In Memoriam: James H. Cassedy

John Parascandola, January 2008

James H. Cassedy (1919–2007), a historian at the National Library of Medicine, died of cachexia (a physical wasting disease) at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on September 14, 2007.

After receiving his BA in American literature from Middlebury College in 1941, he served in the Army during the Second World War in the Pacific theater. After the war he worked for the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Information Agency while also attending graduate school. He received his MA in 1950 and his PhD in American civilization in 1959 from Brown University. Cassedy taught history at Williams College in 1959–60, and shortly thereafter moved to the National Institutes of Health, where he served as executive secretary of the History of Life Sciences Study Section (1962–66) and then as deputy chief of the European Office in Paris (1966–68). In 1968, he joined the staff of the National Library's History of Medicine Division as a historian, a position he held until his retirement in 2006.

In addition to his research, his primary responsibility at the library was to edit the Bibliography of the History of Medicine for the entire period of its existence, 1969–93. He also served as editor of the publication's online version, HISTLINE. Both the printed and online versions of this bibliographical work served as essential research tools for scholars in the history of medicine.

Although I had been acquainted with Cassedy for years, it was only after I moved to the National Library of Medicine to serve as chief of its History of Medicine Division that I came to know him well and to appreciate his skills as a historian and an administrator. Although he claimed to have no interest in administration, when I arrived at the division he had been serving as its acting chief for over a year. It quickly became apparent to me that he had done a commendable job of managing the division, turning over to me an organization that was in good running order. I also benefited greatly by his wise and tactful counsel as I assumed my new duties.

Soon after I arrived, Cassedy presented me with some ideas that he had for new scholarly activities for the division, including a seminar series and a Visiting Historical Scholar program. He went beyond just making suggestions, however, and did much of the work of planning and implementing these programs, as well as then managing them. The success of these endeavors was due to his creativity and dedication.

I found Cassedy still tapping out his manuscripts on an old manual typewriter when I got to the library. I finally convinced him to allow the division to obtain an electric typewriter for his use. Although in charge of the online database HISTLINE, Cassedy's role was to serve as historical editor, with the technical aspects involving computers being the responsibility of other staff. By the time I left the division in 1992, however, he did have a personal computer at his desk and was composing his works with a word processing program.

Above all, James Cassedy was a distinguished scholar in the history of American medicine. During his career he authored five books, as well as numerous articles and book reviews. His particular interest was in the history of public health and the use of statistics in medicine in the United States. His scholarship was recognized in various ways, including the award of the prestigious William Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine in 1987 for his books American Medicine and Statistical Thinking, 1800–60 (1984) and Medicine and American Growth, 1800–60 (1986). His Medicine in America: A Short History was widely admired as a readable and reliable concise synthesis of the subject.

James Cassedy received every major honor that the national professional society in his field, the American Association for the History of Medicine, could bestow. In addition to the Welch Medal, he was awarded the association's Lifetime Achievement Award and delivered its honorary Garrison Lecture. He also served as president of the association in 1982–84, as well as working on a good number of its committees.

An easygoing, friendly, and kind man, Cassedy was always eager to meet and assist colleagues who came to the library to do research. If they came too often or stayed too long, he would charm them into giving a presentation in the division's seminar series. One of the joys of the seminars for Cassedy was the opportunity to talk shop with fellow scholars over lunch or coffee. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues.

—John Parascandola
University of Maryland at College Park