Treasures from the History of Medicine Collection

Be sure to visit the exhibit tables in the Falk Library lobby and Rare Books Room for a fascinating display illustrating the progress of public health and hygiene studies through books in our non-circulating History of Medicine collections.

One such book is the 1885 title, Women, Plumbers, and Doctors; or, Household Sanitation, by Harriette Plunkett. This illustrated work elucidates the author’s notion of women’s place in sanitary reform, suggesting that if women and plumbers did “their whole sanitary duty, there will be comparatively little occasion for the services of doctors.” As well as a social and historical curiosity, Plunkett’s book is considered valuable to architecture scholars investigating how the advice offered to women by experts in the home economics movement may have been applied to architectural design.

On display in the Rare Books Room are several European works on the plague. Fillipo Ingrassia’s Informatione del pestifero, et contagioso morbo…, depicting the plague of 1575 in Palermo, is the oldest book on the subject in our collection. The magnificent folio Tractatus de avertenda et profliganda peste politico-legalis eo lucubrates tempore by Geronimo Gastaldi (Bologna 1684) is one of the most important books on quarantine. Beautifully mapped and depicted, this documentation of the 1656-57 plague was authored by the commissioner of health in the city of Rome during the epidemic. It is said that the sanitary precautions introduced by Gastaldi were the reason why the plague claimed only 14,000 victims in Rome, while 300,000 people died in Naples. Also worth viewing is Loimologia: or, An historical account of the plague in London in 1665, by Nathaniel Hodges, celebrated as the best medical record of that Great Plague.

Richard Meade’s A short discourse concerning pestilential contagion, and the methods to be used to prevent it (London 1720) was written as a response when he was asked to give his advice on plague. His views and prophecies were highly valued, leading to his book being reprinted seven times in one year, which was unheard of during that period. Meade’s work is historically important in understanding contagious diseases, and he is viewed as a pioneer in the field of public health.

For more information, call HSLS Collections and Technical Services at 412-648-2049 or email

~ Sarah LaMoy and Gosia Fort