Billings, John Shaw
BILLINGS, JOHN SHAW
John Shaw Billings (1838–1913) was one of the towering figures of American medicine—indeed, of American civilization. As a young man, Billings was a surgeon, serving as medical inspector of the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War. The latter post was focused on public health rather than management of wounds and surgical care of soldiers. After the war ended, he assumed direction of the Surgeon General's library in Washington, DC. He was a bibliophile, and set about cataloging and enlarging this collection. He devoted some years to the task of developing a comprehensive Index Catalogue. This became the Index Medicus, which had taken on its main features under Billings' leadership by 1879.
Billings held office as the librarian in the Surgeon General's department from 1864 to 1895. During this time he oversaw the establishment of the National Library of Medicine as it grew into the most comprehensive collection of medical books and journals in the world. In 1889 he supervised compiling of the National Medical Dictionary, a scholarly dictionary of medical terminology with much information on provenance of terms, eponyms, and procedures.
Billings also supervised the national censuses of 1880 and 1890. He helped design the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and also select the outstanding physicians (Welch, Halstead, Osler, and others) who established its reputation as one of the best medical schools in the world. Among his most important nonmedical achievements was his key role in starting the New York Public Library, with the aid of a grant from Andrew Carnegie.
JOHN M. LAST
Garrison, F. H.; Billings, K. M.; and Hasse, A. R. (1915). John Shaw Billings: A Memoir. New York and London: Putnam.