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Date of Graduation

Spring 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


This thesis examines the public writings of several American anatomists who wrote between the years 1800 and 1870. Anatomists and the public clashed over the proper place of anatomical knowledge and research in American society. Anatomists had to prove that their field of inquiry was both worthwhile and morally acceptable. In their attempts to do so, anatomists formed a distinct subculture separate from that of practicing physicians, as well as influenced the debate over anatomy's place within the medical field. Examining the public writings of American anatomists during this period provides insight into the ways in which this debate was carried out. This thesis examines the writings of three American anatomists of the nineteenth century: William Horner, Charles Knowlton, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Three themes had been identified in their combined works: religion, empiricism, and professionalization. Although these three men held different opinions on these topics, all used religion, experimental science, and professionalization in order to argue for the legitimacy of their discipline. Their religious and scientific arguments fed into their conclusion that anatomists and the field of anatomy needed to professionalize in order to be taken seriously. American anatomists made sure that their field was included in the professionalization of American medicine at large, particularly in the requirements for medical education and licensure. Horner, Knowlton, and Holmes through their writings demonstrate differing opinions on such important matters as religion, and experimental evidence, and the way in which anatomy should be included in the professionalization of the medical field at large, but all three through their writings influenced the professionalization of anatomy as a legitimate area of research.

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