Historic Bible Collections

The Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives contains 12 historic Bibles published before 1900, each of them a Catholic Latin Vulgate or an approved translation of a Catholic Bible.  These Bibles offer a picture of the evolving theology of the Catholic Church throughout the 19th century based upon the unchanging foundation of the Word, a depiction of the physical ways in which the Word was made manifest, and, often, a window into the owners of these Bibles and the ways Biblical marginalia can assist with research.

In this post, we would like to highlight some particularly impressive pieces from historic Bible collections!

1790 Carey Bible

A Carey Bible is one of the rarest printed Bibles.  Published by the Catholic Matthew Carey out of Philadelphia, it was an English version based off of the Douay-Rheims Bible.  Most notably, it was the first English Catholic Bible printed in the United States.  Although this was not a Catholic Bible owned by Mother Seton – her personal Carey Bibles are located at Notre Dame and Vincennes, Indiana – this was the edition of the Bible that Mother Seton used.  Matthew Carey published other Bibles under the Carey name in subsequent years, but, due to its historical nature and limited initial publication, plus the fact that many surviving versions have association with prominent and historically important people, they often sell for high values at auction.  Although copies in private hands are difficult to calculate, it is almost certain that fewer than 50 remain extant today.

This Bible came to the archives via Sister Joan Marie Hoyt, who discovered it during her years as a librarian and archivist at various institutions operated by the Daughters.  It is far from pristine condition but does contain a few interesting notes.  The first is a signature on the cover page, whose name we have not been able to conclusively identify (any help anybody?).  The second is a copying of a few select verses onto the flyleaf, or the last, blank, loose page of the book.  It is interesting to note that these verses all relate to the subject of temperance from alcohol.

1805 New Testament – The Washhouse Bible

Monetarily, this is worth much less than the Carey Bible, although also a Matthew Carey publication.  This is an English New Testament from 1805, with plain board covers.  The entire piece shows evidence of water damage and warping.  Faded on the cover is the word “Seminary.”  On the front endpapers are the words “for the use of the Wash house.”  Between these two clues, we can place the use of the book at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, just down the road from the nascent community of Mother Seton, where the early Sisters had responsibilities for the Sulpician priests of the school.  The Sisters themselves did not do the washing but oversaw the enslaved women there who did.  This book was likely read by a lector to the enslaved women there, providing a rare surviving physical artifactual document to the labor of the enslaved.  It also served, however, as a record of the deaths of early Sisters and laypeople, including Alice Brennan, “children, boarders, widows, and other unknown persons who lived in Saint Joseph’s Valley in the early years of the Sisters of Charity.”


This Latin Vulgate Bible is notable for what it contains in addition to the text – various bits of plant matter throughout (which have now been sleeved to prevent damage to the pages) and a hand-drawn image of the Miraculous Medal, a sacred community symbol of the Daughters of Charity’s devotion to Saint Catherine Labouré and the Blessed Mother.

1870 Providence Hospital Bible

This is another Bible that contains inserted plant matter, but also begins to see the use of included illustrations.  This was not something new in religious life or even in Bibles, but that does not take away from their beauty and impressive nature.  This Bible came from the library of Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., where it records a number of births, deaths, and signatures, including Miss Annie Farrell; William Tierney; and Archbishop John McCloskey of New York.

1880 Bible Gallery

The use of images to tell Bible stories is an old one, evident in the stained glass of Medieval European Gothic churches.  This provided a way to communicate stories, theology, and values at a time when society did not have a high rate of literacy.  Although this is not technically a Bible, we included it here for the sheer magnitude of the images, all created by French artist, Gustave Doré.

All Bibles in the collection that are structurally sound enough are free to be used on-site by researchers and guests by appointment.

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The Carney Medical Manual

This is an update to our post of a few years ago about the accession we received from Carney Hospital. We wanted to share one more item from this collection that contains a fascinating look into American medical history.

This book is undated, but we estimate it to be from sometime between 1900 and 1920.  It was designed and sold as a record book, like a patient register or a phone book.  However, the doctors and nurses instead used the book as their go-to guide for different medications and treatments.  The advice included doses of different treatments, all arranged alphabetically by disease.

We admit that none of us are medical experts, and the writing sometimes descends into what could be called “doctor’s scribble,” with various medications we have never heard of.  Check out this advice for  “Nausea and Vomiting” as an example…

Nonetheless, for those who have some knowledge of medicine and medical history, it provides a valuable piece in the evolution of the way medicine has evolved and in the ways that we treat different maladies.

In addition to this usefulness, there are some specific store names with addresses included for preferred places to procure certain treatments.  They even include specific names of stores with addresses.  Check out this entry for “Hand Lotion.” 

An address in Chicago for a long-defunct store provides evidence of the network of hospitals and pharmacies throughout the country at this time, as well as the state of economics and medical commerce at this time (Incidentally, if anyone can provide dates for this store that helps us to more accurately date this book, we would appreciate any assistance you can provide!).

The Carney collection is available to researchers on-site, with plans for pieces of the collection to be digitized and made available in the future.

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Researchers Helping Archivists: Smallpox in Texas

Sometimes posts for this blog include new historical research by our staff.  Sometimes it is used as a way to promote certain collections.  Sometimes our posts are just meant to be fun.  For this post, we wanted to discuss some of the ways in which researchers interact with the archives and must draw conclusions based on information that is found in the collections and the information that is not.

In December 2021, a researcher named Lanny Ottosen with the Travis County Historical Commission in Austin, Texas reached out to us looking for information about the Texas smallpox epidemic of 1917.  While the archives certainly have collections related to the Daughters’ history in Texas, none of us are Texas residents immersed in detailed Texas history, and none of us were familiar with the state’s smallpox epidemic. 

The initial responses that we sent did not contain an enormous amount of information.  A few of the published, formal histories of the hospital included a paragraph about the smallpox epidemics.  One described how a few Daughters of Charity ventured the seven miles north of Austin to work at the “pest camp,” a then-common term for a quarantine sites, and listed the Daughters who “probably worked at the camp.”  While it is good that this information was noted, it was far from the empirical accounts that either we or Mr. Ottosen were looking for, and the “probably” does not inspire the greatest accuracy in the information.  There were, however, five letters describing the smallpox epidemic in the special service collection related to such outbreaks, four from Sister Ursula Fenton to the Provincial from March-May 1917 and one from Sister Lucia Beil from May 1917 with eyewitness accounts of nursing at the camp.  Sister Ursula’s first letter even went into detail about death rates in the camp and the city at large and the first names of Sisters who went to nurse there.

Sister Ursula Fenton to Sister Catherine Sullivan, March 22, 1917

Mr. Ottosen was able to confirm that these letters matched the newspaper clippings he had discovered.  He then asked about any photos of the smallpox camps of 1917 or the more famous Spanish flu camps of 1918, the latter of which we were well aware of the in the collection and happily passed on to him.  He then asked another question that stumped us a little, as he asked about entries in the patient registers.  These are large bound volumes from the early days of Seton Hospital noting the names of patients and their diagnoses.

For being such a large epidemic, there were only two entries for smallpox in March 1917.  However, the second entry contained a key clue as to the reason for this lack of information.  The comment on the entry reads “Transferred to P.H.,” presumably meaning pest house.  No further smallpox cases appear throughout the rest of 1917.

We are left to make an interpretation of history based not only on what is included in the records, but also based on what is missing from the records.  We know that there were extensive cases of smallpox, nursed by the Daughters of Seton Hospital, but they do not appear in the patient registers.  We have deduced that, after a certain point, when the city and county began to ramp up their public health measures, the quarantine sites had their own patient registers, which, to date, have not been found.

Mr. Ottosen published his extensive research on the Travis County Pest Camps through the Travis County Historical Commission blog:  https://traviscountyhistorical.blogspot.com/2023/02/a-history-of-travis-county-pest-camps.html.  We thank him for his assistance in writing this post and for his approval of the use of his name related to his research requests and to this post. 

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