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Nathan Smith Davis, Sr., papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: ghsl-33

Content Description

Collection consists of the personal and professional papers of Nathan Smith Davis, Sr., founder of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (formerly known as the Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago Medical College, and the Medical Department of Lind University), as well as the American Medical Association. Major parts of the collection are account books and a case book from Davis's private medical practice (which often have ephemera tucked inside, some also act as journals and ledgers; dated 1837-1904) and correspondence and writings from throughout Davis's career as a physician and educator, including as Dean of Chicago Medical College/Northwestern University Medical School from 1866 to 1898. Much of the correspondence relates to Davis's study of the prevalence of cholera in the country, reform of medical education, and his activities in professional medical organizations. Many letters present in the collection are addressed to John V. Shoemaker, a physician and educator in Philadelphia who was Secretary of the Committee on Arrangements for the 9th International Medical Congress, of which Davis was the Secretary General; the letters are responses from physicians around the country to appointments on various committees of the Congress in August 1885.

Other parts of the collection include manuscript copies of lectures and speeches on medical and other topics given by Davis throughout his career; typed transcripts of extracts from the transactions of the AMA and the New York State Medical Association which concern Davis; invitations to meetings of various associations, including the British Medical Association; genealogical information on the family of Davis's wife Anna Maria Parker; a commemorative, hand-illuminated book from the Trustees of Northwestern University accepting a portrait of Davis; packets of papers used for licensing of physicians by the Illinois Board of Medical Examiners, which include letters of recommendation sent to the faculty of the medical department of Lind University; and portrait photographs of Davis and his family.


  • 1837-1904


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.


12 Boxes

Language of Materials



Professional papers of medical school founder Nathan Smith Davis, Sr., particularly correspondence, ledgers and account books from his private medical practice, and manuscript and typescripts of his lectures and writings from throughout his career.


The collection is arranged into 6 series: Correspondence, Writings, Ephemera, Photographs, Account Books, and Board of Medical Examiner Records.

Many folders of correspondence and writings are in the rough chronological and alphabetical arrangement imposed by the original organizer, possibly Nathan Smith Davis III. Account books are arranged by size rather than year (see Account books series for arrangement).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source and date of acquisition unknown, but many items seem to have been organized and labeled by Nathan Smith Davis III, grandson of N. S. Davis, Sr., and may have come to the library through him. Letter from Davis to registrar A. H. Wilde detailing the history of the medical school (box 3, folder 17a) was transferred from University Archives in 1948.

Related Materials

Related materials include the Nathan Smith Davis, Jr., Papers, collection identifier ghsl-34; the Nathan Smith Davis III Papers, collection identifier ghsl-35; and the Fairbank-Graham Family Papers at The Newberry Library, collection identifier Midwest-MS-Fairbank-Graham.

Separated Materials

Items from Nathan Smith Davis, Jr., son of N. S. Davis, Sr., were found throughout and have been separated to create his own collection. Some of his materials may still be present in this collection.

Condition Description

Items have typical wear, including red rot and damaged spines on bound volumes and brittle paper throughout. Much of the correspondence and other papers were conserved but still show signs of water damage and mold staining.

Processing Information

Processed by Emma Florio during a collections survey, May 2023.

Account books originally cataloged as M 610.92 fD29 [date]. "History of Medical Men and Institutions of Chicago" typescript originally cataloged as 610.9277 D29 n.d. "History of Medical Science and Education during the 17th Century" manuscript originally cataloged as WZ 55 H673. Wesley Hospital memo manuscript originally cataloged as WX 28 A13 W513w 1890. Letter to Registrar A. H. Wilde originally cataloged as M 610.71773 N81d 1904.

Guide to the Nathan Smith Davis, Sr., papers
Emma Florio
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center Repository

320 E. Superior Ave.
Chicago IL 60611-3008 US