Resurrection Men

So-called “Resurrection Men” supplied 19th century medical schools with corpses needed for dissection and anatomy lectures. Since many more corpses were required than were legally obtainable, Resurrection Men were happy to step in—for a fee, of course. Disturbing a grave was classified as a misdemeanor, not a felony, so legal risks for the body snatchers were considered low. In an interesting wrinkle, however, stealing the clothing or jewelry of a corpse was considered a felony, so many Resurrection Men would generally strip the corpse naked and leave clothing and jewelry in the grave.

Dissection Room at Valparaiso University, Indiana ( photo)
Dissection Room at Valparaiso University, Indiana ( photo)

Laws gradually changed making it easier for people to donate their bodies for medical research. Changing laws also made it easier for state and local governments to consign the corpses of paupers for use by medical students. Cemeteries for the burial of medical research subjects came into existence in several states. We can use Ancestry Library Edition (Ancestry LE) to locate the records of some of these cemeteries.

In the U.S., Find a Grave, 1600s-Current research collection, do the following searches:

KEYWORD: cadaver (44 hits)
KEYWORD: anatomical (157 hits)
CEMETERY: medical school (Exact) (14 hits)

Cemeteries of interest revealed include:

Emory University Cadaver Program
Wright State Anatomical Gift Program Memorial
Texas State Anatomical Board
Pennsylvania State Anatomical Board
Medical College of Georgia Memorial Cemetery
West Penn Medical College
Baylor Medical College
University Medical School, Potters Field
USC Medical School Garden Cemetery

You may use Ancestry LE at Central Library or any of our branches.

Here’s a complete list of SLPL reference databases.

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