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Portrait of Fielding Hudson Garrison
Graces NLM Reading Room

By Carol Clausen

For the past 35 years, the only visible presence of Fielding Hudson Garrison (1870-1935) in the National Library of Medicine has been the faint outline of his face, incised on the wall of the Bldg. 38 lobby, alongside the images of his colleagues John Shaw Billings and Robert Fletcher. Portraits of Billings, the founder of the library, and his assistant Fletcher, hang in NLM's main reading room. Now, a painting of Garrison, newly refurbished and hung in the History of Medicine reading room, accords him the prominence that his many contributions deserve.

Fielding H. Garrison

Garrison joined the staff of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office (the predecessor of NLM) as a clerk in 1891 and remained for almost 40 years. He earned an M.D. degree from Georgetown University in 1893, taking courses at night, and was promoted to assistant librarian in 1899. He became principal assistant librarian, a position that made him second to the library's director ("The Librarian") in 1912, and was thereafter frequently called upon to serve as acting librarian. With Billings and Fletcher, he helped produce the first series of the Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office. Later he became coeditor and then editor of Index Medicus, a duty he performed until the end of his career. His contributions to these landmark publications helped ensure their excellence and established the library as the leader in providing control and access to biomedical literature.

Garrison was an avid student of the history of medicine and was recognized as the preeminent American authority in this field. In 1911, he published in JAMA a list of classic medical publications, the byproduct of research he had done for an exhibit of significant books, pamphlets and articles in the library's collection. This checklist of milestones in the development of medicine from ancient times to the 20th century was revised and greatly expanded by Garrison in 1933 and later by others. Now in its fifth edition, the bibliography, commonly known as "Garrison & Morton," remains a standard reference work in medical history. Garrison also published, in 1913, An Introduction to the History of Medicine, which had gone through four editions by 1929 and is still a highly respected and widely used text. It is particularly fitting that Garrison now presides over the History of Medicine reading room, where he casts an informed and benevolent eye upon present-day researchers in medical history.

The portrait, painted by Franklin B. Clark in 1937, shows Garrison in early middle age, wearing the uniform of a lieutenant colonel in the Army Medical Department. The painting was done from a photograph; Garrison had died 2 years earlier at age 64.


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