Medical authors contained in the collection

The Simms collection is replete with classic authors of medical science, pioneers and luminaries such as William Budd (typhoid fever), Charles Murchison (physician and specialist on fever and liver disease), John Bingham Roberts (plastic surgery), Leonard Landois (physiology), Thomas Pickering Pick (surgery), T.B. Hyslop (psychiatry), Theophilus Parvin (obstetrics), David Berry Hart (obstetrics and gynaecology), Sophia Jex-Blake (education of female medics) and Sir Arthur Newsholme (public health official and epidemiologist).

The significant and unique collection contains authors whose new approaches regarding treatment of conditions and prevention completely transformed aspects of medicine. Many of the authors contained within the collection were eminent physicians who worked as clinicians in their respective fields, often conducting and publishing innovative research and belonged to eminent medical associations, societies and hospitals.  

Robert J. Graves (1796-1853)

One eminent individual represented in the Simms collection is Robert J. Graves. He was elected President of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland (1843-45), elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy (1826) and Fellow of the Royal Society (1849). His achievements included introducing the stethoscope to Ireland and he transformed clinical instruction by the introduction of bedside teaching.

Graves instilled in his students the responsibility of diagnosing and treating patients on the ward. He asserted: “From the very commencement the student should set out to witness the progress and effects of sickness and ought to persevere in the daily observation of disease during the whole period of his studies” (Introductory Lectures, 1850, cited in McDonald, p.41). He published regularly in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, the London Medical and Surgical Journal, and the London Medical Gazette.

Graves, Crawford notes, was responsible for revolutionizing the dietary treatment of typhus in advocating the importance of wholesome food and a healthy diet to fight the fever (“Typhus in Nineteenth-Century Ireland,” p.133). Through giving food and liquids to patients with fever instead of withholding nourishment, as had been the standard practice, his approach was one of groundbreaking innovation. He published a seminal work in 1843: A system of clinical medicine, which was based on lectures that he had delivered in Sir Patrick Duns Hospital. A second edition was published in 1848 and translated into German, French and Italian. The second edition included a criticism by Trousseau who described Graves’ work as “the most remarkable and important lectures. … There is not one of them, in fact, which does not abound in practical deductions.”

A second edition of Graves' Clinical lectures on the practice of medicine (Dublin: Fannin, 1848) in 2 volumes is available in the Simms collection. This provides valuable instruction on clinical medicine, pathology of nervous diseases, physiology and morbid anatomy with various lectures devoted to fevers of different kinds (typhus, yellow, scarlet, cholera etc.).

Medical women : a thesis and a history

Medical women: a thesis and a history (1886), 2nd ed. Front cover

Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912)

No discussion of the Simms collection would be complete without mention of another eminent physician, Sophia Jex-Blake. Jex-Blake, an English physician and campaigner for women’s rights, was among the first women female student of a British university; she passed the matriculation exam for the study of medicine at Edinburgh University and, along with four other women, signed the matriculation roll on 2 November 1869. She and her female peers faced considerable opposition, however, from medical colleagues who feared that women’s students would lower the status of the university’s medical school and, more generally, the profession.

On 18 November 1870, an angry mob attempted to block the students, including Jex-Blake, from taking an exam at Surgeons’ Hall, in which they were assailed with mud and refuse. The incident attracted much attention in the national press. And in 1872/73 a legal battle ensued as to whether the university could confer degrees to women medical students, the ruling in 1873 by a panel of 12 judges effectively left the female students expelled; they had no legitimate claims to their degree. This led Jex-Blake to found the London School of Medicine for Women (1874), as well as the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, which opened early in 1887 at much considerable personal cost to her. Both these schools were for the sole purpose of training women as doctors.

She established a medical practice in 1878 and in the same year (September) established a dispensary for impoverished women. The Simms collection contains her book, Medical Women –first published in 1872, a second edition followed in 1886 – which delineates the various impediments which she and her female peers faced during this period, and is a fascinating account of her pioneering efforts in advancing the cause of the medical education of women.

It was noted of her, that:

"The career of Dr. Sophia Jex Blake, who has just retired from medical work in Edinburgh, is a standing proof of how much a woman of brains and energy and courage may accomplish. Women in other spheres, looking at Dr. Jex Blake's career, may take heart and hope in whatever cause they espouse, however unpopular for the moment it may be." (The Weekly Standard and Express, 15 April, 1899.)


An introduction to the study of the diseases of the nervous system

An introduction to the study of the diseases of the nervous system (1884), p.11, olfactory nerve

One scholar has contended that Stewart's work in the 1860 decade when he began his teaching career in Edinburgh was particularly important as this was a time when "war wounds suffered in the American Civil War (1861–1865) made it necessary for neurologists to manage a wide range of peripheral nerve injuries and develop new examination techniques and diagnostic skills" (Compston, p. 2837).

Throughout his career, some of Stewart's work was groundbreaking: he was among the first in Britain to draw attention to the deep reflexes in neuritis, and described the condition known as multiple neuritis.

Unsurprisingly, he was characterised as a principal "authority on nervous diseases" and singled out as a "great physician ... recognised writer ... brilliant teacher" in his obituary. 

Sources cited:

Helen Andrews, “Robert James Graves,” Dictionary of Irish Biography

Anonymous. "The fight of the lady doctor. How Dr. Jex Blake won her place in medicine." The Weekly Standard and Express Saturday, Sat. 15 1899, issue 3295, p. 9.  

Anonymous book review, Journal of Mental Science, vol. 31.133, April 1885, pp. 73-75.

W.H. Brown Douglas, “Professor Sir Thomas Grainger Stewart” [obituary], The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, April 02 1900.

Alastair Compston, Editorial, The Brain, vol. 133.10, 1 Oct. 2010, pp. 2835-2837.

Karl Magee, “Robert James Graves,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Shirley Robert, "Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake," Dictionary of National Biography

William Stokes (ed.), ‘The life and labours of Graves’, R. J. Graves, Studies in physiology and medicine (1863). 

George Stronach, “Sir Thomas Grainger Stewart,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Peter McDonald, Oxford Dictionary of Medical Quotations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)