Back to Switzerland and War Years
In 1909 Klebs married Harriet King Newell, who had three children about the same age as Sarah Malcolm Klebs. Together they raised their combined four children. As Klebs had inherited money through his first marriage, he decided to leave Chicago with his new family, move to Ouchy, Switzerland, and devote himself to historical pursuits. In the 1910s, Klebs also began to collect and write about works on variolation, that is the inoculation of smallpox pus from one person to a healthy person in order to create a mild case of smallpox and then confer immunity. This controversial method, which reached the West from the East about 1720, gave rise to a huge literature. Variolation or inoculation was replaced by Edward Jenner’s vaccination beginning in 1796.
With the outbreak of the war in Europe, Klebs returned with his family to America. He settled in Washington, D.C. where he volunteered to catalog the incunabula in the Surgeon General’s Library (now the National Library of Medicine), located with the Army Medical Museum on the Mall. It is from this early work that Klebs’ interest in the earliest printed books developed.
Advocate for History of Medicine in Medical Schools
Klebs argued in this paper for the role of history of medicine in the medical curriculum and as a subject of research that should be supported by medical schools such as Johns Hopkins. He hoped an institute would be established at Johns Hopkins, but the war put the plan on hold.
Cataloging Incunabula at the Army Medical Library
William Osler had suggested to the Army Medical Library in 1913 that they prepare a catalog of their holdings of incunabula. In late 1915 and early 1916, Klebs, who was using the library for his own research, volunteered to catalog the 232 incunabula in the collection. He hoped that he and the librarian could publish a catalogue with cross-listings and bibliographical references, a plan that was not realized. Klebs continued to act as an advisor, and published this paper on how to catalog incunabula. Here he was acting as a librarian, suggesting standard metadata and a style sheet.
Harvey Cushing’s Visit to Klebs on His Clinical Society Tour of Europe, 1912
Cushing’s caption in his scrapbook/diary is: “Klebs looking up the Rhone Valley from his favorite view point …Toward the setting sun. Lake Geneva. Lausanne. July 2”
Letter from Klebs to Harvey Cushing, February 23, 1916
Klebs here playfully discusses Vesalius with Cushing. It was Cushing’s great project to write a bibliography of the works of the Renaissance anatomist. Klebs is writing from his home in Washington, D.C. during the war.
Klebs’ Writings on Variolation
Klebs wrote several articles on variolation, the practice of inoculating a healthy person with a small amount of smallpox pus to give him or her a very mild case of the disease and at the same time confer immunity. This eighteenth-century practice was a precursor Edward Jenner’s vaccination. Klebs’ articles in German and English traced the history of ideas concerning variolation. He also published a bibliography of books on variolation.
Early Pamphlets for and Against Inoculation Collected by Klebs
Variolation or inoculation spawned a huge pamphlet literature that Klebs collected. Shown here are just two early examples, one for and the other against. Klebs’ books formed the basis of the Library’s Inoculation/ Vaccination collection numbering over 1,200 works.