Health Sciences Library Acquires Rare Manuscript of P&S Founder

December 10, 2013

The Health Sciences Library recently acquired a manuscript by Samuel Bard (1742–1821), a founder of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a prominent early American physician. The 17-page handwritten document is the original text of his Discourse on the Importance of Medical Education, an address delivered by Bard at the College of Physicians and Surgeons on November 4, 1811, and published the next year.

Bard’s speech to the P&S students just over 200 years ago urged them to study with “persevering industry and well directed labour” and pointed out that while a medical student must “receive the instructions of his teachers” he also “must see, and handle, and examine for himself.”

Although Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library owns several Bard letters, this is the first manuscript by Samuel Bard to enter the holdings of the Health Sciences Library’s Archives & Special Collections. The manuscript, which is in excellent condition, was recently purchased from an antiquarian book dealer.

Samuel Bard studied first at King’s (now Columbia) College before receiving his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1765. He was one of six New York City physicians who in 1767 persuaded King’s College to establish a medical school, now the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the second-oldest in the United States. Bard served as its dean and professor of medicine until its closure in 1776 due to the War for Independence and, after the newly renamed Columbia College revived the school in 1791, he served first as dean and later as president of the college until his death. Bard Hall, the college’s main residence hall, is named for him.

Besides his involvement with the medical school, Bard was one of the founders in 1771 of New York Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the primary teaching hospital of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

While New York City was capital of the U.S., Bard served as physician to President George Washington and successfully performed a dangerous operation to remove a carbuncle that threatened Washington’s life.  Bard later retired to his country estate on the Hudson, “Hyde Park,” which would give its name to the town made famous as the home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The manuscript is on view in the Health Sciences Library, first floor, until Jan. 3, 2014.