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S. Weir Mitchell, 1829–1914

Philadelphia's Literary Physician

By Nancy Cervetti

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: Penn State Series in the History of the Book


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Copyright page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I am grateful to many people for their help and support during my years of research and writing about S. Weir Mitchell. My first thanks must go to Susan B. Case, former director of the Clendening History of Medicine Library in Kansas City. In 1994 she told me about a new collection...

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A Note on the Text

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pp. xiii-xiv

Throughout the book, when I quote from correspondence and S. Weir Mitchell’s autobiography, I follow the originals with a few exceptions. Whenever possible, Mitchell’s spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been retained, and I have avoided using...

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pp. 1-5

Urbane, handsome, and smartly dressed, Silas Weir Mitchell attracted attention whenever he walked into a room. Tall and slender with a Van Dyke beard and blue eyes, he was impossible to ignore. With perfect assurance, it was his way to size up and immediately take command of a situation...

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1. Family Matters

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pp. 6-23

For Weir Mitchell, a career in medicine was “the most entirely satisfactory of earthly pursuits” and the most honorable of all professions. He felt “ancestral pride in the splendor of its conquests, the courage and heroism of its myriad...

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2. Letters Home

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pp. 24-44

In October 1850 Weir Mitchell and his sister Elizabeth sailed for England on the clipper ship Tuscarora. According to the plan, Elizabeth would spend the fall and winter months with their sister Saidie...

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3. The Young Physiologist

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pp. 45-66

In 1851, when Mitchell returned to the United States, there was little pressure, support, or pay for physicians to do research. It was not expected or rewarded. Therefore, until late in the nineteenth century with only a few exceptions (such as William Beaumont’s experiments...

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4. War’s Awful Harvest

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pp. 67-87

In 1860, when the Summer Association closed, Mitchell lost his teaching position in physiology, and this was the last formal teaching post he would hold. This same year he became an attending physician at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind...

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5. Wind And Tide

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pp. 88-103

Overall, the trip to London and Paris did little to improve Mitchell’s health or lift his spirits. Among the wealthy class of Londoners, he found considerable sympathy for the South and outright hostility for the North. In the various clubs and resorts that he frequented, he did not meet a single person “who was not our enemy...

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6. Pandora’s Box

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pp. 104-135

When Mitchell married Mary Cadwalader in 1875, he had just embarked on what was, in terms of fame and fortune, the most successful period of his life. Although he has been best (and sometimes only) known as the creator of the rest cure, when Mitchell began to focus primarily...

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7. The Apple or the Rose

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pp. 136-155

While Mitchell liked women who were pleasing and obliging, he felt that strong, clever women were disagreeable, and he avoided their company. In 1868 he told Elizabeth, “I met Miss Lena Peters at—Cadwaladers and we went a little on the war path—Robeson writes me to day asking with the kind regards of the C’s if my scalp is still in place...

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8. The Literary Physician

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pp. 156-175

Looking back over the years, Mitchell was, for the most part, pleased with the view. The hurt of losing the chairs at the University of Pennsylvania and Jeffer - son Medical College had all but healed due to what he had accomplished since that time. The expansion and growing prestige of the Infirmary of Nervous Diseases...

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9. Combat Zones

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pp. 176-196

Mitchell’s sensitivity to criticism did not inhibit his aggressive engagement in debate and controversy, especially as he grew older. In fact, he believed that it was his duty as a famous neurologist and prominent citizen to pilot the ship and maintain the correct course...

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10. Great Doctor, Poet, and Salmon Killer

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pp. 197-214

Whether entertaining guests, rushing off to give an address, or conducting his Friday clinics, Mitchell worked and played with an unrelenting intensity. His limitless energy and restlessness clamored for activity. He appreciated rich food and fine wine and liked to dine out...

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11. Winter’s Sorrow

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pp. 215-232

Until his last days Mitchell invariably spoke of the many demands on his time and how busy Philadelphia kept him. As he grew older, he spent more and more time away. There were several other fine doctors at the infirmary, and when he was gone John took responsibility...

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12. The New Century

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pp. 233-251

When C. E. Brown-Séquard wrote to Mitchell to say that he had used testicular extract for five years and was able to work an entire day without feeling the least fatigue, Mitchell requested a sample.1 The request suggests that Mitch - ell’s vigor and energy were beginning...

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pp. 252-256

At the age of eighty-three Mitchell began writing another novel, Westways. When he told Mason, she wrote back that he was brave to attempt it. “Oh, I have to,” he responded, “because I can not sit down here and read all the morning and run about and play bridge...


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pp. 257-276


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pp. 277-286


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pp. 287-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780271058184
E-ISBN-10: 0271058188
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271054032
Print-ISBN-10: 0271054034

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Penn State Series in the History of the Book