Elizabeth Blackwell and Somerset Maugham
These two items are not very representative of the collection as a whole, but are nevertheless important and interesting. Although the collection reflects the world of orthodox medical practice, which, throughout this period was dominated by male practitioners, there are a few items which do reflect another very important part of medical history during this period. Apart from the works inscribed by Nightingale, the copy of Elizabeth Blackwell’s Essays in medical sociology (1899), which was presented to the library at St Thomas’s by the author, is noteworthy.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first female to acquire medical qualifications in the United States, and the first female to be registered as a doctor in Great Britain by the General Medical Council. After organising the nursing services during the American Civil War, she became a writer and polemicist on medical and social matters, campaigning against the anti-female bias of the Contagious Diseases Act, and against certain aspects of what she saw as the materialist bias of the medical profession, such as vivisection and bacteriology. Her friend, Florence Nightingale, was her connection to St Thomas’.
Fiction does not feature much in the collection, but there is an exception which must be mentioned. The novelist and playwright William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was a medical student at St Thomas’s, where he acquired his medical qualifications in 1897. Although he never practised as a doctor, his first novel Liza of Lambeth (1897) in which a young, pregnant woman dies of puerperal fever after being beaten by the wife of the man with whom she had an affair – is based on the stories which Maugham probably heard when delivering babies in the slums of south London as part of his medical course.
The collection holds a copy of the 50th anniversary edition (which had a print run of 1,000), which was presented to the library at St Thomas’s by the author and inscribed by him. In his autobiographical novel Of human bondage, his experience as a medical student is drawn on directly as material for his fiction. His knowledge of disease features more generally in later novels, such as The moon and sixpence and The painted veil. Liza of Lambeth is the sole work by Maugham in the St Thomas’s Historical Collection.
Resources for the history of St Thomas's Hospital and its library
King's College London Archives hold a significant amount of material relating to the history of St Thomas's Hospital and its medical school as does the London Metropolitan Archives.
David T Bird. Catalogue of the printed books and manuscripts (1491-1900) in the library of St Thomas's Hospital Medical School. London: St. Thomas's Hospital Medical School, 1984. [Special Collections Reference Z921. S7 B5 ]
CL Feltoe (ed.) Memorials of John Flint South. London: John Murray, 1884. [St. Thomas's Historical Collection R489.S7 A2]
Brian Hurwitz and Ruth Richardson. 'The Penny lancet'. The lancet, 364, December 18, 2004, 2224-2228