Take Note

An exploration of note-taking in Harvard University Collections
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10. Waterhouse family Bible

Births, deaths and inoculations

Benjamin Waterhouse

Oxford, England; Harvard Medical School, 1772

The flyleaves and end papers of Bibles were often used to note the births, deaths, and marriages of family members. But this Bible, belonging to the Waterhouse family, was used to record Benjamin Waterhouse’s cowpox inoculations of his children, Daniel, Benjamin, Mary, and Elizabeth, and two servants, Samuel Carter and Kesiah Flag, during the summer of 1800—these were the first vaccinations for smallpox in North America. According to Waterhouse, all were again exposed to smallpox seven years later and suffered no ill effects “which was done to convince the faithless, and silence the mischievous.”

Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846) was one of the first members of the faculty of Harvard Medical School. His reading of Edward Jenner’s discovery that inoculation with cowpox matter could confer immunity to smallpox—a far deadlier disease—inspired him to enter into correspondence with Jenner. The two became friends, and Jenner sent Waterhouse some of his vaccine matter, allowing him to vaccinate members of his family and household.

Benjamin Waterhouse; smallpox vaccination, inscriptions



ryanski1@aol.com's picture
Submitted by ryanski1@aol.com on

This example of note taking from the 18th century shows the methodology of Benjamin Waterhouse used to record information about numerous people in England. These descriptions Waterhouse uses are brief but the principle remains intact. In fact though these notes may seem personal, they're actually meant to look professional and be as informational as possible. Benjamin Waterhouse's real intentions exist in his notes because of his intellectual and observational behavior used in his disciplined note taking.

Brendan Ryan

The Brendan Ryan Company
Houston, Texas

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