A Physician Encounters the Great War — WWI Scrapbook of Dr. George W. Norris

“A Philadelphia Physician Encounters the Great War” exhibit co-curated by Judy Okun and Annie BroganOne of the most well-documented first-person accounts of World War I is a scrapbook by United States Army Physician, Dr. George W. Norris (1875-1965), who served in wartime Europe, from May 1917 to December 1918. Dr. Norris's meticulous scrapbook, assembled in 1959, includes entries in a pocket diary, postcards, news clippings, and photos. Thanks to these sources, Dr. Norris creates an intimate account of his time at war, detailing an American physician’s experiences with not only treating the wounded but also with the daily horrors, deprivations, occasionally boredom and even beauty and humor that are entangled in the wartime endeavor.

Dr. Norris prefaces his scrapbook with the following: "Much of this may well seem trivial, flippant, and out of place. However, the War by which we were constantly surrounded was such a harrowing, ghastly, and depressing affair that all of us—French, British and Americans—to retain our mental poise, simply had to have an occasional 'break' of laughter, levity, and fun!" Indeed, postcards of caricatures and scenic landscapes puncture the grim images of men in sober suits and German prisoners of war. As he sailed for Europe, he had no idea where he would land nor could he speculate what he was about to encounter.

In his later years, Dr. Norris spent many months preparing his writings and memorabilia with the hope that future generations could learn from his experience. This digital exhibition by the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia provides a brief look into his painstaking efforts.

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