Finding Aid
William W. Keen space
William W. Keen
1837 - 1932
(Art/Photo Collection, AK-016)

W.W. Keen Collection
1872 - 1933
2.0 Linear Feet (4 Boxes )

Biographical Note
Upon his graduation from Jefferson Medical College in 1862, William Williams Keen (1837-1932) received a commission as Acting Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army. At the conclusion of his military service, Keen spent two years attending clinics in Paris and Berlin. When Keen returned to the U.S. in 1866 he delivered a summer course of lectures at his alma mater and became the head of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy. When the latter ceased operations in 1875, Keen became Professor of Artistic Anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Keen obtained the chair of surgery at the Women's Medical College in 1884 and retained this position until 1889 when Jefferson Medical College appointed him successor to the late Samuel W. Gross as professor of surgery. Dr. Keen held the chair of surgery at Jefferson until his retirement in 1907. He died on June 7, 1932.

Dr. Keen was a prolific writer on anatomical and surgical subjects. His eight volume System of Surgery was the preeminent text for U.S. surgeons in the first decades of the 20th century. Keen is also remembered for being the first surgeon in Philadelphia to adopt Lister's principles of antisepsis (at St. Mary's Hospital in 1876). He also participated in a secret operation performed upon President Grover Cleveland in 1893 for a verrucous carcinoma of the mouth.

Scope and Contents
The collection consists of materials relating to William W. Keen including addresses, correspondence, published medical journal articles by Keen, and research notes pertaining to his operations and research on the cervical rib. The addresses cover medical topics or the history of medicine and were presented at meetings of various medical organizations including the American Medical Association, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and two Jefferson commencements, 1910 and 1916. The bulk of the correspondence pertains to Keen's cervical rib research as well as letters from 1931-1933 dealing with Keen's autopsy. This group includes one letter written by Keen in 1931 outlining the directions for his post mortem.

Organization and Arrangement

  1. Addresses (1874-1927)
    Arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the sponsoring organization and thereafter in chronological order.

  2. Correspondence (1900-1933)
    Arranged in chronological order

  3. Events & Ephemera (1901-1984)
    Arranged in alphabetical order by subject heading

  4. Publications (1872-1921)
    Arranged chronological order

  5. Cervical Rib Data (1904-1906)
    Tables of cervical rib operations conducted between 1861 and 1906 compiled by Dr. Keen for publication in: "Symptomatology, Diagnosis and surgical Treatment of Cervical Ribs," American Journal of Medical Science 133:173-218 (1907), with accompanying correspondence.

View and print the full finding aid (including box and folder list) in PDF format (104KB)

Jefferson home

The University Archives and Special Collections is a unit of
Scott Memorial Library, Thomas Jefferson University
1020 Walnut Street · Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-503-8097 / 215-503-2477

Ask an Archivist
Please send comments about this page to Michael Angelo (
Disclaimer & privacy policy
Copyright ©, Thomas Jefferson University
All rights reserved