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About Peter Parker Papers


Peter Parker


Peter Parker, medical missionary and diplomat to China, was born in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1804. He attended Amherst College and transferred to Yale College in 1830. After graduation in 1831, Parker studied both theology and medicine and was awarded an M.D. from Yale in 1834. In 1834, he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in Philadelphia, and under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), departed a month later for Canton as the first Protestant medical missionary to China. He opened the Ophthalmic Hospital at Canton in 1835, where he specialized in treating diseases of the eyes, especially cataracts, but also performed general surgery including the removal of large tumors, and lithotomies. In 1847, he became the first physician to use anesthesia to China. With the onset of the Opium War (1840-1842), Parker returned to America, where he sought financial support for his hospital in the United States and Europe, urged U.S. government officials to send an envoy to China, and met and married Harriet Colby Webster. He returned to China in 1842. In 1844 he served as translator and assistant under Caleb Cushing, U.S. Attorney General, and participated in negotiating the first treaty between the two countries, the Treaty of Wanghia. Dismissed by the ABCFM in 1847 because the Board doubted the utility of medical missionaries, Parker continued his hospital until 1855 while acting as a part-time member of the American Legation. Due to a prolonged illness, Parker returned to the United States in 1855 only to sail back to China later that year as American Commissioner to China. After he was recalled by the U.S. government in 1857, Parker and his wife retired to Washington, D.C. He died in 1888.

The Peter Parker Collection, MS Coll 6, includes Parker's letters to his family, and correspondence relating to Parker's medical, missionary, diplomatic, and personal affairs. Writings include handwritten journals, sermons, and addresses. Medical reports and ledgers include Parker's handwritten quarterly reports of Canton Hospital, which contain lengthy case reports on a selection of surgeries. Two volumes of ledgers list patients treated at Canton Hospital. The collection also includes photographs from Canton hospital at a later period, and miscellanea by and about Parker. A finding aid to the Peter Parker collection was developed by Todd Lane and Toby Appel. Please note that the texts themselves cannot be searched, only the titles. The titles used for the digital collection are from the finding aid: http://drs.library.yale.edu:8083/fedora/get/med:ms.0006/PDF

The Peter Parker collection was digitized through a Yale Library SCOPA grant. Florence Gillich, Historical Library Assistant, created the PDFs.

Please see the Lam Qua Paintings Collection, a related collection on Peter Parker's patients. Lam Qua, a Western trained Chinese Painter, was commissioned by Peter Parker in the 1830s to paint portraits of patients at the Canton Hospital with large tumors or other major deformities. These paintings, held by Yale's Medical Historical Library, are a window into Peter Parker's practice. Parker displayed these portraits on trips to the United States to promote his missionary activities. He left them to the Pathology Department of the Yale Medical School, which later gave them to the Historical Library.

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