Publisher Information: 1828-62.
Mott, Valentine (1785-1865). Autograph letter signed to Richard Harlan (1796-1843). New York, “15th of 1st mo” [i.e., January 15], 1820. 3pp. plus address. 230 x 189 mm. Tears along folds and lacuna where seal was broken expertly repaired, not affecting text.
Excellent letter to American physician and naturalist Richard Harlan from Valentine Mott, the most celebrated American surgeon of the first half of the nineteenth century. The letter discusses medical education at “our infant University”; i.e., Columbia College in New York, where Mott was professor of surgery. The letter provides intriguing information both about the administration of Columbia College’s medical school and the college’s reputation vis-à-vis its older, more established Philadelphia counterparts:
". . . Thou must know that our classes are not completely formed till about the New Year, and now I am enabled to furnish thee with the correct number of Pupils. . . . In our university those only matriculate who are pay pupils, these only we report as Students—all young practitioners and Graduates, of whom there are many, attending the Lectures are not reported by us, and therefore are not included in this estimate. The number of Students is about 160 . . .
". . . [T]here is good ground for believing that our University will in time become useful to the country, reputable to the State, and profitable to the Professors—But it requires time for this, as for the reputation and success of a private practitioner; these rewards are fortunately the fruits of talents and well directed industry. It cannot be expected by reasonable men that our school will rival your University [i.e., the University of Pennsylvania, the first medical school established in the United States], whose fame has long since been established and will in all probability long continue to maintain the ascendancy. But the names of those who have given to Philadelphia its great name as a School of Physic will not always give it its present claim . . . As far as my exertions can go, they shall contribute, and they shall be the most assiduous too, in creating at some future period a respectable and useful school of medical science and Surgery in our City."
Mott was a pioneer in vascular surgery: In 1818 he became the first to tie the innominate artery (see Garrison-Morton 2942), and in 1827 he performed the first successful ligation of the common iliac artery (see Garrison-Morton 2950). He was one of the first American surgeons to successfully amputate at the hip joint (see Garrison-Morton 4451.1) and to excise the jaw for necrosis (see Garrison-Morton 4447). “During his career [Mott] performed nearly a thousand amputations, operated 150 times for stone in the bladder, and ligated forty large arteries. According to his former teacher, Sir Astley Cooper, he performed more major operations than any surgeon in history, up to his time” (Dictionary of American Biography). He was the author of over twenty medical papers, and prepared the annotated and greatly expanded English translation of Velpeau’s Nouveaux elements de médecine opératoire, published under the title New Elements of Operative Surgery (1845-47). Mott also spent many years teaching surgery at various medical institutions, primarily Columbia College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He remained active in his profession until just before his death, and received more honors during his career than any other medical man in America at that time.
Mott’s correspondent, Richard Harlan, was a pioneer in the study of comparative anatomy and vertebrate paleontology in the United States in the early 19th century. In 1820 the young Harlan, just two years out of medical school, was employed as a teacher of anatomy at Joseph Parrish’s private medical school in Philadelphia, which is no doubt why he was interested in medical education. Harlan would go on to have a distinguished career: A member of several American scientific societies, including the American Philosophical Society, he was the author of a number books and articles on anatomy, physiology, paleontology and zoology, the most important being Fauna Americana (1825), the first comprehensive zoological survey of North America.Book Id: 42103