A Presentation to the 2018 American Osler Society Conference
In 1888, William Osler was recruited by the soon-to-open Johns Hopkins Hospital to become the physician-in-chief, as well as Professor of Medicine at its School of Medicine in Baltimore. By 1890, he had become a member of the Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, known as the Faculty. Then as now, it is the professional association for physicians in Maryland.
When Dr. Osler moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore, one of the things he missed the most was the access to the library at the College of Physicians, and the camaraderie which came along with discussing books with his contemporaries. He was determined to duplicate the experience in Baltimore and envisioned a library which included not only books on the clinical practice of medicine, but the historic and biographical aspects of the profession.
This goal began when Dr. Osler was elected as a member of the Library Committee in 1892. And in 1896, when he became President of the Faculty, he was determined that the library, a motley collection of a few thousand outdated books and pamphlets, would become one he would be happy to be associated with.
Shortly after he assumed the Presidency, Dr. Osler hired the 27-year old Marcia Crocker Noyes to be the librarian, replacing one whom he found less than capable. For several years, Miss Noyes had worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore cataloging books, and she had a certain spark. But most of all, she came with the recommendation of the head of the Pratt Library, which was located just a block from Osler’s house on West Franklin Street.
Within two weeks of her interview with Dr. Osler on behalf of the Library Committee, Miss Noyes had accepted the position of librarian at a salary of $300 per year, and moved into an apartment in the Faculty’s building at Hamilton Terrace.
At that time, librarians were expected to be on call 24/7. A physician could ring up at any time and request a book. The librarian would search the card catalogue and pull the book from the shelves. The physician would arrive shortly thereafter, consult the medical book, and hurry back to his ailing patient.
As an aside, I got to thinking about physicians calling Miss Noyes until I found out that we have essentially had a version of the same phone number since phone service started in Baltimore in the 1880’s!
While Miss Noyes knew how to catalogue and how libraries worked, she knew nothing about medicine. She said that she trained herself for the job by just doing it. She was more than willing to learn, and Dr. Osler was a good and patient teacher.
In the late 1890’s, there were strong prejudices against a young, single professional female. Miss Noyes had a lot to overcome to be successful in her position. She was a woman with no medical background, and some of the physicians, especially the elder ones, viewed her with disdain. But she was a quick learner, and attended nearly every one of the Faculty’s events, learning the names of the members, and asking the wealthier ones for their financial assistance. She begged and borrowed shelving and furnishings for the library and reading room so that members would want to gather there.
From a collection of books in total disarray, in boxes in no particular order and no budget for supplies, Dr. Osler and Miss Noyes began to build the library. They subscribed to journals, periodicals and other medical volumes which gradually formed the basis for the library. With editions arriving almost daily, Miss Noyes created a system for cataloging the journals and books, which she called “The Classification for Medical Literature.” It was based on the Index Medicus, and was in place for many years until the Dewy Decimal System came into common usage.
Because typewriters were not yet common, Miss Noyes hand-wrote the cards in the catalogue. For each book there were two: one filed by subject and the other by author. She wrote in “library hand” which was “a slight back-hand, with regular round letters apart from each other.” It was the standard for card catalogues, with the emphasis on legibility and not haste. As you might imagine, hand-writing the cards took an incredible amount of time.
During his year as President of the Faculty, Dr. Osler founded the Book & Journal Club, which met until his move to Oxford. He took great pleasure in spending time in the Faculty’s reading room, as his keenest interest lay in books. He could often be seen there in the evenings and on Saturdays, reviewing the latest journals, talking with old and young physicians alike and encouraging a dialogue between the two groups.
The Hamilton Terrace building had been purchased in 1893, but it was not at all adequate for the library that Dr. Osler and Miss Noyes imagined. So the plotting to construct a purpose-built headquarters and library began.
Unfortunately, planning was sidelined in 1904 by the Great Baltimore Fire which destroyed nearly all of downtown and came within two block of the Osler’s home on Franklin Street. And in 1905, Dr. Osler announced that he had taken the position of Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. He and his family moved in May of that year.
In 1904, the AMA revised the structure for medical societies, and Miss Noyes was named the Faculty Secretary, a huge accomplishment for someone so young, and a woman at that! She managed the membership, kept up with her duties as librarian and organized all of the meetings for both the small societies and the entire membership. And she was still on-call 24/7!
Dr. Osler’s name opened doors for the young librarian who would become one of the leading forces of the Medical Library Association (MLA), of which he had been a founder in 1898. The MLA only flourished in its early years because Dr. Osler was the President and Miss Noyes was essentially its Director.
They both realized the importance of having professional medical librarians and establishing that as a viable career. They created an exchange so that each library did not have to subscribe to every medical journal and they could be traded back and forth. This eventually added up to several hundred trades each month! While originally founded in Philadelphia, the MLA moved to Baltimore for several years, so that Miss Noyes could shepherd it more closely.
It was a great tribute to Miss Noyes and her incredible executive skills that in 1934, she was named as the first non-medical President of the MLA. It was during this period, that she finally incorporated the organization. Two years after her death, the Noyes Award was established for outstanding achievement in the field.
While there was tremendous professional respect between Miss Noyes and Dr. Osler, they also had a close and warm friendship. He often sent her nosegays and flowers with little notes, and when he left for Oxford, he presented her with a huge bouquet of flowers. MedChi continues the tradition of giving flowers with a bouquet being presented to the winner of the Marcia Crocker Noyes Award at the annual Medical Library Association Conference.
The library endured and grew, and in 1905, when Dr. Osler left for Oxford, nearly 15,000 books were in the collection, now housed in a building adjacent to the headquarters on Hamilton Terrace.
But there was no room to grow and the plotting for the new building continued. With Dr. Osler’s help and guidance from a distance, Miss Noyes encouraged the Faculty’s members to begin a building campaign. Eventually a plot of land was purchased just a few blocks from Hamilton Terrace. Miss Noyes and the Building Committee visited medical society buildings in Boston, New York and Philadelphia so that they could get ideas of what they did and didn’t want.
After Dr. Osler’s move to England in 1905, he supported the library with contributions of both common and rare books, as well as financial donations. He was constantly thinking of the catalogue of books at the Faculty, frequently writing to ask if Miss Noyes had this book or that in the collection. When he found special books, including a copy of Vesalius’s Anatomy, he made gifts of the volumes to the Faculty Library. The Vesalius sold at auction for around a half a million dollars in the early 2000’s.
In 1908, ground was broken for the new building, and Miss Noyes had her hand in every aspect of the construction. She visited the site frequently, and could be found inspecting every part of the building. After all, not only would the new building be her workplace, it would also be her home. An apartment was built on the top floor, which was essentially the first penthouse in the city. She lived there with her maid and her two chow-chow dogs. As she grew older, an elevator was installed for her convenience. Over the course of the building’s first decade, the first two levels of the stacks were built, followed later by an additional two floors as the collection grew.
At Miss Noyes’ request, Dr. Osler came to Baltimore for the dedication of the building, the main room of which bore his name. He writes in this letter just a few days after the dedication “The building is just perfect – never been so pleased with anything in my life.”
Miss Noyes visited Dr. Osler in England, and he returned to Baltimore for visits to Hopkins and the Faculty. For the next ten years, the now Sir William sent books that he’d found on his travels.
Dr. Osler writes about the importance of his association with the Faculty’s library in the introduction to his “Bibliotheca Osleriana”, and mentions Miss Noyes by name. “My colleagues in the old Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland soon found that I was really fonder of books than of anything else… That my name is associated with the hall of the faculty… is a touching tribute of affection from men who knew me and whom I loved. We owe much to Miss Marcia Noyes, our first whole-time librarian…”
Miss Noyes and Sir William kept up their correspondence until a few months before his death, thought to have been hastened by the death of his beloved son, Revere in 1917.
The library eventually numbered more than 65,000 volumes, including medical journals from every state medical society and specialty society, and from many foreign medical societies for most of the 20th century.
Even after Sir William’s death, the connection continued with Miss Noyes’ long friendship with Sir William’s nephew, W.W. Francis whom she had met when he lived for several years with Dr. Osler in Baltimore.
Mr. Francis was responsible for cataloguing and then transporting Sir Williams’s books to their final home at McGill University. Later, both Mr. Francis and Miss Noyes were active in the MLA and corresponded about books and other things for many years.
The Osler Library at McGill and the Library at the Medical & Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland remained closely affiliated until Miss Noyes’s death in 1946.
While Dr. Osler taught Miss Noyes about medicine and science, he was also a role model in her management style and her outlook on life. Like Dr. Osler, she attracted the complete loyalty of others. When Miss Noyes retired after 50 years, the Faculty’s newest employee had been there for 14 years.
And like Dr. Osler, she was quick to give others credit when things went right and ready to take the blame when they didn’t. Both of them had as their life’s work to improve the profession of medicine. Osler did this through the practice of medicine and Miss Noyes did it by making her medical library the best of its time.
Miss Noyes said that by making a living, she made a life. The same could be said for Sir William Osler.
That is the end of my prepared remarks, but I am going to tell you something that was inferred during my introduction, and that I am too superstitious to write down: We have a ghost and her name is Marcia. As I mentioned, Miss Marcia Noyes worked at the Faculty for 50 years, and she lived on premise for that entire time. Some say that she never left. I am among those.
There are so many things that happen that can’t be explained any other way. I find paintings in the stacks that I KNOW weren’t there days earlier. People her footsteps on the long stairway to Marcia’s former apartment, when they know that they are alone in the building.
Several years ago, when we set up a little fund to give a bouquet of flowers to the winner of the Noyes Award at the MLA meeting, I went up to the top floor of the stacks. I wanted to tell Marcia, because we call her by her first name, that we were doing that, in memory of the way the physicians honored her by giving her flowers. I had to say it out loud, because I was pretty certain that she couldn’t read my mind. Once I finished telling her what we were doing, I heard something like a pencil drop. The hair on my arms stood on end! I got goosebumps, like I have now! I zoomed down the four flights of stairs completely freaked out!
So, you see, Marcia continues to have an impact on her beloved Faculty!