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Charles M. Briggs, M.D.


Charles M. BriggsCharles M. Briggs, M.D. (1855-1933) was a physician practicing in the village of Fairport, N.Y. from 1880 until his death in 1933. The Charles M. Briggs, M.D. collection consists almost entirely of personal diaries kept by Dr. Briggs from his boyhood in West Macedon, N.Y. until the early 1920s. Other materials in the collection include a few pieces of correspondence; printed ephemera; photographs; a scrapbook of newspaper clippings kept, apparently, by his second wife; and a number of objects which have been transferred to the Library's museum. The diaries and objects belonging to Charles M. Briggs, M.D. were presented to the Miner Library in December 1986 by his granddaughter, Betty Satterwhite Stevenson. The collection was processed in January 1987, and is contained in three boxes occupying one and a half feet.


Charles M. Briggs was born in Macedon, N.Y. on 20 October 1855, the fifth of nine children born to Ichabod White Briggs (1809-1893) and Sarah Catherine Case (1821-1901). C.M.B. attended the district school until age eighteen, whereupon he entered a three year college preparatory course at the Macedon Academy. In the autumn following his graduation in June 1876, C.M.B. began a preceptorship in medicine with H.D. Vosburgh, M.D., of Lyons, New York. His medical studies with Dr. Vosburgh included regular duties at the Wayne County almshouse and asylum. In the autumn of 1877 C.M.B. entered the Buffalo Medical College (the medical department of the University of Buffalo), attending three courses of lectures before graduating of 25 February 1880. His first marriage was to Louie E. Meade of Macedon Center on 11 August 1878, while still a medical student. Upon graduation the Briggs settled in Fairport, New York, where C.M.B. was to remain in medical practice his entire life. Louie Briggs died as a result of her pregnancy on 11 March 1881. On 21 June 1883, C.M.B. married Nettie E. Palmer of Fairport, who bore three children: Edith May (b. 1885), Charles Palmer (b. 1888), and Irving White (b. 1893). Nettie Palmer Briggs died on 28 April 1922. C.M.B. was married a third time to Lillian Pannell of Fairport, N.Y.

C.M.B. was a member of the American Society of Microscopists, the Monroe County Medical Society, and the Rochester Pathological Society. He died in Rochester at the age of 77 on Monday, April 6, 1933.

Organization of the Collection

The diaries of Charles M. Briggs are in two basic formats: thirteen small pocket diaries, the largest of which is 6 ¾' x 3 ½'; and six folio diaries of varying size. The small format diaries are printed "Excelsior" diaries with a single page provided for each day of the year. They cover the period 1871-1882, with an individual volume for 1886. The large format diaries are ledger-like volumes containing entries from 1909 through June 1922. There are no diaries present for the years 1883-1885, 1887-1908, or after 1922, during which years diaries were still presumably kept.

The earliest of the diaries is dated 1871, begun when C.M.B. was fifteen years of age. The entries in the diaries kept from 1871 to 1875 briefly chronicle C.M.B.'s daily routine of chores, school work, family, and church life. The diary for 1876 records C.M.B.'s preceptorship with H.D. Vosburgh (M.D. Berkshire 1853) of Lyons, New York. Beginning on 16 October, C.M.B. attended lectures by Dr. Vosburgh in the evening, while studying and attending to duties at the insane asylum at Lyons during the day. His duties, about which he has little to say, included book and record keeping, showing visitors about the asylum, occasionally assisting in the restraint of some of the more vigorous inmates, and even waiting on table when a large group of visitors was in attendance. He also had the opportunity to intermittently practice dissection on the corpses of deceased insane. Unfortunately, C.M.B. provides little detail about this stage of his medical education.

The 1877 diary continues C.M.B.'s brief chronicle of his preceptorship with Dr. Vosburgh. For the first time he mentions attendance on patients and assisting Dr. Vosburgh during surgery. C.M.B. continued his reading in anatomy (he read this text three times between October 1876 and March 1877), physiology and material medica. Dr. Vosburgh continued to lecture, and C.M.B. remained in attendance at the Wayne County asylum. The 1877 diary also records the start of C.M.B.'s formal medical training at the Buffalo Medical College, where he enrolled on 2 October. From then on, the entries, though necessarily brief, concentrate more on his medical studies than they had previously.

The diary entries from October 1877 through February 1880 may well be the most important in the entire series. C.M.B.'s daily one-page entries for a period of two years provide what has to be one of the few detailed chronicles of an American medical student's education from this period. Although the diaries make no pretense to reflection or commentary, they do provide a daily and faithful record of medical education and student life in the late 1870s and 1880s.

The 1878 diary records the completion of C.M.B.'s first course of studies in Buffalo. From the end of February until the beginning of the next session the following November, C.M.B. was back in Macedon, where he resumed his round of farm chores, social life and church activities; and where he married Louie Meade on 11 August. He also continued his medical reading (Erichsen's surgery), and assisted and studied under a Dr. Chase of Macedon (no entry in the Medical directory). C.M.B. resumed his medical studies in Buffalo in November.

His second course of medical studies at the Buffalo Medical College is recorded in the diary for 1879. Again, the session ended in late February, and C.M.B. was back to his usual routine in Macedon. He was also at work on a thesis that summer. C.M.B. and Louie went to Buffalo together for his third and final course of medical studies. The 1879 diary provides a detailed history of his student activities: lectures, quizzes, reading, impromptu invitations by his professors to attend some surgical procedure, hospital attendance, etc.

The 1880 diary concludes C.M.B.'s medical education (2/25/80), and chronicles his daily life and to a lesser extent his practice in Fairport, New York, beginning in April.

The 1881 diary records the surgical termination of his wife's pregnancy and her untimely death (3/11/81). It also records his first full year of practice in Fairport. As he will do throughout the remaining diaries, C.M.B. makes brief daily remarks of his work, though most of each day's entry is devoted to a record of the weather and the non-medical aspects of his life. In the 1882 diary, he begins to record his daily income and cash accounts. This information, provided daily over a period of forty years, should prove useful in the study of small-town physicians' financial status in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 1909-1922 diaries provide essentially the same kind of information: a daily record of the weather (comments on the weather's effects on the roads are now added as C.M.B. has an automobile in 1909); information on his practice (calls made; whether the office was busy or slow; consultations; hospital visits; daily income); family life, church and social activities-i.e. an accurate reflection of the professional and personal life of a small-town physician in Western New York at the turn of the century.

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