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John S. Billings

AKA John Shaw Billings

Born: 12-Apr-1838
Birthplace: Allensville, IN
Died: 11-Mar-1913
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Illness
Remains: Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Administrator, Doctor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: New York Public Library

Military service: US Army (to Deputy Surgeon General, 1861-95)

John S. Billings served as an Army surgeon for Union forces in the American Civil War, tending the wounded at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and other battlefields. At the war's end he was assigned as an assistant in the Surgeon General's office in Washington, DC, where he was disappointed by the office's relatively tiny medical library, holding just a few thousand books. He made it his mandate to improve the library's breadth, and accumulated 50,000 volumes before leaving what later became the National Library of Health. Billings and Dr William Fletcher published the monthly Index Medicus, and in 1873 he designed the physical plant and laid out the operational mandate for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

After retiring from the Army, Billings was appointed the first Director of the New York Public Library in 1896. He oversaw the creation of the city's library system, formed by merging the New York Free Circulating Library and the city's two major privately-endowed reading rooms, with funding from a trust endowed by Samuel J. Tilden. He sketched the first blueprints of the now-famous lion-fronted central library building, devised the NYPL's system of branch libraries, supervised the classification of its books with his own idiosyncratic system, and secured additional millions in funding from millionaire Andrew Carnegie.

His grandson, also named John Shaw Billings (1898-1975), was managing editor of Time from 1933-36, and the first managing editor at Life from 1936-44.

Father: James Billings (b. 15-Mar-1806, d. 8-Mar-1892)
Mother: Abigail Shaw Billings ("Abby", m. 21-Jul-1835, d. 1898)
Sister: Emma Billings Jordan
Wife: Mary Katherine Stevens Billings (b. 11-Oct-1836, m. 3-Sep-1862, d. 19-Aug-1912)
Daughter: Mary Clare Billings Ord (b. 9-Nov-1863)
Son: (b. 1865, d. infancy)
Daughter: Kate Sherman Billings Wilson (twin, b. 23-Oct-1866, d. 5-Oct-1933)
Daughter: Jessie Ingram Billings Hartley (twin, b. 23-Oct-1866, d. 1955)
Son: John Sedgwick Billings (physician, b. 31-Jul-1869, d. 1928)
Daughter: Margaret Janeway Billings (b. 4-Nov-1872)

    University: BA, Miami University of Ohio (1857)
    Medical School: MD, University of Cincinnati (1860)
    Professor: Hygiene, University of Pennsylvania

    New York Public Library Director (1896-1913)
    Carnegie Institution for Science Librarian (1902-13)
    National Library of Health Director (1865-95)
    American Library Association
    American Public Health Association Founding Member (1872)
    American Statistical Association
    National Academy of Sciences


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