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History of the Harvard grave robbers

by Chris Butsch
Harvard grave robbers

If you were a Harvard Medical student in the late 1700s, passing required access to three supplies: ink, parchment and cadavers.

The Revolution produced plenty of corpses for students, but when supplies dried up, students resorted to bribing officials and grave robbing. The practice became so commonplace that in 1815, Massachusetts made it a felony to disrupt a gravesite.

However, since the law disrupted education, the Massachusetts Medical Society begged the city for a compromise. In response, the state passed the Anatomy Act of 1831, allowing unclaimed bodies of the imprisoned, insane and poor to be legally obtained for study.

Chris Butsch

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