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

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

The mission of HMS is to unite the medical community in Connecticut by sharing knowledge, insightful discussion, and educational events. Founded in 1846, the organization addresses the compelling problems facing medicine now and in the future; promotes collegiality among medical professionals; informs the Greater Hartford community about 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 catalogues 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 that the HMS Library collection represents a history of medicine, and specifically of local medicine. “One of the main reasons why we’re excited the collection is here at the Watkinson is its connection to Hartford,” Bleyer said. “It’s another way for Trinity, the Watkinson, and the Hartford community to experience our close-knit relationships with each other and to be a space where people can come and see materials that are Hartford-based and have had a significant impact on the world.”

“The HMS Library enriches the Watkinson collection,” Bleyer added. “It complements our current holdings and fills in some missing pieces.” For example, the materials add to the Watkinson’s collection of manuscripts by the Rev. Gersholm Bulkeley, a Colonial-era minister, alchemist, and surgeon who lived in Connecticut. “We’ve already had researchers come to see these manuscripts,” Bleyer said. “I’m getting a lot of requests to view items from this collection.” The Watkinson Library is open to the public, and items in the HMS Library collection may be accessed 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 historical books, journals, and manuscripts, the HMS Library collection also includes more than 550 medical instruments and a collection of manuals and pamphlets to go along with them. Some items date back to the American Civil War era of the 1860s. “This brings a really rich perspective to teaching and learning that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” Bleyer said. “This is the sort 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 who wants to learn more about the history of medicine and the history of Hartford,” Bleyer said. The collection may be especially interesting to students on a pre-med track or those majoring in biology and neuroscience, she said.

“It brings people together, too,” Bleyer added. “Dr. Bernard Kosto, a urologist from Hartford, has been working on cataloging and describing all the medical instruments. That the Hartford Medical Society library is here presents students and others the unique opportunity to talk about these research materials with doctors who have been in the field. It’s a great opportunity to build new relationships and to learn from the people who have done the work that they want to do.”

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

The HMS Library collection officially moved 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’s medical professionals. This collection grew out of the Hopkins Medical Society and the donations of members. In 1889, the collection was strengthened with the acquisition of the library of 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 be in the heart of a liberal arts college that can truly mine the medical history of our city. The collection has so many stories to tell, and we know Trinity College’s community will enjoy learning and sharing those stories.”

Earlier this year, HMS’s Blanchard Book Lab moved to the Watkinson Library, following the HMS board’s 2019 decision to donate the lab. The lab’s onsite archival book repair capabilities will help ensure that fragile books will be safely preserved for the future.

A grand opening celebration of the book lab and the HMS Library collection at the Watkinson Library is being planned for spring 2023.