1851, inclusive

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Directions to the former site of the United States College of Veterinary Surgeons

Former Site of Washington Infirmary

E Street, NW between 4th and 5th Streets (Judiciary Square), Washington, DC 20001

A black & white front angle view of the Washington Infirmary Hospital- a multi-story building with a roof and large white columns at the entrance.

Washington Infirmary, the city's first teaching hospital
Courtesy Images from the History of Medicine
National Library of Medicine

In 1806, the first public hospital in Washington was established in a square between 6th and 7th Streets, and M and N Streets, NW. Called Washington Infirmary, it provided for "the poor, disabled, and infirm persons." In 1842, Congress authorized the conversion of the old jail in the Judiciary Square into a hospital for disabled seamen and soldiers and the insane. Two years later, however, Congress decided that the building was not suitable for that purpose and assigned it to the medical faculty of Columbian College (later became George Washington University). Also named Washington Infirmary, this hospital became the city's first teaching hospital as well as the city's first general hospital. At the beginning of the Civil War, Washington Infirmary was taken over by the military, and it received the first war casualties in May 1861. But the facility burned to the ground in November 1861 and was later replaced by the Judiciary Square Hospital.

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Related NLM Resources:
U.S. Army Washington Infirmary Hospital, Washington, DC
The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65)

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Directions to the former site of the Washington Infirmary

Old Patent Office Building

8th and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20004

A black & white front angle view of the Patent Office Building  - a multi-story masonry building with a large wide staircase up to a large columned entrance.

Patent Office Building, ca. 1900-1906
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The historic Patent Office Building covers the entire block, defined by F and G Streets, and 7th and 9th Streets. Considered the third oldest federal buildingin Washington, it houses two art museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Designed in the Greek Revival style in the 1830s, the massive structure took over thirty years to complete. Many early government offices were located here. In the 1850s, Clara Barton worked here as a clerk to the Patent Commissioner, the first woman federal employee to receive equal pay. During the Civil War, the building was turned into military barracks, hospital, and morgue. Wounded soldiers lay on cots in third-floor galleries, among glass cases holding models of inventions that had been submitted with patent applications. The American poet Walt Whitman frequented the place and read to wounded men. The Patent Office continued to occupy the building until 1932. In 1958, United States Congress transferred the structure to the Smithsonian Institution for housing its art collections. After serving as home for American art for over three decades, the building closed for renovations in January 2000. Recently named the Donald Reynold W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, the Patent Office Building reopened in July 2006 and is once again a part of the cultural life of Washington.

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Old Patent Office Building

Related NLM Resources:
Healing the Nation: Stories from the Civil War
Remains of War: Walt Whitman, Civil War Soldiers, and the Legacy of Medical Collections

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Directions to the old Patent Office Building

Ford's Theatre Historical Site

511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

A black and white front angle view Ford’s Theatre - a multi-story building with a peaked roof.

Ford's Theatre, ca. 1870
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Ford's Theatre was the site of the tragic assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. It was then closed as a theatre and remodelled. In 1867 it was taken over by the U.S. Army to house a cluster of important post-Civil War medical activities of the Army Surgeon General's Office. The most significant were: the archive of Civil War medical records, essential for verification of veterans' pension claims; the Army Medical Museum; the editorial offices for preparation of the multi-volume Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion; and the Library of the Surgeon General's Office. When the Army's needs outgrew the capacity of the former theater, several of the units were moved in 1887 to a new building, Army Medical Museum and Library, on the Mall.

The Ford's Theatre was restored to its 1865 appearance in the 1960s. The building is maintained by the National Park Service and houses the Lincoln Museum. In addition, it is a living theatre with regular performances. For additional information about the history of the Ford's Theatre, visit the website sponsored by the National Park Service.

In the above picture, the large building in the middle is the Ford's Theatre. The building with the mansard roof on the right, which was at the corner of E and 10th Streets, first housed the Medical Department of Columbia College (now George Washington University) and later the Medical Department of Georgetown University. The site is now occupied by Hard Rock Cafe, Washington, DC.

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Ford's Theatre

Related NLM Resources:
A Day That Changed American History

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Directions to Ford's Theatre

F Street, NW (Between 10th and 14th Streets), Washington, DC 20005

Banner for Historic Medical Sites in the Washington, DC Area, Celebrating the Bicentennial of the Nation's Capital featuring an orange background with cream letters.

F Street, with the Treasury Building in background, 1915
Courtesy Library of Congress

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the stretch of F Street from the Department of Treasury (just east of the White House) to 6th Street, NW, was a fashionable district of Washington. A few of the early medical establishments were also located here. Georgetown University Medical Department occupied a building next to the corner of F and 12th Streets from 1851 to 1868. The Medical Hall, the first headquarters of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, was built in 1868 near the corner of F and 10th Streets. Dr. Robert King Stone (1822-1872), a prominent Washington physician, lived and maintained his office in a large house at the corner of F and 14th Streets. He was President Abraham Lincoln's doctor. The Children's Hospital operated in a 12-bed facility at F and 13th Streets from 1870 until 1879. A few years later, in 1884, the National Homeopathic Hospital was founded on F Street, between 11th and 12th Streets. Yet today, the tall business buildings and establishments such as Banana Republic, McDonald's and Popeyes that line F Street provide no clues as to the medical importance of the area in the 19th century.

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Related NLM Resources:
Robert King Stone, M.D.
Lincoln's Assassination
Constitution of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia
F Street in the Civil War era

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Directions to F Street, NW

Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

(Site of former Naval Hospital)

2300 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20372

A color image of a front angled view of the  Bureau of Medicine and Surgery - a multi-story building with a large white dome over the main entrance.

Old Observatory once housed
the Naval Medical School
Courtesy Inci Bowman

The Observatory Hill near the Kennedy Center is where the former U.S. Naval Medical School and Naval Hospital were located. Today the complex of buildings is the headquarters of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Department of the Navy, and is closed to the public. The domed building visible from the corner of E and 23rd Streets was the original Naval Observatory (1844-1893). After the Observatory moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue, the building became the home of the Naval Museum of Hygiene (1894-1902) and then the Naval Medical School. The Naval Medical Hospital, with four pavilion-style wards, was constructed behind the old Observatory (1903-1908). The hospital complex also included quarters for sick officers and nurses, a contagious disease building and administrative structures. In 1942, all hospital functions were transferred to the new Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. No public tours are available at the Observatory Hill facility.

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Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Related NLM Resources:
A Remarkable Career in Psychiatry

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Directions to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Benjamin Rush Statue

(Bureau of Medicine and Surgery)

2300 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20372

A color image of the larger-than-life, bronze statue of Benjamin Rush, unveiled in 1904.

Statue of Benjamin Rush, unveiled in 1904
Courtesy Inci Bowman

The statue of Benjamin Rush, M.D. (1745–1813) is located at the grounds of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, across from the entrance to the old Observatory building. The larger-than-life, bronze statue honors the Philadelphia physician, medical educator and the signer of the Declaration of Independence. The campaign to build a memorial to Benjamin Rush in Washington, DC was initiated by Albert L. Gihon, Medical Director, USN, and funded by contributions from the American Medical Association membership. The statue was unveiled in June 1904, in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt, who then accepted the monument as a gift from the medical profession to the American people. The statue is somewhat visible from E Street, but the facility is closed to the public.

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Related NLM Resources:
Benjamin Rush, M.D. (1749–1813): “The Father of American Psychiatry”
Benjamin Rush and American Psychiatry
Jefferson Makes a Declaration

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Directions to the Benjamin Rush Statue

Columbia Hospital for Women

2425 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037

A black and white front angle view of the Columbia Hospital for Women, ca. 1920s - several multi-story buildings surrounded by trees.  A very early model vehicle is parked on the street.

Columbia Hospital for Women, ca. 1920s
Courtesy Library of Congress
Closed May 2002

Columbia Hospital for Women, which closed in May 2002, was one of the oldest hospitals in Washington, DC and had occupied this site since 1870. Shortly after the Civil War, the Secretary of War E. N. Stanton authorized funds to establish a 50-bed hospital, stipulating that 20 of these beds be reserved for the wives and widows of U.S. soldiers. This was in response to a desperate need for a health-care facility for women who were arriving in the city in search of missing relatives. In March 1866, the hospital opened in the Hill Mansion at Thomas Circle (Massachusetts Avenue and 14th Street) under the name of Columbia Hospital for Women and Lying-in Asylum, and later moved to the Maynard Mansion at Pennsylvania Avenue and 25th Street, its current site. The original mansion was razed during a major renovation in 1914 and replaced by the present main hospital building. The Columbia became a private, non-profit hospital when President Eisenhower signed legislation transferring it to its board of directors in 1953. Columbia Hospital was a pioneer in the implementation of a number of innovative techniques in obstetrics and gynecology, and since its founding in 1866, more than 250,000 babies were delivered at Columbia.

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Related NLM Resources:
Report of Columbia Hospital for Women and Lying-in Asylum, Washington, DC

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Directions to the Columbia Hospital for Women

Former Site of George Washington University
School of Medicine and Health Sciences

901 23rd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052

A black and white  image of the front of the George Washington University Medical School and Hospital, ca. 1950s - several multi-story buildings.  There are several 1950s model vehicles parked on the street in front of the building.

GWU Medical School and Hospital, ca. 1950s
Courtesy of Georgetown University, University Archives

The George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences has the distinction of being the oldest medical school in the District of Columbia. It traces its origin to the Medical Department of the Columbia College, established in 1825. It first occupied a building at the corner of E and 10th Streets, financed by its own faculty. In 1844, Congress granted the school the use of the Washington Infirmary at the Judiciary Square, which then became the first teaching hospital in the city. At the beginning of the Civil War, Washington Infirmary was turned into a military hospital, and the school reopened in 1863 on E Street, between 12th and 13th Streets, NW. In 1868, it moved to a new building at 1335 H Street, NW, donated by the philanthropist W.W. Corcoran. Columbian College became Columbian University in 1873, and it changed its name to George Washington University in 1904. Today, the George Washington University Medical Center is located on a modern campus near the Washington Circle.

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George Washington University - School of Medicine and Health Services

Related NLM Resources:
Research from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Services

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Directions to the former site of George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Samuel Hahnemann Memorial

Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street, NW (Scott Circle), Washington, DC 20003

A color image of the Hahnemann Memorial at Scott Circle placed on a large pedestal surrounded by a large archway with two Greek ionic columns.

The Hahnemann Memorial at Scott Circle
Courtesy Inci Bowman

The impressive memorial that stands to the east of the Scott Circle, near the cross section of Massachusetts and Rhode Island Avenues, honors Samuel C.F. Hahnemann (1755–1843), a German physician and the founder of homeopathic school of medicine. Authorized by Congress in January 1900 and unveiled the following June, the monument was the gift of the American Institute of Homeopathy. The bronze statue of Hahnemann is seated on a pedestal centered in front of a curving wall. The pedestal bears the well-known principle of homeopathy, expressed in the Latin phrase, similia similibus curantur (like cures the like). Four large bronze bas-relief panels on the wall depict Hahnemann as a student surrounded by books, a chemist in the laboratory, a teacher in the lecture room, and a physician at the bedside.

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An autograph letter of Samuel Hahnemann

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Directions to the Samuel Hahnemann Memorial

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