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Sheet music collection on medical themes

Call Number: Pam Coll 5

Scope and Contents

Series 1 consists of sheet music in English in alphabetical order by title. Most items were published in London or in various cities in the United States, especially New York. The songs include alma maters and other music for the medical professions, humorous songs about incompetent healers and hawkers of remedies, many sentimental songs about Red Cross nurses treating wounded soldiers in World War I, songs for children to sing, songs about particular maladies (rheumatism) or remedies (cod liver oil), and popular songs that refer to physicians, chiropractors, dentists, nurses, and drug stores. Many songs from the 19th and early twentieth century were featured in music halls or as part of musicals. Portraits of performers are often featured on the cover of the sheet music. Some songs are radio theme songs. For the more recent period, there are recorded songs like Eric Clapton singing "Cocaine" or Loretta Lynn singing "The Pill," as well as theme songs from early TV shows on doctors and hospitals.

Series 2 consists of sheet music in French, arranged by size and then alphabetically. Most items were published in Paris, and most are from the 19th century or early 20th century. The lithographic cover illustrations are often by well-known printmakers. Many of the songs are part of comic scenes that contain both music and spoken words. Others are comic monologues.

Series 3 consists of a few songs in German and Dutch and several tangos from Buenos Aires, Argentina, notable for their colored cover illustrations of medical scenes and the dedication of the music to physicians.

In all these series, a number of items are incomplete and represented by an illustrated cover only, or a cover and a single page of music on the reverse.

Series 4 includes sheet music that advertises a product--usually a patent medicine--or a practitioner. Sometimes the songs or musical pieces are popular and unrelated to medicine, while other times, the words of the song directly praise the product.

Series 5 is a very large collection of sheet music published by Emerson Drug Company, Baltimore, to advertise Bromo Seltzer. These date from about 1890 to 1910. The songs themselves are popular and sentimental.

Series 6, “Miscellaneous,” includes sheet music advertising St. Jacob’s Oil and Beecham’s Pills; song books of several musicals on doctors; books of songs published by medical schools; and songs and songbooks by publishers who took patent medicine advertisements to lower the cost of selling the music.


  • ca. 1762-1989
  • Majority of material found within 1890 - 1940


Language of Materials

Most items are in English. There are over a 150 items in French, and some items in Spanish, German, and Dutch.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Yale does not own copyright to this music. A majority of the items are in the public domain, but many are still under copyright.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by William H. Helfand, 2013.


Organized into six series: 1. Individual songs in English by title. 2. Individual songs in French by title, subdivided into large and small format. 3. Individual songs in other languages; Argentine tangos. 4. Music advertising a product or a practitioner. 5. Bromo-Seltzer sheet music. 6. Miscellaneous.


18 boxes

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Sheet music on medical themes including songs and piano compositions about medical providers, ailments, remedies, health for children, and advertisements for medical products. Much of the music was performed in music halls or as part of musicals, or later, performed on radio, television, and on records.

Biographical / Historical

These materials were collected by William H. Helfand, a former pharmaceutical company executive, a historian of medicine, and a longtime collector of materials, especially prints and ephemera, related to the history of medicine.

Sheet music collection on medical themes
Under Revision
by Toby A. Appel
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Medical Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library Repository

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