Rare Book Profile: S. Weir Mitchell’s Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves

S. Weir Mitchell’s Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1864) was the first exhaustive study of traumatic nerve injuries.

Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) was a Philadelphia physician, writer, and art patron.  He received his medical degree from Jefferson College in 1850, studied in Europe under Claude Bernard and others for a year, then returned to Philadelphia to join his father’s medical practice.  He became a civilian contract surgeon at a Philadelphia army hospital in 1861, and in 1862 became head of a 400-bed hospital for nervous injuries and illnesses in Turner’s Lane.  Mitchell returned to private practice after the war, specializing in neurology.  He was appointed to the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases in 1870, and continued research and teaching there for over 40 years. He founded the American Neurological Society, and served as an officer in many other organizations.

Mitchell was a prolific researcher. Between 1852 and his death in 1914 he published well over 100 articles and books on neurological subjects, as well as other topics ranging from rattlesnake venom to doctor-patient relations.  As a patron of the arts, he commissioned works by Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent,  and others. He also wrote fiction and poetry.  His first book was The Children’s Hour, published in 1864 to raise funds for the Sanitary Commission. His first short story, “The Case of George Dedlow” (Atlantic Monthly, 1866), dealt with phantom limb pain. Only 4 of his stories were published before 1880, but 19 novels and approximately 150 poems were published after that. His historical fiction was especially popular.

Mitchell and his colleagues William Williams Keen and George Read Morehouse wrote Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves in 1864, based on their work at the Turner’s Lane Hospital. The book contained the first description of causalgia and its treatment.  It helped establish Mitchell as a leader in American neurology, and remained relevant to surgeons through the First and Second World Wars.

The Health Sciences Library’s copy is bound in its original textured brown cloth with the title in gilt on the spine, and publisher’s advertisements printed on the endpapers.

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Rare materials are available to individuals or groups by appointment on Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, or at other times by arrangement. To schedule an appointment, contact Emily Epstein, emily.epstein@ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2119. 

[Emily Epstein, Cataloging Librarian]

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