Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492

Dr. Josiah Noyes (1801 – 1875)

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Josiah Noyes was the first trained medical doctor to practice in Needham.  He was born in Acton, and received his degrees in Medicine and Chemistry at Dartmouth College in 1825.  In 1825 he moved to Needham, and lived here for the remainder of his life.  He came here at the suggestion of his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Noyes, minister of the Second Parish in West Needham (now Wellesley).  Needham did not have a physician, and young Dr Noyes needed to start a practice (to buy into an established practice was very expensive). Noyes was the town’s leading medical man for nearly 50 years.

Noyes was a scientist in that broad general way you could still be in the mid-1800s – he was trained in medicine and pharmacology, but was also knowledgeable in ornithology, geology, geography, botany, theology, and linguistics.  He organized the Needham Lyceum, the Needham Anti-Slavery Society, and Needham’s temperance efforts, and was a founder of the Congregational Church in Needham.

An ardent abolitionist, Noyes used the Lyceum as a forum to promote the cause, and invited William Lloyd Garrison to speak.  Among the volumes included in Noyes’ library were numerous anti-slavery tracts.  A conservative Trinitarian, Noyes led the movement to leave the First (Unitarian) Parish in 1856 and organize the Congregational Church in Needham.  He and his wife, Elizabeth Hunt Noyes, are the first two signers on the church’s covenant.

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Ranunculus abortivus (Little-Leaf Buttercup, Kidney-Leaf Buttercup, Little-Leaf Crowfoot) – Noyes’ pressed sample from the 1840s, and a picture of the live plant.

As part of his botanical study, Noyes made an extensive collection of native plants in Needham, starting about 1830 and carrying on until his death.  In this work he was accompanied by his protégé Timothy Otis Fuller, who then carried on the collection until about 1915.  After Fuller’s death, the Noyes/Fuller herbaria were given to the New England Botanical Club (now part of the Harvard University Herbaria). At 2500 samples, it is the largest systematic collection of native plants from any locality in Massachusetts.  Because it is so extensive, it is possible to compare Noyes’ data with modern data. A recent study by Needham resident Lisa Standley (Rhodora, 2003), for example, has shown a decline of about 44% in native plant species in Needham, many the result of residential development.