George Arthur Piersol, 1856 - 1924

by Brian Stevenson
last updated January, 2023

G.A. Piersol was a physician and Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, USA. Piersol wrote numerous books and papers on human anatomy and histology. He was an expert in sectioning, staining, and mounting specimens. He was also recognized as an expert photographer of microscopic objects.

During his final years in medical school (1876 – 1877), Piersol published a number of requests to exchange his microscope slides of anatomical and pathological preparations for other mounts. The 1880 edition of The Naturalists’ Directory noted that Piersol was interested in collecting and exchanging microscope specimens, while the 1886 edition omitted those interests. The slide shown in Figures 1 and 2 was acquired from California as part of a collection of nineteenth century slides, and undoubtedly came from an exchange between Piersol and a California microscopist.

Figure 1. A ca. 1876-1880 microscope slide that was prepared by George A. Piersol.


Figure 2. “Palate, vertical section – cat”, by G.A. Piersol (see Figure 1). Possibly stained with iron hematoxylin nuclear stain and counterstained with picrocarmine. Photographed with a 3.5x objective lens and C-mounted digital SLR camera on a Leitz Ortholux II microscope.


Figure 3. 1876-1877 exchange advertisements from George Piersol, in which he offered to provide anatomical/histological slides in exchange for other prepared microscope slides. From “The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science”.


George Arthur Piersol was born in Philadelphia on May 17, 1856, the only child of Jeremiah Morris and Christianna Louise Wilheminna (“Minna”) Piersol. Both of George’s parents were medical doctors, Minna being a rarity in that profession. Minna died in 1871.

George received an excellent education. He obtained a degree in civil engineering from Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania in 1874. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, graduating as a Medical Doctor in 1877.

During 1876, and into 1877, Piersol published offers in a popular microscopy magazine to exchange microscope slides that he had prepared (Figure 3). Those specimens probably came from dissections and histological studies that he performed in medical school.

As noted above, the 1880 edition of The Naturalists’ Directory stated that Piersol was interested in collecting and exchanging microscope specimens. The 1886 edition omitted those interests, while stating only that he was interested in histology. Combined with the exchange offers discussed above, this suggests that George Piersol was actively producing microscope slides for exchange between 1876 and the early 1880s, and that his labeled slides (such as that shown in Figure 1) probably date from that brief period.

Piersol was a member of the American Society of Microscopists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1883, and undoubtedly other years, he was Associate Editor of the Microscopy section of The Western Medical Reporter.

George married Anne Wessell Steel on May 1, 1879. The couple lived in George’s childhood home at 1110 Spring Garden Street, along with his widowed father and four servants. Father Jeremiah died in 1882. George and Anne had three children over the next ten years.

Piersol became a skilled photographer, which he blended with his other interests. In 1886, he won first prize at The Philadelphia Photographic Society Exhibition in “Class 28: Photo-micrographs, to Dr. G. A. Piersol, Philadelphia, for a frame of microscopic subjects remarkable for their softness and full detail, showing all that the microscope could reveal and the camera record. Dr. Piersol also exhibited a frame of anatomical subjects well treated, and another frame of landscapes, etc., which showed that his talent is not confined to one class of work”.

Later in 1886, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal announced that “Dr. Piersol, of Philadelphia, has gone to Germany, where he intends to pursue his studies in histology. He will also continue his work in photography, in which he has been so successful. Our readers are already indebted to him for some valuable contributions to these columns, and may expect others during his sojourn in Leipzig, where we trust his experiences will be always pleasant and profitable”. That magazine published a paper by Piersol in 1887, with his address being Wurtzburg, Germany. He returned to the US in 1888, with the ship’s manifest stating that he was accompanied by wife Anne and their children.

George Piersol was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1891. Several of his books ran for multiple editions. His Text-book of Normal Histology (later known simply as Piersol’s Histology) was described in 1893 as, “the only American manual of histology that has yet been published to meet the requirements of modern methods of teaching. One great point appears to be the large number of original figures, and another the inclusion of sufficient embryology for medical students” (it contained 439 pages and 409 figures).

Anne Piersol died in 1893. George remarried in 1898 to Florence Lukens Reeder, a widow with four children. She and George had another child, in 1899. The blended family lived at 4724 Chester Avenue, Philadelphia.

George Piersol died on August 7, 1924.

Figure 4. George A. Piersol, painted ca. 1920. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine,



Thank you to Jeffrey Silverman for his histological advice on Piersol's prepared slide.



The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science (1876 and 1877) Exchange offers from George A. Piersol, numerous issues

The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1886) Note on George Piersol’s trip to Germany, page 138

Anthony's Photographic Bulletin (1886) The Philadelphia Exhibition, Vol. 17, page 114

Atwater, Edward C. (2016) Women Medical Doctors in the United States Before the Civil War, University of Rochester Press, pages 94-95

Death record of George Arthur Piersol (1924) accessed through

Directory of Deceased Physicians, 1804-1929 (1993) George Arthur Piersol, American Medical Association

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1894) Piersol’s Histology, page 266

The Naturalists' Directory (1880) “Piersol, G.A., 1110 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia. Mic. C. Ex.”, page 100

The Naturalists' Directory (1886) “Piersol, G.A., 1110 Spring Garden St., Histol.”, page 214

Piersol, George A. (1883) Cells and their relation to organisms, The Western Medical Reporter, Vol. 5, pages 27-32

Piersol, George A. (1886) Photo-micrography at the work-table, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal, pages 24-25

Piersol, George A. (1887) Laboratory jottings, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal, pages 153-155

Piersol, George A. (1888) Drawings v. photographs, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal, pages 103-104

Piersol, George A. (1889) Carmine staining for nervous tissues, The American Monthly Microscopical Journal, pages 153-155

Transactions of the American Microscopical Society (1888) Members, “Piersol, Geo. A., 1110 Spring Garden st., Philadelphia, Pa.

University of Pennsylvania Library (accessed December, 2022) Links to online accessible books by George A. Piersol,

US census and other records, accessed through