Oliver Wendell Holmes


Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–94) was an American writer, physician, and professor of medicine and one of the most important medical reformers of his time. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of Boston Brahmin stock, he attended Harvard University where he studied law and medicine. In 1843 he was credited with the discovery of the contagiousness of puerperal fever. He served as dean of Harvard Medical School from 1847 to 1853. He is most famous for his comic verse and poetry. His most popular works are “Old Ironsides,” a poem published in 1830, and the “Poet at the Breakfast Table” series, published as a collection in 1872. He coined the term Brahmin in an article published in 1860 in the Atlantic Monthly, of which he was a founding contributor. Holmes was a staunch anti-abolitionist and changed his view on abolition only at the outbreak of the Civil War when his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Junior, enlisted in the Union army. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Edward Anthony, New York

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 photographic print : carte-de-visite, albumen paper ; 9.2 x 5.7 centimeters


  1. The Editors, Holmes, Oliver Wendell,” in American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Last updated: March 30, 2016