Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John V. Lansing Papers, 1842-1917

Finding aid created by
Susan M. Swasta, September 1993

Summary Information
Title: John V. Lansing papers
Creator: Lansing, John V.
Inclusive dates: 1842-1917
Bulk dates: 1842-1880
Extent: 131 items (0.5 linear feet)
Abstract:
The John V. Lansing papers document the life of Lansing, particularly his medical education and work in New York State Asylums.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1981. M-1962.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

John V. Lansing papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


Biography

John Van Vechten Lansing (1824-1880) was the grandson of Abraham Jacob Lansing, who had subdivided his lands in 1771 to establish the town of Lansingburgh, N.Y., where Lansing was born. John was early singled out from among the three boys and two girls of his farming family as the high achiever-- the "Pride and Prop of our House", in his mother's words-- and thus sent to college (Rutgers) and for legal training in Buffalo. His correspondence with brothers and sisters during this era show him to have occupied the role of family advisor and of loving, supportive mother's son. Lansing's relationship with his father is a puzzle, for there is no correspondence between the two during any era of his life, nor do letters to and from other family members very frequently mention the father, although they are filled with the doings and feelings of siblings and mother.

After graduating from Rutgers the young man seems to have had second thoughts about his predestined career, for he corresponded with John James Audubon regarding an expedition to the western states. Audubon turned him down, however, so Lansing dutifully became a lawyer and returned to Lansingburgh to practice. After several years at a profession he evidently disliked, Lansing appears to have finally rebelled against his family's pressures and expectations. In the summer of 1849 he left abruptly for Europe with a friend, Jonathan Douglas, informing his family and law partner only after the fact, by letter. During their several months in Switzerland and France Lansing decided to become a doctor like his friend, and he began medical training in Paris. This education was continued after his return to the United States in 1849 (although a gap in the record between late 1849 and July of 1852 make it unclear exactly when and where his training began). While at Dartmouth Medical School in 1852 Lansing became the teaching assistant of Dr. Edmund Randolph Peaslee (1814-1878). Peaslee, a graduate of Yale Medical School, taught at Dartmouth, at the Medical College of Maine, and at New York Medical College during this period of his life; later he became a well-known gynecological specialist and published a treatise on ovarian tumors. Lansing's medical training, therefore, was closely associated with Peaslee, and was carried out at the three institutions which employed him; his final graduation, in February of 1854, was from New York Medical College.

After finishing medical schooling Lansing's life took another sudden, unexplained turns. Although obituaries note that he became a professor of medicine at New York Medical College at this time, his personal papers indicate otherwise, for in July he was bound for South America as ship's physician on the "Seaman," heading for Montevideo and Buenos Aires in hopes of beginning a medical practice in one of these cities despite a sketchy knowledge of Spanish. He soon found prospects there bleak and returned home, where he won a post as assistant physician of the lunatic asylum on Blackwells Island, New York City. Two years later he advanced to a position of head asylum physician, this time at the Kings County Lunatic Asylum in Flatbush, New York.

Biographical material on Lansing indicates that he wound up in Albany, New York in 1859. There he established a private practice, became a professor at Albany Medical College, and married. Of this seemingly most stable, successful era of Lansing's life almost no details are known, for there is a 21-year gap in the collection between 1857 and 1878. The only information on his life and career in Albany are provided by published proceedings recording his participation in the Albany Institute and the Albany County Medical Society, for which he delivered papers and served in various official capacities. Lansing also published medical papers on the scientific use of frogs and on "therapeutical skepticism" during this period.

This settled existence was relatively short-lived. In 1876 Lansing's wife died, and the following year he accidentally shot to death an attendant at a rifle range -- precipitating another major change in his life, for shortly thereafter he gave up his practice and teaching career to become prison physician at the Clinton County State Prison in Dannemora, New York. Lansing's obituaries attribute this move to the fact that he "never entirely recovered from the shock which the unfortunate accident caused him." He died two years later, in May of 1880, by drowning which was ruled accidental.

Lansing's correspondence, and especially his diaries, reveal him to have been at times a tortured soul, periodically wishing that his life would end when he was in a depressive period, given to sober philosophical musings on his travels and medical training. These states alternated with times of enthusiastic engagement in studies, teaching, medical practice, professional activities, and hobbies such as hunting, fishing, sketching, and writing poetry. At such times he was a frequent and eloquent correspondent with various friends and family members, exhibiting perceptiveness and dry humor in his accounts and observations. Given the gaps in the collection, it is difficult to get a complete sense of the man and his life, but the papers manage to convey enough of him, personally and professionally, to make for an interesting character study.


Collection Scope and Content Note

Although a small collection, the Lansing papers contain a varied array of materials: 38 pieces of correspondence between Lansing and various family members, journals of his trips to Europe and to South America, journals of his medical training, assorted poems and Valentine poems by Lansing, his sketchbook and several loose pencil sketches, the text of his graduation speech from Rutgers, a lecture on "thought and thinking" which he delivered in 1848, his estate inventory, a few receipts and business letters, miscellaneous correspondence between other family members, an autograph book and theme book which probably belonged to a niece, 11 unidentified photographs, part of a magazine article depicting the Lansing family homestead, and a few pieces of peripheral miscellany. (The sketch book, autograph book, and European diary have been removed to a separate pamphlet box.) Also included in an introductory folder are obituaries of Lansing, his article on frogs, and published proceedings of the Albany Medical Society which record his participation.

This collection is not as rich in research potential as one would hope, given the subject's varied travels and career changes as documented in the manuscripts. Most of the correspondence and journals are revealing of Lansing's personality, opinions, and philosophy rather than abundant with details on places, people, and activities. One comes to know the man intimately, but not to be able to place him very confidently in a social and professional context.

Probably the greatest value of the papers is in the information which can be gleaned from them on medical education and practice in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Lansing's medical school journals, especially the section covering his training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City (1853 June 27-December 17), are full of details on medical lectures, learning how to diagnose and treat various diseases and conditions, the performance of autopsies, surgical procedures (especially gynecological operations), and pharmacology. Given Lansing's analytical and opinionated nature, these depictions are often both informative and insightful as to the nature of medical science during this era. He writes on August 2, 1853: "I attended a part of Motts Clinique at the University and saw some noteworthy cases. He ordered a plaster over a sore breast and said when the patient had retired that was always his way when he didn't know what a thing was to cover it up with plaster and spoke of it as a rule to be adopted in life to cover up what we don't understand with plasters. I don't exactly like the principle." Lansing also includes in this journal segment a horrifying description of a woman's death of gangrene of the intestines after surgery for an ovarian tumor -- highly evocative of the primitive nature of surgery and infection prevention in this period.

The European and South American journals also contain some material on hospital conditions and medical training and practice, specifically in Paris, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires. There is an interesting account of Lansing's unsuccessful treatment of a tuberculosis patient while ship's physician on the "Seaman," and of the man's subsequent death and burial at sea. The correspondence covering Lansing's years of practice as physician at two insane asylums and at Clinton State Prison are disappointing in their lack of detail on medical practice; only a few general descriptions and anecdotes on patients and incidents are provided. Published accounts of his participation in the Albany County Medical Society, however, are more informative, for they present case studies which illustrate typical diagnoses and treatments of various illnesses.

Interesting minor sidelights of the collection are descriptions of the manufacture of an artificial arm for Lansing's brother-in-law, and some technical details about a candle making process involving lard-oil which, through his studies in chemistry, he was helping a friend to develop. Lansing's poetry also constitutes a minor but entertaining resource, for it exemplifies the sentimental nature of social and literary expression in this era, as well as revealing the author's wit and style.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Asylums--New York (State)
    • Candlemaking.
    • Clinton Prison (Dannemora, N.Y.)
    • Dartmouth Medical School.
    • Dickson, Alexander, 1827-1904.
    • Frogs as laboratory animals.
    • Lansing, Clara Maria.
    • Medicine--Practice--New York (State)
    • Medicine--Study and teaching.
    • Mentally ill--Care--New York (State)
    • Peaslee, E. R. (Edmund Randolph), 1814-1878.
    • Physicians--New York (State)
    • Prison physicians--New York (State)
    • Prisoners--Medical care--New York (State)
    Genre Terms:
    • Autograph albums.
    • Diaries.
    • Notebooks.
    • Poems.
    • Sketchbooks.
    • Speeches.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
     
    John V. Lansing papers,  1842 May 23-1917 October 9 [series]:
    Box   1  
     1842-1854
    Box   2  
     1854-1917,  undated
    Box   3  
    Diaries and books
     
    John V. Lansing European diary 1,  1849 August 25-September 16
     
    John V. Lansing European diary 2,  1849 September 17-18
     
    John V. Lansing Sketch book,  undated
     
    John Lansing Fuller Autograph book,  1889-1890
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Abdomen--Wounds and injuries--Surgery
    • 1879 May 26
    Alps, Swiss (Switzerland)--Description and travel
    • 1849 August 25-September 16
    Argentina--Description and travel
    • 1854 September 12-October 3
    • 1854 October 3-October 20
    Artificial limbs
    • 1853 June 16
    • 1853 August 21
    • 1853 October 11
    Asylums--New York (State)--Blackwells Island
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    Asylums--New York (State)--Flatbush
    • 1857 May 11
    • 1857 May 25
    Audubon, John James, 1785-1851
    • 1843 November 30
    Autograph albums
    • 1889-1890
    Autopsy
    • 1849 September 17-October 18
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Bellevue Hospital (New York City)
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Brazil--Description and travel
    • 1854 October 3-October 26
    • 1854 October 26-December 4
    Breast--Tumors
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Breast--Surgery
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Brothers and sisters
    • 1846 January 19
    • 1846 January 29
    • 1846 August 22
    • 1849 July 30
    • 1849 September 14
    • 1857 May 25
    • 1878 December 21
    Buenos Aires (Argentina)--Description
    • 1854 September 12-October 3
    • 1854 October 3-October 26
    Buenos Aires (Argentina)--Maps
    • [ca. 1854]
    Burial at sea
    • 1854 August 23-September 12
    Candle making
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 June 16
    • 1853 August 21
    • 1853 October 11
    Chemistry, analytic--Study and teaching
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Childbirth
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Children's writings
    • 1873-1874
    Christmas--New York (State)--Clinton State Prison
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1880 January 5
    Clinton State Prison (Dannemora, N.Y.)
    • 1878 September 4
    • 1878 December 21
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1879 January 3
    • 1879 January 18
    • 1879 May 26
    • 1880 January 5
    • [1880]
    College orations--Rutgers University
    • [1843]
    Dartmouth Medical School (Hanover , N.H.)
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    • 1853 October 11
    Deja vu
    • 1853 September 12-October 3
    Diagnosis
    • 1854 September 12-October 3
    Dickson, Alexander, 1827-1904
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 May 9
    • 1853 June 16
    • 1853 August 21
    • 1853 October 11
    • 1854 February 26
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 February 4
    • 1856 March 20
    • 1878 September 4
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1879 January 3
    • 1879 January 18
    • [1880]
    Dickson, Alida Lansing
    • 1849 September 14
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1857 May 25
    • 1878 December 21
    Douglas, Jonathan
    • 1849 July 26
    • 1849 September
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1857 May 25
    Drugs--Prescribing
    • 1856 November 18
    Dysentery--Treatment
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Fishing--Hudson River (N.Y.)
    • 1842 May 23
    Foot, Jesse, 1744-1826
    • 1853 April 23-May 14
    Frogs as laboratory animals
    • 1853 March 21-April 10
    • 1853 May 9
    • 1869
    Geneva (Switzerland)--Description
    • 1849 August 25-September 16
    Homeopathy
    • 1853 March 21-April 10
    Hospitals--Argentina--Buenos Aires
    • 1854 September 12-October 3
    • 1854 October 3-October 26
    Hospitals--Montevideo (Uruguay)
    • 1854 September 12-October 3
    Hospitals--France--Paris
    • 1849 September 17-October 18
    Human dissection
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Hunter, John, 1728-1793
    • 1853 April 26-May 14
    Hydrocephalus in infants
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Inventories of decedents' estates--New York (State)
    • 1880 May
    Kings County Insane Asylum (Flatbush, N.Y.)
    • 1857 May 11
    • 1857 May 25
    Lansing, Carrie
    • 1873-1874
    • 1874 February 14
    Lansing, Clara Maria
    • [1843] March 1
    • 1846 January 19
    • 1846 January 29
    • [1846]August 22
    • 1849 July 30
    • 1879 May 26
    Lansing, Jacob
    • 1842 May 23
    • [1846] August 22
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1889--Diaries
    • 1849 August 25-October 18
    • 1853 March 6-December 17
    • 1854 July 10-December 4
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
    • 1878
    • n.d. (undated sketchbook in pamphlet box)
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Philosophy
    • 1848 February 16
    • 1849 August 25-October 18
    • 1853 March 6-December 17
    • 1854 July 10-December 4
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Relations with family
    • 1842 May 23
    • [1843] March 1
    • 1846 January 19
    • 1846 January 29
    • [1846] August 22
    • 1849 July 26
    • 1849 July 30
    • 1849 September 14
    • 1849 September
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Views on Jesse Foot's biography of John Hunter
    • 1853 April 26-May 14
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Views on preaching
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1853 March 6-May 8
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 March 20
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1856 July 4
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    • 1857 May 11
    • 1857 May 25
    • 1878 December 21
    • 1879 May 26
    Lansing, John Van Vechten, 1824-1880--Views on speeches, addresses, etc.
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 March 6-March 21
    • 1853 April 10-May 8
    Lansing, Mrs. A.
    • [1843] March 1
    • 1849 July 26
    • 1849 September
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1856 July 4
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    • 1857 May 11
    Lansing, Mrs. A.--Religion
    • [1843] March 1
    • 1849 September
    Lard-oil
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1852 December 12
    Law --Bibliography
    • 1847 February 17
    Lectures and lecturing
    • 1848 February 10
    Log-books
    • 1854 July 14-September 2
    Medical College of Maine (Brunswick, Me.)
    • 1853 March 6-May 15
    Medical students--Maine--Brunswick
    • 1853 March 6-May 8
    Medicine--Congresses-Attendance
    • 1857 May 25
    • 1879 January 18
    Medicine--Examinations
    • 1854 February 26
    Medicine--Practice--New York (State)
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    • 1857 May 11
    Medicine--Study and teaching--Maine--Brunswick
    • 1853 March 6-May 15
    • 1853 May 9
    Medicine--Study and teaching--Buenos Aires (Argentina)
    • 1854 September 12-October 26
    Medicine--Study and teaching--New Hampshire--Hanover
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Medicine--Study and teaching--New York (City)
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    • 1854 February 26
    Medicine--Study and teaching--France--Paris
    • 1849 September 17-October 18
    Mentally ill--Care-New York (State)
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    • 1857 May 11
    • 1857 May 25
    Meteorology--Observations
    • 1854 July 14-September 2
    • 1854 July 10-August 23
    Montevideo (Uruguay)--Description
    • 1854 August 23-October 3
    Mothers and sons
    • 1849 July 26
    • 1849 September
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1856 November 9
    Motion sickness
    • 1854 July 10-August 10
    Motts Clinic (New York, N.Y.)
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    New York Medical College
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    • 1854 February 26
    New York Society for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled
    • [1872]
    Ocean travel
    • 1854 July 14-September 2
    • 1854 July 10-September 12
    • 1854 October 26-December 4
    Ovaries--Diseases
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Ovaries-Surgery
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Paris (France)--Description
    • 1849 September 17-October 18
    Peaslee, Edmund Randolph, 1814-1878
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1853 March 21-April 10
    • 1853 April 22-May 9
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Petropolis (Brazil)--Description
    • 1854 October 3-October 26
    Pharmacology
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Physicians--New York (State)
    • 1855 April 11
    • 1856 June 22
    • 1856 November 9
    • 1856 November 18
    • 1857 May 11
    • 1857 May 25
    • 1878 September 4
    • 1878 December 21
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1879 January 3
    • 1879 January 18
    • 1879 May 26
    • 1880 January 5
    • [1880]
    Pleurisy--Diagnosis
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Pneumonia
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Poetry
    • 1844-1847
    • 1848-1855
    • 1849 February 14
    • [ca. 1850]
    • 1874 February 14
    • [1880]
    Prison physicians--New York (State)
    • 1878 September 4
    • 1878 December 21
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1879 January 3
    • 1879 January 18
    • 1879 May 26
    • 1880 January 5
    • [1880]
    • n.d.
    Prisoners--Medical care--New York (State)
    • 1878 September 4
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1879 May 26
    • 1880 January 5
    Prisoners--Recreation
    • 1878 December 27
    • 1880 January 5
    Prisoners' writings, American
    • [1880]
    Railroad travel--Brazil
    • 1854 October 3-26
    Revivals--New York (State)
    • [1843] March 1
    Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)--Description
    • 1854 October 3-December 4
    Seamen
    • 1854 July 10-September 12
    Seamanship
    • 1854 July 10-September 12
    Ship physicians
    • 1854 July 10-September 12
    Stearin
    • 1852 July 18
    • 1852 December 12
    • 1853 June 16
    • 1853 August 21
    • 1853 October 11
    Switzerland--Description and travel
    • 1849 August 25-September 16
    Surgery--New Hampshire
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    Surgery--New York (City)
    • 1853 July 27-December 17
    Surgery--France--Paris
    • 1849 September 17-October 18
    Thackeray, William Makepeace, 1811-1863
    • 1852 December 12
    Thought and thinking
    • 1848 February 16
    Tuberculosis--Diagnosis
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    • 1854 July 10-August 2
    Tuberculosis--Treatment
    • 1853 June 27-December 17
    • 1854 July 10-August 23
    Uruguay--Description and travel
    • 1854 August 23-October 3
    Valentines
    • 1844-1847
    • 1848-1855
    • 1849 February 14
    • 1874 February 14