Bigelow was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts on February 7, 1787 (other sources claim 1786). Bigelow graduated from Harvard College in 1806 and then studied under John Gorham. He then graduated from the University of Pennsylvania medical school in 1810. He also studied under botantist Benjamin Barton. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1812.
Bigelow taught medicine and botany at Harvard and published numerous books, including one of America's first botanical books, American Medical Botany. His interest in mechanics led to his appointment as Rumford Professor, a position endowed at Harvard for the purpose of teaching the application of science to the useful arts, which he held from 1816 to 1827. His interest in mechanics and non-biological sciences was also illustrated by the publication of his Elements of Technology in 1829.
Bigelow came up with the idea for Mount Auburn Cemetery as early as 1825, though a site was not acquired until five years later. Bigelow was concerned about the unhealthiness of burials under churches as well as the possibility of running out of space. With help from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded on 70 acres (280,000 m2) of land authorized by the Massachusetts Legislature for use as a garden or rural cemetery. It was dedicated in 1831 by Joseph Story, first president of the Mount Auburn Association.
Bigelow died on January 10, 1879 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Critique of Benjamin Rush and Heroic Medicine
Bigelow came to prominence also by challenging the effectiveness of the therapeutics of the day. He published a book, Discourse on Self-Limited Diseases, in which he attacked physicians' blind allegiance to drugs and medical intervention that were embodied in heroic practice. To establish support, Bigelow wrote on how the outcomes among treated and untreated patients alike were similar, regarding the use of heroic therapies. Interventions had little effect. Bigelow’s deprications helped form a new conceptual nucleus around which medical orthodoxy could begin to redefine itself. (Paul Starr: Transformations in American Medicine)
- An introduction to physiological & systematical botany (1814)
- Florula bostoniensi (1814, 1st Edition)
- American medical botany (1817–20) (Vol. 1–3)
- Florula bostoniensi (1824, 2nd Edition)
- "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 25, 2011.
- Reps, John W. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965 (reprinted 1992): 326. ISBN 978-0-691-00618-5
- Carrott, Richard G. The Egyptian Revival: Its Sources, Monuments, and Meaning, 1808–1858. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978: 87. ISBN 0-520-03324-8
- Barth, Gunther. "The Park Cemetery: Its Western Migration", American Public Architecture: European Roots and Native Expressions, Craig Robert Zabel, ed. Penn State Press, 1989: 61. ISBN 0-915773-04-X
- Carrott, Richard G. The Egyptian Revival: Its Sources, Monuments, and Meaning, 1808–1858. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978: 86. ISBN 0-520-03324-8
- "Author Query for 'Bigelow'". International Plant Names Index.
- Bailey, L.H., Jr. "Some North American Botanists: V. Jacob Bigelow." Botanical Gazette 8(5): 217–222.
- Gray, Asa. "Dr. Jacob Bigelow." The American Journal of Science and Arts Third Series. 17(100): 263–266.
- Elliott, Clark A. Biographical Dictionary of American Science: The Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries. 1979.
- Kelly, Howard A. "Jacob Bigelow." Some American Medical Botanists. Troy, New York : The Southworth Company Publishers, 1914.
- Harvard Archives Bigelow Collections (BIOGRAPHY)
- American Medical Botany at UW Libraries
- American Medical Botany Biodiversity Heritage Library