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Records of the Mütter Museum II

Identifier: CPP 7/005-01

Scope and Contents

This collection of the records of the Mütter Museum span the years 1969 through 2006, although the bulk of the material dates from 1999 to 2009. The records document the educational programs of the Museum, including portrait tours, lesson plans, and the grants used to support them; two major exhibitions, “Only One Man Died” and “The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin;” and the renovations made to the Museum during the 1980s and early 2000s. The collection is divided into ten series.

Series I contains a typescript copy of (former) curator Ella Wade’s article, “A Curator's Story of the Mütter Museum,” dated 1970.

Series II holds the 1992 College of Physicians Collection Development Policy.

Series III contains reports, minutes, and correspondence of the Committee on the Mütter Museum for the years 1977 to 1990, as well as some monthly and annual curator’s reports from 1975 through 2003. Please note that these records are intermittent, and do not include every year in the date ranges noted.

Series IV: Museum Education dates from 1983 through 2000, and includes information relating to some of the earliest education programs the Museum offered to school groups, including lesson plans for “Infectious Diseases: The Human Response” and “On Human Variation: Genetics and Nutrition” (circa 2000). Also housed in this series are an overview of the Museum Assessment Program, and the meeting notes of staff members on the self-assessment team.

Series V: Tours dates from 1997 to 1999 and holds a 1997 “Guidelines for Group Visits;” planning, training, and scripts for the portrait tour offered; and slides used for presentations during tours. Researchers should note that the Library does not have the required equipment to play the slideshow.

Series VI: Exhibits documents the planning, installation, and publicity surrounding two major exhibitions curated by Museum staff, “Only One Man Died” (2003) and “The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin” (2006).

Series VII: Gretchen Worden spans the years 1992 to 1996 and 2000-2003, and contains materials related to the Philadelphia Open House Tours, in which the College participated in during the early 2000s. Correspondence and membership information regarding the Thomas Dent Mütter Associates membership program is also included in this series.

Series VIII: Renovations details the renovations done in the Museum and Museum storage spaces during the 1980s, including lighting, exhibit cases, air conditioning, and the mezzanine area (carpeting, railings, stairway to lower level). The folders are arranged somewhat chronologically for planning documents, maps, grant information, and exhibit cases; and also by contractor. Researchers interested in major renovations to museums and galleries will find this series particularly rich in detail, from wood choices for exhibit cases to paint colors to cost of labor and supplies. A small file regarding the electrical work done in the 1990s can also be found in this series.

Series IX: Grants makes up the bulk of the collection and contains applications, award letters, planning documents, meeting minutes, and reports which reflect some of the various grants the Museum received during the years 1994 through 2006. Many of the grants were used to plan, implement, and improve educational programming surrounding the Museum’s collections, particularly the “Only One Man Died” exhibit, which opened in 2003. Foundations in support of the Museum’s education initiatives include the Fund for the Improvement of Education, Philadelphia History Exhibits Initiative, the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission. Other grants awarded included wet specimen preservation grants from the Conservation Center for Arts and Historic Artifacts and the Groff Trust, as well as general operating grants from the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission.

Series X: Elizabeth Moyer correspondence re History of Nursing Project is a small series dating from 1975 to 1973, and which documents former curator Elizabeth Moyer’s involvement in the project.

Series XI is a citation from the City Council of Philadelphia honoring and commending the Mütter Museum.


  • 1969-2009
  • Majority of material found within 1999 - 2006


Biographical / Historical

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.


4.8 Linear feet (9 document boxes, 1 half document box, 1 flat box)

Language of Materials



The Mütter Museum was founded in 1856 when Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter bequeathed his personal medical museum to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. From Thomas Mütter’s collection, the museum grew as a noted repository for unique collections of medical specimens across the world.

This collection of the records of the Mütter Museum span the years 1969 to 2009, although the bulk of the material dates from 1999 through 2006. The records document the educational programs of the Museum, including portrait tours, lesson plans, and the grants used to support them; two major exhibitions, “Only One Man Died” and “The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin;” and the renovations made to the Museum during the 1980s and early 2000s.

Researchers interested in major renovations to museums and galleries and the ins-and-outs of grant funding for non-profit institutions will find this collection particularly rich in detail.

Please note that the Library does not have the required equipment to view the slides or play back the cassette tapes included in this collection.
Records of the Mütter Museum II
Chrissie Perella
June 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Repository

19 S. 22nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States