Highlights From the Warren Anatomical Museum

The collections inside this museum hold intriguing objects that tell the story of 19th century American medicine

An 1868 surgery kit, part of Harvard's Warren Anatomical Museum. (Warren Anatomical Museum)

Pelvis, right femur, and dislocated left femur

Pelvis, right femur, and dislocated left femur
(Warren Anatomical Museum)
In one of the earliest medical malpractice cases in American history, Maine resident Charles Lowell dislocated his hip when thrown from his horse in 1821 and later sued his doctors. After complaining of pain in his left hip, Lowell went to see Dr. John Faxon and Dr. Micajah Hawkes, who manipulated his leg back into place and told Lowell to rest for a month.

Once that time passed, they noticed that his hip was dislocated. According to the Warren Museum’s records, “Lowell’s left leg stood out from his body and his foot was everted.” Told by Hawkes that there was no way to fix his hip, Lowell “erupted in anger and swore vengeance on the physicians who had ruined him.”

Lowell traveled to Boston to see Dr. John Collins Warren, a well-known surgeon at the time, but he and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital were unsuccessful in repairing his leg. Lowell filed a lawsuit against Faxon and Hawkes in Maine three times without resolution, with the court concluding that because there was no medical consensus on the proper treatment, the two doctors had been “professional and competent.” It is only after Lowell died that the correct diagnosis was made.

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