HSP Acquires Diaries of Civil War Veterinary Surgeon

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania recently acquired two collections related to siblings George F. Parry and Susan Parry, two pioneering medical professionals from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. George F. Parry was one of the first college-trained veterinary surgeons to serve during the Civil War. His diaries provide detailed and vivid accounts of his duties and daily life in the field as well as civilian life after the war. Parry’s sister, Susan Parry, was one of the first trained female physicians in the state and a graduate of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. Her collection includes a notebook describing diseases, prescription recipes, and treatment procedures.

These collections, which together total more than 3,200 pages of text, add significantly to our knowledge of the earliest days of veterinary medicine, early women’s medical training and practice, family history, and life in the late 19th century.

George F. Parry (1838-1886) was one of the first veterinarians (and probably the first from Pennsylvania) to receive professional veterinary training in the United States. He graduated from the Boston Veterinary Institute in 1859, served as a veterinary surgeon with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Civil War, and conducted a private practice in Newtown from shortly after the war until his death at age 48.

The George F. Parry papers include 24 manuscript volumes, including:

  • One 160-page student notebook, 1858-1859, from the Boston Veterinary Institute
  • Three Civil War diaries, 1863-1865, which detail his veterinary work with army horses and his experience of military campaigns in Tennessee, Georgia, and elsewhere
  • Sixteen diaries, 1867-1886, and one ledger, 1874-1879, which document his civilian career as a veterinarian in Newtown after the war, as well as his personal life, farming, and occasionally current events such as the 1877 railroad strike
  • One small family photo album that contains approximately 24 cartes de visite and 1 tintype, including two images of George Parry (one in army uniform) and two images of his daughter, Helen, as a small child
  • One diary of Helen Parry, 1884, when she was apparently in her mid teens, that discusses her attendance at school and church, social activities, family relationships, cash purchases, and other matters
  • One additional diary, 1898, by Helen or another family member, that discusses the illness of several extended family members and others, some of whom died. Diphtheria is mentioned but other illnesses may have been involved as well.

Susan Parry (circa 1833-circa 1895) taught school in Lumberville, Pennsylvania, in 1849. In 1858, she graduated from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the world established to train women and offer them the M.D., which was founded in 1850. She practiced medicine in Bucks County until her death in the 1890s.

The Susan Parry papers include two volumes:

  • A notebook, entitled “S. Parry’s Book of Recipes” and started in 1873, in which she described diseases, prescription recipes, treatment procedures, and a few homeopathic remedies. There are sections on Obstetrics and Diseases of Women, among others. Tucked into the volume is an 1849 letter from the Lumberville School where Parry taught as a young woman.
  • A scrapbook of clippings, mostly poetry and printed illustrations, which also includes several loose sheets, notably manuscript essays by Parry on Robert Burns, Shakespeare, and other authors.