Chesney Archives

William Stewart Halsted Collection

William Stewart Halsted
By Thomas C. Corner

Collection Overview

Creator: William Stewart Halsted (1852 - 1922)
Collection Date: 1890 - 1922
Extent: 39 linear feet

Finding Aid

Biography

William Stewart Halsted was born in New York City. He received his A.B. in 1874 from Yale University and his M.D. in 1877 from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Halsted served as an intern at Bellevue Hospital (1876-1877) and as a house physician at New York Hospital (1877-1878). He then went to Europe to study in Vienna, Leipzig, and Würzburg (1878-1880). Returning to New York City, Halsted entered private practice and held various positions at six hospitals in the area. He gained high repute as a surgeon, diagnostician, and advocate for aseptic techniques.

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In 1884, he was the first to describe injection of cocaine into the trunk of a sensory nerve to block pain transmission and the use of localized ischemia to prolong cocaine’s anesthetic action.

William H. Welch invited Halsted to come to Baltimore in 1886 to do research in the newly-formed pathological laboratory. Working with Franklin P. Mall, he perfected techniques for intestinal suture and wound healing in dogs. He developed methods which consisted of strict aseptic technique, gentle handling of tissue, use of fine silk suture material, small stitches and low tension on the tissue, and complete closure of wounds whenever possible. These basic methods transformed the practice of surgery, making it safer and more effective. In 1890, Halsted introduced the use of rubber gloves. Halsted was appointed first surgeon-in-chief of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1890 and was named first professor of surgery of the school of medicine in 1892.

Renowned as a surgeon and as a clinical teacher, he combined experimental work in physiology and pathology to innovate surgical techniques for the thyroid and parathyroid glands, blood vessels, breast cancer, and hernia. At Johns Hopkins he created subspecialty divisions of orthopedics, otolaryngology, urology, and roentgenology. One of his greatest legacies is his success in training surgeons. The majority of his residents went on to other institutions to promote his techniques and to set up surgical residency programs modeled on the one Halsted created at Johns Hopkins.

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Scope and Content

The William Stewart Halsted Collection spans his entire career at Johns Hopkins. It contains correspondence, research notes, case studies, clinical notes, drawings and photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia. Correspondence files include letters to and from colleagues, friends, patients, and family. Research notes cover Halsted’s animal experimentation on the aorta, cervical rib, thymus and exothalmic goiter, and thyroid. There are also notes on suture materials and types of sutures for abdominal surgery, appendicitis, and hernia repair. Visual documentation includes photographs of Halsted, his family, colleagues, patients, and operative procedures, drawings of procedures, and illustrations of sutures. There is also a collection of artifacts and memorabilia on display in the Halsted Museum of the divison of surgical sciences at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The installation focuses on antique furnishings from Halsted’s home.

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