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Honoring Our Past

A most interesting biographical article of a physician in the October 1970 Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (BMLA) was written by Katherine T. Barkley, medical librarian of the Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati. The physician is Samuel Nickles, and the author describes him as “dry and quaint: a landmark of western medicine.” The Nickles story came to Barkley from his eighty-nine-year-old daughter. It is a true example of a physician who lived in the period from 1833–1908. Dr. Nickles was an engaging writer, and he impressed his students and his patients.

When you look at your medical school and talk to your students, this is a story you can use to describe medical life in the nineteenth century. Dr. Nickles graduated from the Eclectic Medical Institute in 1856 and received a diploma from the Medical College of Ohio in 1865. In a memorial address given in honor of Dr. Nickles, the speaker described him as “small physically, large mentally, antagonistic when he thought he was right. Such antagonism, however, rested on a basis of absolute honesty in his convictions” [1].

It might surprise you to learn that what also concerned Dr. Nickles was that the Index Catalog of the Surgeon General’s Office was in danger of going under because of lack of funds. Dr. Nickles was one of the physicians who supported the Index, recognizing its value. He also encouraged other physicians to join the support, and it continues to be valued.

This paper reveals how much physicians knew in this earlier time. Dr. Nickles clearly made an impression on his students and fellow faculty. During the time period 1866–1890, Cincinnati was second only to Philadelphia on the entire continent and was the undisputed “Queen of the West.” Dr. Nickels was one of her great men.


  1. Barkley KT. Samuel Nickles, dry and quaint: a landmark of western medicine. Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1970 Oct;58(4)521–30.

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