Hartford Medical Society collection returns to Watkinson Library at Trinity College

The Hartford Medical Society’s historic collection of books, journals and artifacts dating back to the 1500s returned to Trinity College’s Watkinson Library, having been housed there from 1893 to 1898. While the collection comprised a total of 900 books during his time at Watkinson in the 1890s, the collection today includes more than 30,000 volumes, 100 archival collections and 550 medical instruments.

The Hartford Medical Society Library collection includes more than 30,000 volumes, 100 archival collections, and 550 medical instruments. Photos by Andrew J. Concatelli.

HMS’s mission is to unite Connecticut’s medical community through sharing knowledge, informed discussion, and educational events. Founded in 1846, the organization tackles the pressing issues facing medicine today and in the future; promotes collegiality among health professionals; educates the Greater Hartford community on medical challenges and solutions; and encourages interest in the medical humanities – especially the history of medicine – using the HMS Library collection as a resource. Its library catalogs the discoveries, painstaking work, and brilliant sparks of insight that make up modern medicine.

Christina M. Bleyer, associate vice president for libraries and distinctive collections at Trinity College, said the HMS Library collection represents a history of medicine, and more specifically of local medicine. “One of the main reasons we are thrilled to have the collection here at Watkinson is its connection to Hartford,” Bleyer said. “It’s another way for Trinity, the Watkinsons and the Hartford community to experience our close relationship with each other and to be a space where people can come and see Hartford-based materials that have had a significant impact on the world.”

“The HMS library enriches the Watkinson collection,” added Bleyer. “It complements our current holdings and fills in some missing pieces.” For example, the materials are added to Watkinson’s collection of manuscripts by the Reverend Gersholm Bulkeley, a colonial-era minister, alchemist, and surgeon who lived in Connecticut. “We’ve had researchers come to see these manuscripts before,” Bleyer said. “I get a lot of requests to see items from this collection.” The Watkinson Library is open to the public and items from the HMS Library collection are accessible by appointment.

Hartford Medical Society Collection at Watkinson Library
Among the medical artifacts on display is a surgeon’s case from the 1850s.

In addition to rare and historic books, journals and manuscripts, the HMS Library collection also includes over 550 medical instruments and a collection of accompanying manuals and pamphlets. Some of the items date back to the American Civil War era of the 1860s. “It brings a really rich perspective to teaching and learning that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” Bleyer said. “It’s the kind of collection that brings history to life.”

Trinity offers several courses that examine the history of medicine in various ways, including the Global Health Humanities Gateway. “The HMS Library collection is a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about the history of medicine and the history of Hartford,” Bleyer said. The collection may be of particular interest to pre-med students or those majoring in biology and neuroscience, she said.

“It also brings people together,” Bleyer added. “Dr. Bernard Kosto, a Hartford urologist, has worked on the cataloging and description of all medical devices. Having the Hartford Medical Society library here provides students and others with the unique opportunity to talking about these research papers with doctors who have been in the field is a great opportunity to build new relationships and learn from people who have done the work they want to do.

Hartford Medical Society Collection at Watkinson Library
A vintage microscope is part of the HMS Library collection, now housed in Trinity College’s Watkinson Library.

The HMS Library collection was officially transferred to the Watkinson Library on August 12, 2022. Most recently housed at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, the HMS Library originated in the 19th century as a training tool for Connecticut healthcare professionals. This collection grew out of the Hopkins Medical Society and donations from its members. In 1889 the collection was strengthened with the acquisition of the library from the Hartford Medical Library and Journal Association, which had disbanded that year. From these beginnings, and with an active acquisitions budget, the collection grew to 27,445 volumes by 1965.

HMS Executive Director, Tessa W. O’Sullivan, MPA, said, “The Hartford Medical Society is thrilled to have our collection return not only to Hartford, but to the heart of a liberal arts college that can truly harness the medical history of our city. The collection has so many stories to tell, and we know the Trinity College community will enjoy learning and sharing those stories.

Earlier this year, the Blanchard Book Lab at HMS moved to the Watkinson Library, following the HMS Board’s decision in 2019 to donate the lab. The lab’s on-site archival book repair capabilities will help ensure fragile books are preserved safely for the future.

A grand opening celebration of the HMS Library Book Lab and Collection at Watkinson Library is planned for Spring 2023.