Dr. Robert Porter Johnson, a Society member since 1864, passed away in January 1890. As was the custom at the time, the Society remembered him with a tribute shortly after his death, then again in 1891. In his service as the Society’s librarian, he followed standards that still guide the staff today.
Robert Porter Johnson was born in Wilmington in 1825. He attended Delaware College, graduated from Yale in 1847, began the study of medicine with his uncle Dr. Robert Robinson Porter, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1850. He began his career as a ship’s surgeon. During the Civil War, he served as surgeon of the 1st Regiment Delaware Volunteer Infantry and as a surgeon at Tilton Hospital in Wilmington. Dr. Porter had a successful medical practice in Wilmington.
Dr. Porter was a faithful member of the Society and rarely missed a meeting. In 1874, he became librarian, a post that he held until his death. The tribute includes comments about his service that are worth repeating:
” The shelves and cases of our library afford ample evidence of his care and discrimination in the methodical arrangement and orderly classification of their various contents.
His vigilant and zealous guardianship of our deposits has preserved them from being lost or scattered and has also prevented that confusion, in a miscellaneous collection, which would have deprived it of its value.”
Today, the Society’s curators continue to exercise “vigilant and zealous guardianship” over collections to preserve and protect them. They spend hours in the “methodical arrangement and orderly classification” of materials with “care and discrimination.” The methods of caring for materials are different today, but the intention is the same. One thing that is different today, however, is what the Society collects. In the early days, the Society accepted historical materials from all over the United States in addition to Delaware, resulting in a “miscellaneous collection.” Today, the focus is solidly on Delaware.