Josiah C. Trent papers, 1852-1869, 1919-1961, bulk 1934-1961

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Trent, Josiah C. (Josiah Charles), 1914-1948
Josiah Charles Trent (1914-1948) was an American thoracic surgeon and rare book and manuscript collector. This collection primarily documents his medical education and training apart from his career at Duke University Hospital, as well his collecting activities, through his coursework, subject files, and writings. It was acquired as part of the History of Medicine Collections.
4.9 Linear Feet (Seven document boxes, one record carton, one card file box, and one oversize folder.)
Material in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collections includes correspondence, photographic reproductions of historical medical texts and illustrations, subject files, and drafts of published and unpublished writings. Much of this material concerns Trent's activities and publications as a collector and historian of medical practice, particularly surgery and epidemiology. This collection also includes printed material, a card file (possibly of his personal library), lecture notes taken during his medical education and training, and diplomas and certificates.

Correspondence in the Subject Files series documents Trent's rare book and manuscript collecting, involvement with various professional organizations, and relationships with prominent figures in medical history (John Fulton, Henry Sigerist, and W. W. Francis), book collecting (Henry Schuman), and Duke University (Wilburt C. Davison and Lenox D. Baker). Some folders contain an index of the contents.

The Writings series reveals Trent's wide interests in surgery, medicine in general, medical history in particular, and the humanities. There is also material related to his wife (Mary Duke Biddle Trent), his death, and the subsequent donation of his large rare book, artifact, and manuscript collection to the Duke University Medical Center Library.

These files were largely kept in Trent's medical office and mostly relate to his medical education, training, and career outside of Duke. Files on his medical career at Duke can be found in the Medical Center Archives, while files on his personal life with his wife and children can be found in the Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans family papers.

Biographical / historical:

Josiah Charles Trent (1914-1948) was born on 7 August 1914 in Okmulgee, OK to Josiah Charles Trent (1868-1920), a merchant from Arkansas, and Mary Kennon Simpson Trent (1876-1967), a music teacher from Mississippi. His father came to Indian Territory around 1879 because his uncle had opened a mercantile store in Okmulgee, and he went on to become a successful small business owner and was civically engaged. His mother was descended from Dr. William Simpson (1780-1816), an Irish surgeon and soldier who was banished to the US in 1807 and the cousin of Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870), who was appointed one of Queen Victoria's physicians for Scotland in 1847. Trent's parents married in 1898 and had four children: Helen, Elizabeth, Clarke, and the younger Josiah.

Trent graduated high school at age 16 and enrolled at Duke University, where he studied English, German, history, and premedical subjects. He graduated in 1934 at age 19 and enrolled in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1938, interned at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI, then returned to Durham, NC to complete his medical residency at Duke University Hospital. A surgeon, he eventually chose to specialize in surgery of the chest (thoracic surgery) and committed to spending two years at the University of Michigan training under Dr. John Alexander in preparation for leading a new department at Duke. This training was cut short in late 1946 when lymphoma returned and spread to his head (he had been diagnosed in 1941 and had abdominal surgery). Surgery and X-ray therapy extended his life until late 1948, when the cancer spread throughout his entire body. He died in Durham on 11 December 1948 at age 34 and he is buried in Maplewood Cemetery next to his wife.

While at Duke, he established the hospital's department of thoracic surgery and served as chairman of the hospital's library committee and as an executive committee member of the Friends of the Duke University Library. Outside of Duke, he served as a trustee of Lincoln Hospital (Durham's hospital for African Americans), honorary consultant to the US Army Medical Library, secretary of the American Medical Association's medical history section, editorial board member of the North Carolina Medical Journal (where he edited the column "Thumbnail Sketches of Eminent Physicians" from 1944-1947), and he was a founding member of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery (announced after his death).

Trent met Mary Duke Biddle (Trent Semans; 1920-2012) the day before he gradudated from Duke in 1934 after her grandmother Sarah Pearson Angier Duke had a university contact essentially arrange a double-date for the visiting 14-year-old girl and a friend. The two quickly developed a close relationship, but Trent's mother insisted that they wait to marry until he finished medical school (Biddle would have also needed permission from her father due to her age). The couple eventually married on 24 June 1938 at her mother Mary Lillian Duke Biddle's Durham residence "Pinecrest" and they had four children: Mary Duke Trent (born 1940), Sarah Elizabeth Trent (born 1941), Rebecca Gray Trent (born 1942), and Barbara Biddle Trent (born 1944). MDBTS was personally and financially instrumental in building their rare book and manuscript collection, and they were assisted by Detroit antiquarian booksellers Henry and Ida Schuman, who specialized in the history of medicine and science. MDBTS donated their collection to the Duke University Medical Center Library in 1956 and it became part of the Rubenstein Library's History of Medicine Collections in 2010.

Acquisition information:
The Josiah C. Trent papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as transfers from the Medical Center Library in 2011, Rachel Ingold in 2022, and the Semans family papers in 2023.
Processing information:

Processed by Willeke Sandler, May 2012; Paula Jeannet, April 2017; and Leah Tams, May 2023.

Encoded by Paula Jeannet and Willeke Sandler, May 2012.

Box 9 transferred from Semans family papers by Zachary Tumlin, December 2023.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2011-0936 and 2022-0198.


The Josiah C. Trent papers are arranged into five series: Medical Education and Training, Subject Files, Writings, Photographs, and Personal.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Josiah C. Trent papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.