Hays, Isaac, 1796-1879

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Isaac Hays was an ophthamologist and medical publications editor. He was a surgeon at Will's Ophthalmic Hospital in Philadelphia (1834-1854) and was one of the first to study colorblindness and astigmatism.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1820s-1879. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122523611

Isaac Hays (1796-1879, APS 1863) was an ophthamologist and medical publications editor. He was a surgeon at Will's Ophthalmic Hospital in Philadelphia (1834-1854) and was one of the first to study colorblindness and astigmatism.

Isaac Minis Hays (1847-1925, APS 1886 ) was a Philadelphia physician, ophthalmologist, editor and librarian. He was the editor of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences from 1878-1890. He later became Secretary and Librarian of the American Philosophical Society from 1897-1922. As A.P.S. Librarian, he collected and cataloged the great mass of Benjamin Franklin’s papers for the American Philosophical Society. He also published a Calendar of Franklin Papers (1907) and a C[h]ronology of Benjamin Franklin (2nd ed., 1913).

Hays was born in Philadelphia on July 26, 1847, the son of Dr. Isaac Hays (1796-1879, APS 1863) and Sarah Minis. He was sent to the Classical Institute for his secondary education, and afterward matriculated at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated A.B. in 1866 and immediately entered Penn’s medical school, graduating M.D. in 1868. Remaining an extra year, he took a Master of Arts degree in 1869. Also, in 1869 he became the assistant editor to his father Isaac Hays, who was the editor of the American Journal of Medical Sciences.

Hays wrote or edited several works in his field of ophthalmology, including the American edition of J. Soelberg Wells’s Treatise on the Diseases of the Eye (1873) and a statistical survey, entitled “Blindness: Its Frequency, Causes and Prevention” for William F. Norris and Charles A. Oliver’s System of Diseases of the Eye (1897). However, Hays took little pleasure in the practice of medicine (having few patients) or in medical research.

Hays succeeded his father as editor of the American Journal of Medical Sciences, after his father’s death in 1878. Already as assistant editor, he had commissioned four historical articles to demonstrate American contributions over the previous century to Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology. These appeared in successive quarterly issues of the Journal in 1876, and were reprinted as a monograph entitled, A Century of American Medicine . Several years after becoming editor, Hays converted a sister publication of the Journal, the monthly Medical News and Library, to a weekly format. He conceived the publication, containing extracts from other journals, as a “medium” for “transmitting the earliest intelligence of medical discoveries and progress,” and recruited special correspondents in other cities for this purpose. These endeavors gave Hays a notable reputation as a medical editor.

Hays’s earliest experiences with libraries came after his election as a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1872. The following year he was appointed to the Library Committee of the College, and pursued its work with creativity and energy. One of his greatest concerns was to see that the College library was properly cataloged, and he visited the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Boston Medical Library to learn about the costs, materials and systems for cataloging the collection. He even concerned himself with the particulars of the library’s operations, designing charge slips, helping to draft rules for the use of the library, drafting a new, expanded schedule for its hours of operation, binding library and archival materials and hiring its first professional staff. As the College Librarian became more experienced in his post, the need for the Library Committee to be involved in the day-to-day operations lessened. Hays was displeased by this “restriction” in the Committee’s authority, and offered his resignation in 1893.

Hays’ earlier editorial and library committee assignments would be excellent preparation for his work at the American Philosophical Society. He was elected to membership in the Society in February of 1886, and eleven years later became one of its secretaries. He was also appointed acting librarian to replace of Dr. George H. Horn (1840-1897, APS 1869), who had fallen ill. Within a few weeks of his new appointments he began initiatives for changes that would occupy the Society for a quarter of a century. Serving as the A.P.S. Librarian, secretary and editor, Hays was effectively its first executive officer. During the twenty-five year period from 1897-1922 he is said to have written 48,000 letters on Society business and edited twenty-seven volumes of the Proceedings and Transactions . With a passion for order, a keen analytical sense, and abundant physical energy, he became the driving force behind all of the Society’s work.

Drawing upon his experiences on the Library Committee of the College of Physicians, Hays brought needed changes to the Society’s Library. On his appointment as Acting Librarian, he was invited to sit on the Library Committee and began making important recommendations. Later, after the death of the former Librarian Dr. Horn in 1898, Hays became an ex offico member of the Library Committee. Among his first recommendations were the establishment of rules governing the operation of the Library, the purchase of a card catalog, and the hiring of a professional cataloger. Other library staff was added over the next few years, totaling four by 1901. For a library cataloging system Hays adopted the Dewey Decimal Classification system to replace the “philosophical” classification of former A.P.S. Librarian J. Peter Lesley (1819-1903, APS 1856). Next, he turned to the Library’s neglected books and periodicals that were badly in need of binding. He identified and sold duplicate volumes and withdrew books outside the Library’s fields of interest, donating many pamphlets on Unitarian theology (garnered by the Society’s first Librarian John Vaughan (1756-1841, APS 1784)) to the First Unitarian Church. Hays extended the hours during which the Library was open to readers, and also asked for increased space. One of his most impressive accomplishments was a fifteen-year project to bind and catalog the papers of Benjamin Franklin. Having proceeded with the organization of the Library, Hays now turned to the A.P.S. Committee on Historical Manuscripts for advice about how to make the Society’s many large collections accessible to researchers. On the Committee’s recommendation calendars were prepared for the papers of Richard Henry Lee, Nathanael Greene and General George Weedon. Hays is best known outside the Society for promoting the Benjamin Franklin papers, donated to the Society by Charles Pemberton Fox in 1840. This collection was little known or used for much of the nineteenth-century, although Paul L. Ford used it extensively for his 1899 portrait, The Many-Sided Franklin . Shortly after Hays’ appointment as Librarian, A.P.S. member Talcott Williams (1849-1928, APS 1888) suggested to him that a calendar be prepared for the Franklin papers. Hays presented the idea of a Franklin Collection calendar to the A.P.S. Council along with a proposal that the Society celebrate the bicentennial of Franklin’s birth in 1906. Neither proposal was adopted. Consequently, he changed his tactics. In the final paper of a scientific session at the General Meeting that year, the Chairman of the Library Committee Joseph G. Rosengarten ( 1835-1921, APS 1891) described the content and character of the Franklin papers, expressing the hope that a calendar might be prepared for the collection in the not too distant future-“certainly by the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of our founder.” In the business meeting that followed Hays gained unanimous consent for a committee “to prepare a plan for the appropriate celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Franklin.”

The plans for a bicentennial celebration of Franklin’s birth drew widespread support, from the U.S. government, the Pennsylvania legislature, and the city of Philadelphia. On April 20, 1906 dignitaries from across the nation and the globe assembled in Philadelphia to celebrate the bicentennial. These included Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, leading the congressional delegation; Ambassador Jean A.A. J. Jusserand (1855-1932, APS 1907), representing the French Republic; as well as delegates from 127 learned societies. In addition to addresses on Franklin by leading scholars, there were luncheons, dinners and two academic convocations. There were also memorial ceremonies at Franklin’s grave. The grateful members of the Society recognized Hays achievement with an illuminated scroll and an engraved silver cup. After the departure of guests, the Committee on the Franklin Bicentennial directed Hays to prepare a memorial volume and “to secure the services of a corps of assistants to complete the Calendar of the Franklin papers.” The calendar appeared in five large volumes in 1908.

As A.P.S. Secretary Hays resuscitated the spirit of the Society just as he had revived its Library. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, attendance at the Society’s semi-monthly meetings was meager. The number of attendees rarely reached thirty. In 1901 Hays proposed that the Society hold an annual general meeting, lasting several days to attract distant members instead of the semi-monthly meetings. His plan was approved, and the first general meeting was held on April 3-5, 1902 and was a resounding success. 115 members attended, and such meetings became a regular feature of the Society’s calendar. Sometimes the general meetings were planned around an anniversary or special theme like the centennial of Darwin’s birth. In 1910 ordinary meetings were reduced to one a month, and in 1936 monthly meetings were dropped completely in favor of a second general meeting.

Hays’ other major initiative within the American Philosophical Society was less successful. The reawakening of the members’ interest in the Society and its mission naturally produced a desire for larger quarters. This was especially the case, since member attendance at general meetings had grown significantly and the library had outstripped the available space. As a matter of fact, in 1912 some books from the Library’s collection had to be put into storage at a neighboring bank. At this time in Philadelphia the new Parkway was taking shape under the leadership of former Fairmount Park Commissioner Eli Kirk Price, Jr. (1860-1933, APS 1916), who based the plans upon the model of the Champs ď Elysees in Paris. Hays was among the Society’s members, who voted to leave the Philosophical Hall facility on Independence Square and to construct a new building at 16th and Cherry streets. To this end he mounted a fund-raising campaign, playing a large part in the related meetings, discussions and publicity. However, the advent of World War I diverted the attention of the members and the public for a number of years. In 1922 before the relocation scheme could be realized, the city of Philadelphia decided to use the 16th and Cherry Street tract for a park.

In the spring of 1922 Hays shocked the members of the American Philosophical Society with an announcement of his retirement. The members were genuinely dismayed, since few active members could recall a time when he had not been in charge. After his resignation, Hays continued to be an active and outspoken A.P.S. member. Among his activities, he was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Library, and in this capacity he wrote an article on Benjamin Franklin’s Canada pamphlet entitled, The Interest of Great Britain Considered (1760), as well as answering questions from a new generation of Franklin scholars such as George Simpson Eddy. In 1924 Hays served as secretary of a special committee to plan an international scientific conference to celebrate the Society’s two hundredth anniversary in 1926. He presented his plan for the celebration on May 27, 1925. Unfortunately, he would not live to see it realized. Ten days later, the seventy-seven year old Hays died of a heart attack on June 5, during a heat wave of unseasonable intensity. In his will Hays directed that after the death of his daughters, the income of his considerable estate should be paid to the American Philosophical Society, the institution he had served for thirty-seven years.

From the guide to the Isaac and I. Minis Hays papers, Circa 1820-1925, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIc, 1826-1836 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Office of the Secretary. Papers concerning publication of the transactions of the College, 1841-1879 (span), 1851-1858 (bulk). College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn LeConte, John L. (John Lawrence), 1825-1883. Papers, 1812-1897 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIe. 1845-1865. American Philosophical Society
referencedIn C. W. (Caspar Wistar) Pennock papers, 1829-1891, 1829-1891 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Pennsylvania Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye and Ear (Philadelphia, Pa.). Board of Managers. Minute book., 1822-1829. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Scientists Collection, 1563-1973 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Bigelow, John P. (John Prescott), 1797-1872. Papers, 1805-1896 (bulk 1814-1863) Houghton Library
creatorOf Isaac and I. Minis Hays papers, Circa 1820-1925 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Gross, Samuel D. (Samuel David), 1805-1884. Obituary notice of Isaac Hays, M.D. holograph ms., 1879. Thomas Jefferson University, Scott Memorial Library
referencedIn United States American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission records, 1862-1864. Houghton Library
referencedIn College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Committee of Publication. Records, 1874-1890. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866. Jared Sparks collection of American manuscripts, 1582-1843 Houghton Library
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IId, 1837-1844 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Pennock, Caspar Wistar, 1801-1867. Papers, 1829-1891. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Hays, Isaac, 1796-1879. Papers, ca. 1820s-1879. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Castle-Bache Collection, 1683-1922 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Building Committee (1861-1864). Records, 1861-1864. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
referencedIn Orme, David, d. 1812. Heads of a course of lectures given by Dr. Orme & Lowder on the theory and practice of midwifery. College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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associatedWith Bache, Franklin, 1792-1864. person
associatedWith Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869. person
associatedWith Beck, John B. (John Brodhead), 1794-1851. person
associatedWith Bertin, G. family
associatedWith Bigelow, Jacob, 1786-1879. person
associatedWith Bigelow, John P. (John Prescott), 1797-1872 person
associatedWith Billings, John S., (John Shaw), 1838-1913 person
associatedWith Bonaparte, Charles Lucian, 1803-1857. person
associatedWith Bowditch, Henry I. (Henry Ingersoll), 1808-1892. person
associatedWith Breck, Samuel, 1771-1862. person
associatedWith Brigham, Amariah, 1798-1849. person
associatedWith Brongniart, Alexandre, 1770-1847. person
associatedWith Cabell, J. L. (James Lawrence), 1813-1889. person
associatedWith Caldwell, Charles, 1772-1853. person
associatedWith Castle family family
associatedWith College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Building Committee (1861-1864). corporateBody
associatedWith College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Committee of Publication. corporateBody
associatedWith College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Office of the Secretary. corporateBody
associatedWith Coxe, John Redman, 1773-1864. person
associatedWith Crittenden, John J. (John Jordan), 1787-1863. person
associatedWith Dewees, William, 1768-1841. person
associatedWith Drake, Daniel, 1785-1852. person
associatedWith Draper, John William, 1811-1882. person
associatedWith Featherstonhaugh, George William, 1780-1866. person
associatedWith Fisher, John Dix, 1797-1856. person
associatedWith Flint, Austin person
associatedWith Furness, Horace Howard, 1833-1912 person
associatedWith Godman, John D. (John Davidson), 1794-1830. person
associatedWith Gross, Samuel D. (Samuel David), 1805-1884. person
associatedWith Hays, I. Minis, (Isaac Minis), 1847-1925 person
associatedWith Hayward, George, 1791-1863. person
associatedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878. person
associatedWith Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-1894. person
associatedWith Jackson, James, 1796-1870. person
associatedWith Jacobi, A. (Abraham), 1830-1919 person
associatedWith Jusserand, J. J., (Jean Jules), 1855-1932 person
associatedWith Keating, William Hypolitus, 1799-1840. person
associatedWith Lea, Henry Charles, 1825-1909 person
associatedWith LeConte, John L., (John Lawrence), 1825-1883 person
associatedWith Lesueur, Charles Alexandre, 1778-1846. person
associatedWith Lewell, Thomas person
associatedWith Lewell, Thomas. person
associatedWith Longmore, Robert person
associatedWith Longmore, Robert. person
associatedWith Marsh, George P. (George Perkins), 1801-1882. person
associatedWith Meddlemore, Richard person
associatedWith Meddlemore, Richard. person
associatedWith Nuttall, Thomas, 1786-1859. person
associatedWith Ord, George, 1781-1866. person
associatedWith Orme, David, d. 1812. person
associatedWith Pennock, Caspar Wistar, 1801-1867. person
associatedWith Pennsylvania Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye and Ear (Philadelphia, Pa.). Board of Managers. corporateBody
associatedWith Reed, William B. (William Bradford), 1806-1876. person
associatedWith Say, Thomas, 1787-1834. person
associatedWith Sewall, Thomas, 1786 or 7-1845 person
associatedWith Sewall, Thomas, 1786 or 7-1845. person
associatedWith Smith, N. R. (Nathan Ryno), 1797-1877. person
correspondedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stillé, Alfred, 1813-1900 person
correspondedWith United States. American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission. corporateBody
associatedWith Warren, John Collins, 1778-1856. person
associatedWith Welch, William Henry, 1850-1934 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Medical publishing
Medical publishing
Medical publishing
Natural history
Science and technology
Social life and customs


Birth 1796-07-05

Death 1879-04-12


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