Throughout history, the Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia have been at the forefront of many advancements in the history of medicine, not least of whom was Dr. Robert Abbe, a pioneer not only in the field of plastic surgery, but also in the use of radium in medical therapy.
Jeffrey Womack, a Library volunteer and doctoral student at the University of Houston, and Tristan Dahn, Digital Projects Librarian at the Historical Medical Library, explore the discovery of radium by Pierre and Marie Curie, and tell the story of early experimentations with radium, including Dr. Abbe’s self-experimentation, and the use of radium in such “health” products as the “Radium Emanator.”
Abbe’s long correspondence with Marie Curie culminated with her visit to the College in May 1921, during which Curie donated the piezo-electrometer currently on display in the Hutchinson alcove of the Mütter Museum.
Jeffrey Womack is a doctoral student at the University of Houston, completing his dissertation on the development of radium and x-ray therapies between 1895 and 1935, under the direction of Martin Melosi. His recent publications include “Nuclear Weapons, Dystopian Deserts, and Science Fiction Cinema,” in Vulcan: The International Journal of the Social History of Military Technology 1, No. 1 (2013; Bart Hacker, editor), and “Miracle in the Sky: Solar Power Satellites,” in American Energy Policy in the 1970s, (Robert Lifset, editor; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014). He is also a contributor to the Encyclopedia of American Environmental History. Jeffrey is currently based in the Philadelphia area, where he teaches at Drexel University.
Tristan Dahn is a recent graduate of the Library and Information Studies program at McGill University. He joined the Library staff in September 2015, and is currently overseeing the digitization of 20th century state medical journals through the Library’s partnership in the Medical Heritage Library. Tristan also is leading the Library’s experiments in the digital humanities.