Finding Aid
John Chalmers Da Costa
John Chalmers Da Costa
1863 - 1933
(Art/Photo Collection, AD-009)

MS013
John Chalmers Da Costa Collection
1882 - 1959
2.0 Linear Feet (3 Boxes )

Biographical Note
Special care needs to be taken in the differentiation of Professor of Surgery John Chalmers Da Costa (1863-1933), whose papers dominate this collection, from other members of his family with identical names.

John Chalmers Da Costa, 1863-1933
Born in Philadelphia on 15 November 1863, John Chalmer Da Costa was the son of George T. and Margareta (Beasley) Da Costa. Educated at the Friends' Central School and the University of Pennsylvania (1882), Da Costa received his MD from Jefferson Medical College (1885). Following the publication of the first edition of his Manual of Modern Surgery Dr. Da Costa became Clinical Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College in 1895. To frustrate attempts made by other medical schools to recruit him for their faculties, the Co-Chairmen of Jefferson’s Department of Surgery, Professors John Hill Brinton and W. W. Keen, elevated Dr. Da Costa to a third full professorship in surgery in 1900. When Dr. Keen retired in 1907 the trustees appointed Da Costa as his successor. He subsequently became the first Samuel D. Gross Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College, 1910-1933.

Da Costa's Modern Surgery went through ten editions between 1895 and 1931. The impact of this work can be derived from the acknowledgments (see Series III, Sub-group 3) that Dr. Da Costa received from such eminent figures in the medical profession as Harvey Cushing, William Mayo, and Rudolph Matas. Da Costa also enjoyed high regard as a public speaker. In 1931, the same year that he produced the tenth edition of his surgery text, Da Costa also published The Papers and Speeches of J. Chalmers Da Costa. This work was followed by a similar collection, published posthumously in 1944, entitled The Trials and Triumphs of the Surgeon.

Dr. Da Costa’s professional achievements were matched only by his personal accomplishments in the face of a crippling form of arthritis, which began to afflict him in 1922. Though it soon became impossible for him to perform operative clinics, Dr. Da Costa remained in high demand as a teacher. As his ailments progressed it became necessary for Da Costa to deliver his popular lectures and addresses from a wheelchair. As early as 1925 Da Costa attempted to resign the Samuel D. Gross Professorship of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College because of his disability. The Board of Trustees unanimously refused to accept his letter of resignation. Da Costa continued teaching until 1930 and retained the title of Samuel D. Gross Professor of Surgery until his death in 1933.

Other members of the Da Costa family represented in this collection include:

John Chalmers Da Costa, 1834-1910.
He was the uncle, and namesake, of Jefferson’s Samuel D. Gross Professor of Surgery, J. Chalmers Da Costa. Immediately following his graduation from Jefferson Medical College in 1878, Da Costa was appointed as a demonstrator of obstetrics at his alma mater. Subsequently, he became Chief of the Gynecological Clinic at Jefferson. For more than 20 years he was a visiting gynecologist at the Jefferson Medical College Hospital.

John Chalmers Da Costa, Jr., 1871-1920.
An 1893 graduate of Jefferson Medical College, Da Costa was nicknamed "Black Jack" for his jet black hair and mustache. He was the son of the Jefferson Hospital gynecologist noted above and the cousin of Jefferson’s Samuel D. Gross Professor of Surgery. Dr. Da Costa obtained a position on the teaching staff of Jefferson Medical College in 1895. After serving in various capacities he became an Associate Professor of Medicine specializing in hematology. Poor health interfered with Dr. Da Costa’s teaching and hospital obligations and he resigned in 1918.

Mary Roberts Brick Da Costa, d.1951
Sister of Joseph Coles Brick (an 1894 graduate of Jefferson Medical College who later became an Associate Professor of Proctology at his alma mater), Mary R. Brick married Professor of Surgery John Chalmers Da Costa (1863-1933) on 26 February 1895. The couple had no children. Mrs. Da Costa died on 27 January 1951 at age 90.

Scope and Contents
The collection consists of materials by or about John Chalmers Da Costa, MD (1863-1933), as well as some items relating to his wife, Mary Brick Da Costa and his cousin John C. Da Costa, Jr. Types of materials within the collection include addresses, medical journal articles (published), personal and family correspondence, notebooks, ephemera and certificates.

While the addresses were mainly given at Jefferson Medical College, a few were presented at meetings of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and other medical organizations. The correspondence documents Da Costa's appointment at Jefferson, his membership in various medical organizations, his medical writings, and congratulations or acknowledgements. Of interest is a series of letters written in 1926 regarding Da Costa's selection as recipient of the Henry Jacob Bigelow Medal and his subsequent decline of that honor. Notebooks include those containing lecture notes taken while a student at the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson, a volume labled "Invoice Book" containing patient notes and case histories and a notebook listing railway accidents for 1897. The certificates mainly document his naval activities, his membership in various medical organizations, his education and receipt of various honors.

Organization and Arrangement

  1. Addresses by J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1897-1931
    Arranged in alphabetical order by the name of the sponsoring organization, thereafter in chronological order.

  2. Publications of J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1897-1929
    Arranged in chronological order.

  3. Correspondence of J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1885-1939
    1. Appointments, 1885-1927
      Consists mainly of notifications and letters of congratulation written in association with Da Costa's advancement within the faculty of Jefferson Medical College.
    2. Membership Notifications, 1909-1917
    3. Letters to J. Chalmers Da Costa: acknowledgments, felicitations, etc., 1895-1932
      Arranged in alphabetical order by correspondent.
      Consists mainly of letters of congratulation or acknowledgment from preeminent medical educators written in association with the publication of Da Costa's books. Correspondents include Drs. Harvey Cushing, Rudolph Matas, and William J. Mayo.
    4. Other letters addressed to , or regarding, J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1890-1939
      Consists of a slightly broader rage of correspondents and subjects than subseries C.
    5. Letters written by J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1924

  4. Events and Ephemera, 1885-1959
    Arranged in alphabetical order by subject headings.

  5. Necrology, 1933-1934

  6. Da Costa Family Papers, 1901-1951
    1. Mary Brick Da Costa, 1930-1951
    2. John Chalmers Da Costa (1834-1910), 1910
    3. John Chalmers Da Costa, Jr., 1901-1909

  7. Manuscript Writings of J. Chalmers Da Costa, 1914-1944
    1. Addresses, 1914 and n.d.
    2. Miscellaneous, n.d.
    3. Publications, 1931-1944

  8. Certificates, 1882-1927
    1. J. Chalmers Da Costa
    2. J. Chalmers Da Costa, Jr. [presumed]

View and print the full finding aid (including box and folder list) in PDF format (57KB)



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 (Michael.Angelo@jefferson.edu).
Disclaimer & privacy policy
Copyright ©, Thomas Jefferson University
All rights reserved