The 3rd Annual Library Company Lecture in Honor of John Van Horne will be held on May 5 at the American Philosophical Society. The annual series honors the man who served for over 29 years at the helm of the Library Company. This year’s speaker will be Dr. Charlotte Jacobs whose recent biography Jonas Salk: A Life chronicles the career of the scientist who created the first polio vaccine. The event is co-sponsored by the Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine and the American Philosophical Society. A special members-only reception honoring the Library Company's past presidents—B. Robert DeMento, Beatrice W.B. Garvan, William H. Helfand, Elizabeth McLean, Spence Toll—will precede the lecture.
Jacobs’ biography of Salk has been hailed as a model of science writing. Though Salk won widespread acclaim for the development of his polio vaccine, he was also the target of much resentment by fellow scientists and medical researchers. Jacobs’ book illuminates the toll these criticisms took on Salk’s life and career. Still, as Jacobs makes clear, Salk remains a heroic figure to people across the globe.
Though Salk is a 20th century figure, Jacobs’ lecture allows the Library Company to highlight the importance of medical history in its collections and programming. Over the past several decades, the Library Company has amassed one of the best and most important archives on popular medicine, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “I am really looking forward to speaking there,” Jacobs commented about her upcoming talk, which will include a special tour of documents donated by trustees William Helfand and Charles Rosenberg. As Jacobs indicated, she is always looking for new material on the history and evolution of medicine in American culture.