Mütter Museum records
Held at: Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
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In 1849, Dr. Isaac Parrish suggested that the College of Physicians of Philadelphia start a museum of pathological anatomy to preserve valuable material that might otherwise be lost to science. The collection grew rapidly until 1852, when Dr. Parrish died and the collection entered a period of inactivity.
On May 20, 1856, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter wrote to the College that he was retiring from teaching because of ill health and wished to offer the guardianship of his personal museum to the College of Physicians as the "body best qualified by the character of its members and the nature of its pursuits for undertaking the trust." A popular professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College, Mütter had amassed a unique and valuable collection of anatomical and pathological materials for use in his classes. Accompanying the collection would be an endowment of $30,000, the income from which was to pay for the salaries of a curator, a lecturer, and for the care and enlargement of the museum. At the time, the College was holding its meetings in rented quarters; Mütter specified that the College must erect a suitable fire-proof building within five years of signing the agreement.
Having long felt the need for its own facilities in order to accommodate its growing library, and acknowledging that Mütter's museum would be a worthy and appropriate addition, the College signed the agreement with Dr. Mütter in 1859, two months before he died at age 48. It then renewed its efforts to raise building funds and, in 1863, moved into its first real home at 13th and Locust Streets.
Dr. Mütter's collection of bones, wet specimens, plaster casts, wax and papier-mache models, dried preparations, and medical illustrations - over 1700 items in all - joined the 92 specimens from the College's earlier collection in the new quarters. Many of the items which today`s visitors find most memorable date from that time: the bladder stones removed from Chief Justice John Marshall by Dr. Philip Syng Physick; and the skeleton of a woman whose rib-cage was compressed by tight lacing.
Around this nucleus, the museum grew rapidly, as desirable collections were purchased in Europe with funds from Mütter's endowment, and as other Fellows contributed interesting surgical and post-mortem specimens acquired from their hospital and private practices. In 1874, the museum made several noteworthy additions to its collections. The autopsy of the 63-year-old Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng, was performed in the museum. Their bodies were returned to their home in North Carolina, but the College was allowed to keep their connected livers and a plaster cast of their torsos showing the band of skin and cartilage that joined them at the chest. That same year saw the culmination of the Museum Committee's negotiations with Professor Joseph Hyrtl of Vienna, resulting in the purchase of 139 skulls from Central and Eastern Europe.
In 1871, the College decided that the museum should begin collecting obsolete medical instruments as well. These now constitute the major part of the museum's acquisitions - items reflecting changes in the technology of medicine and memorabilia of present and past practitioners. Outstanding among them are Dr. Benjamin Rush's medicine chest; a wooden stethoscope said to have been made by the inventor, Rene Laennec, in 1916; Florence Nightingale's sewing kit; Marie Curie's quartz-piezo electrometer (personally presented to the College by Madame Curie in 1921); and a full-scale model of the first successful heart-lung machine, designed and used in Philadelphia by Dr. John H. Gibbon Jr. in 1953.
Many of the collections reflect the interest and involvement of Philadelphia physicians in national and international affairs. In 1893, Philadelphia surgeon Dr. William W. Keen assisted in a secret operation on President Grover Cleveland for a cancerous growth on his left upper jaw. Unlike today's well-publicized presidential procedures, this took place on a private yacht steaming up Long Island Sound, supposedly taking the president on vacation. The full story of the operation was not revealed until Keen published it in the 1917 Saturday Evening Post, at which time he also presented the tumor and a laryngeal mirror and cheek retractor used during the operation to the College.
The Civil War brought specimens and photographs of battle injuries, sent from the Army Medical Museum in Washington D.C. (now the National Museum of Health and Medicine) in exchange for duplicate material from the Mütter to be used for the training of army surgeons. In 1865, a messenger from the Surgeon General conveyed to the museum a specimen connected with one of the nation's most tragic events: a "piece of the thorax of J. Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln." It had been removed at the autopsy conducted by Philadelphia surgeon Joseph Janvier Woodward.
The College continued to purchase collections and accept donations for both its library and museum. This created a persistent need for more space, and in 1908 the College began construction on a new home on 22nd Street, between Chestnut and Market Streets. This handsome building epitomized in its marble halls and carved oak detailing the prestige and dignity of the medical profession. Portrait-lined rooms housed the lectures and social receptions of the College and of the other medical groups who rented the facilities for their monthly meetings. The museum as it was first installed in the new space was in marked contrast to the elegant materials and furnishings of the rest of the building. It retained in its appearance a strong connection to the utilitarian medical museums typical of 19th century hospitals and medical schools. The 19th century cases, some of them eight feet tall, had redwood shelving on which the specimens and instruments were placed as close together as they could fit. They illustrated the fact that the museum's purpose lay not in the decorative display of selected artifacts, but in the organized assemblage of teaching materials which were to be available to the student or researcher as were books on a library shelf.
A major renovation of the exhibit areas took place in 1986. When the project was completed, the museum was fully air-conditioned, all of the exhibit cases had been refinished and reinstalled in the newly carpeted and painted galleries, and glass shelving replaced the redwood in track-lighted cases.
Recent curators of the Mütter Museum guided the museum administration, exhibits, and promotion. Ella N. Wade was born on December 25, 1892 in Vineland, New Jersey. In 1939, she became the Curator of the Mütter Museum, the first woman and non-medical professional to hold that position. During her time as curator, she was asked by Francis C. Wood to write a history of the Mütter. She retired in 1957.
Elizabeth M. Moyer was born in Lehighton, Pennsylvania in 1917. She was educated at Ursinus College, graduating in 1939. In 1942, she married William Moyer, a clergyman in Pennsylvania. In 1970, Elizabeth Moyer was appointed the Curator of the Mütter Museum, a position she held until her retirement in 1982.
Gretchen Worden (1947-2004) served as the Director of the Mütter Museum from 1988 until her death in 2004. She began working with the Mütter Museum in 1975 as a curatorial assistant, became curator in 1982, and director in 1988. According to NPR, Worden “turned the little-known medical museum into a museum with a worldwide reputation,” (NPR).
Worden was born in Shanghai, China in 1947, the daughter of a California-Texas (Cal-Tex) Oil Company geologist. She was educated at Penncrest High School, graduating in 1965, and Temple University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology in 1970. Worden “devoted her entire professional career to revitalizing the Mütter Museum,” (Sims). She increased the museum’s public profile and visitorship, instituted an annual calendar and wrote a book about the museum entitled, Mütter Museum.
Worden died, at the age of 56, in 2004.
This historical note was taken largely from the existing “Detailed Museum History,” available on the Mütter Museum website: http://www.collphyphil.org/ERICS/Mutthist.htm (accessed March 22, 2010)
“Gretchen Worden, Mütter Museum Director, Dies,” NPR, August 6, 2004: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3823240 (accessed February 1, 2010).
Sims, Galey Ronan. “Gretchen Worden, Mütter Museum Chief,” Philadelphia Inquirer: http://www.mum.org/gretchen.html (accessed February 1, 2010).
The Mütter Museum records (1887 to 2006) is a collection comprised of sixteen series. This collection contains material relating to the Mütter Museum’s operations and history such as correspondence, activity and visitor records, reports, photographs, catalogues of the collection, and event programs and flyers. The sixteen series are the following: “Activity and Accession Records,” “Catalogue of the Mütter Museum,” “Correspondence,” “Curator Reports,” “Education,” “Elizabeth Moyer,” “Ella N. Wade,” “Events,” “Exhibitions,” “Index of Collection,” “Journal on Giants,” “Staff Newsletters,” “Thomas Dent Mütter Lecture,” “Visitor and Group Records,” Miscellaneous,” and “Gretchen Worden.” The Mütter Museum records is an excellent collection for those studying the impressive and fascinating history of the medical museum, as well as the history of medicine, and specifically, medical deformities and oddities. Also of note in the collection, is the “Gretchen Worden records” series. For researchers studying Worden, this series illustrates her life, work, and great passion for the Mütter Museum and its mission.
The first series is “Activity and Accession Records.” This series includes bound records of the museum from 1884, and 1939 to 1970. There are records of inventory, events, presentations, and tour groups.
The second series in the collection is “Catalogue of the Mütter Museum.” Contained in a bound volume are the catalogue records from 1940, and 1947 to 1949. This catalogue documents the items within the Mütter Museum, such as skulls, human deformities, and medical instruments.
“Correspondence” is the third series in the Mütter Museum records, dating from 1973 to 1981. It includes the correspondence of directors, curators, and other staff of the museum at that time. Topics discussed include operating procedures, upcoming events, and internal affairs.
The fourth series is “Curator Reports,” which documents the activity of both the museum and the curator from 1977 to 1979. Documented in the reports are the collections of the museum, projects, workshops, acquisitions, speakers, and events.
The fifth series is “Education Department records.” Included in this series are the Mütter Museum Education Departments Teacher/Student Workbooks, for grades three through twelve, published by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Series six, “Elizabeth Moyer records,” houses materials produced during Moyer’s tenure as museum curator, which lasted from 1970 to 1982 when she retired. Included in this series are address file, calendar, clippings, correspondence, events, grant and fellowship material, magazines and journals, notes, pamphlets, programs, and newsletters, pay stubs, photographs, program books, publications by Elizabeth Moyer, publicity material, resumes (Elizabeth Moyer), reports and memorandums, stationary, travel, and writings by others. Also within the series are materials she collected while curator, including medical journals from 1898 and manuscripts and publications by her peers. Elizabeth Moyer’s curatorial reports are filed in series four, “Curator reports.”
“Ella N. Wade records” is the seventh series with the Mütter Museum records. Ella N. Wade was curator at the Mutter from 1939 to 1957. Included in this series are an autobiography; “Christmas Eve at the College,” an ode by Ella N. Wade; and correspondence. Wade’s autobiographical drafts include a thorough history of the Mütter Museum, which may be of value to researchers more generally interested in the history of the museum.
In the “Events” series, there are flyers, programs and notes for various events held at the Mütter from 1975 to 1997. Events include “Infant Feeding Through the Ages” (1980), “Final Diagnosis of President Cleveland’s Lesion” (1981), and “Hallow Eve Gala,” held in celebration of the reopening of the Mütter Museum in 1986.
The records found in the ninth series, “Exhibitions,” primarily relate to the Bicentennial exhibition of 1976 and the Lewis and Clark exhibition of 2001 and 2002. Both are documented with meeting minutes, correspondence, notes and other supporting materials.
The “Index of Collections” consists of a single bound volume, documenting the Mütter’s collection acquisitions from about the 1950s to the 1960s.
The eleventh series is “Journal on Giants.” This series is comprised of one volume, circa 1930’s, that contains news clippings, notes, and records of giants, including the Mütter giant, as well as documentation of other people with the condition of gigantism.
“Staff Newsletters” is the twelfth series, and included are the newsletters of the staff, such as “F.U.S.E” and “Sibi Non Toti,” from 1988 to 1995. The newsletters contain information regarding Mütter and local area events, as well as staff announcements.
Following “Staff Newsletters” is the thirteenth series “Thomas Dent Mütter Lecture Series.” This series contains announcements, notes, and transcripts for lectures named in Mütter’s honor given at the Mütter Museum from 1989 to 2003. Such lectures include “Management of Conjoined Twins,” by John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D. (1989), “Yellow Fever Revisted: Did the Mosquito Do It?” By Theodore Woodward, M.D. (1992), and “Exhumations of Human Remains: From Jesse James to John Wilkes Booth to Meriwether Lewis,” by James E. Starrs (2003).
“Visitor and Group Records” is the fourteenth series. This series contains visitor and group requests, registers, and records of guests from 1887 to 1985. It should be noted that not all years are documented.
The “Miscellaneous” series houses a wide assortment of documentation relating to museum history, especially news paper clippings, magazines and other documents.
The sixteenth and final series is “Gretchen Worden records,” which is the largest series in the collection. Worden began working at the Mütter Museum in 1975 and was appointed Head Curator 1982. She is best known for her role as Director, a position which she held from 1988 until her death in 2004. Worden’s records are divided into the following subseries: “Administrative Materials;” “Articles;” “Biographical Material;” “Date Books;” “Events;” “Lectures;” “Memos;” “Poems;” “Strong Museum;” “Symposiums (attended);”and “Miscellaneous.” Of note in this series are Worden’s poems about her staff, material from her appearances on Dave Letterman’s Late Show, and her lecture material. “Lectures” include those such as "Breeches of Impropriety: The Case of Dr. Mary Walker" given at the Society of Civil War Surgeons, in Louisville, KY (1992), "Of Science and Humanity: Treasures from the Mütter Museum" given at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in California (1994), and "The Legible Physician" given at American Medical Writers Association (1996). Within her lectures are Worden’s own notes and transcripts.
Because this collection was created by an existing and active institution, it is likely that this collection will grow as additional records are located and generated.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- American Association for the History of Medicine.
- College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
- Mütter Museum.
- Strong National Museum of Play.
- Medical museums
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care
- Yellow fever
- Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Leslie O'Neill and Forrest Wright
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. This collection was minimally processed to the folder level.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
These are bound volumes found on Floor 7, the 27th set of shelves, bay 1, shelf #3.
This series has been placed out of alphabetical order because there are additional unprocessed papers that will be added to the series at a later date. If the researcher would like to consult these papers please contact a library staff member.
The oversized posters of this event are placed adjacent to the Gretchen Worden series.