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Records of the Mütter Museum III

 Series
Identifier: CPP 7005-02

Scope and Contents

This collection of the records of the Mütter Museum span the years 1892 through 2015, although the bulk of the material dates from 1988 through 2007. The records document the past exhibits displayed in the Museum, “Only One Man Died” and “The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin;”; grant funded projects, including the 2011 Quay Brothers film and the Museum Assessment Program (1994 to1995 and 2004 to 2006); portrait appraisals and acknowledgment letters; press clippings; and special projects, including wet specimen conservation in 1987, as well as various projects about the Hyrtl skull collection.

The collection is divided into twelve series. Many of the folder titles were taken from the original folders.

Series I: Curators' papers and presentations contains two presentation given by the current (as of 2019) curator of the Museum, Anna Dhody.

Series II: Ella Wade typescripts contains several typescripts of (former) curator Ella Wade’s articles, including those written for Philadelphia Medicine.

Series III: Exhibits comprises the bulk of the collection, dating from 1978 through 2005. Photocopies of labels for older (pre-1990s) exhibits are included in this collection, as well as undated labels for permanent exhibits in the Museum, such as Chang and Eng, the teratology collection, and the wax model collections. This series also holds floor plans and scripts for the 2003 exhibit, "Only One Man Died," and information relating to the 2005 exhibit, "The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin," and its installation in London. Researchers will also find a variety of brochures and rack cards, mostly dating from 2104 through 2017, as well as lists of Museum exhibits, dating from 1987 through 1995.

Series IV: Friends of the Mütter Museum contains information on the membership program for the years 2001 through 2013. Researchers should note not every year is represented.

Series V: Grants dates from 1993 to 2009 and holds information relating to several grants funded by the Conservation Center for Arts and Historic Artifacts, including funding for fluid preservation in 1994 and a preservation needs assessment in 1993.

Series VI: Gretchen Worden datebooks contains several datebooks, which belonged to the (former) Museum curator, Gretchen. The datebooks represent years from 1978 to 2003, although not all years are represented.

Series VII: Herb Garden dates from 1975 to 2003, and consists of information relating the Benjamin Rush medicinal garden, including the garden naming project in 2001 and lists of herbs planted.

Series VIII: Museum Assessment Program is comprised of application materials, grant files, meeting minutes and correspondence, and self-study assessment materials for both iterations of the Colleges participation in the program, first in 1994 to 1995, and again in 2004 to 2006.

Series IX: Portraits dates from 1892 to 2006, although the gaps between dates are quite large. Letters acknowledging donations or purchases of portraits from 1892 through 1968 make up the first subseries, while appraisals for insurance purposes date from 1936 through 2001, and make up the third subseries. Also included in Series IX are files relating to several thefts, including the theft of two oil portraits in 1994.

Series X: Press contains clippings, mostly of articles in magazine, about the Museum for the years 1997 to 2003. Of note is the DVD of television appearances by former curator Gretchen Worden and mentions of the Museum in other television programs.

Series XI: Records of the Director span the years 1992 to 2015, and include more funded grant projects, especially the 2011 Quay Brothers film, "Through the Weeping Glass," which featured the College's collections and was funded by the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. This series also holds information relating to the reorganization of the F. C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as a list of travel grant recipients for fiscal year 2006-2007.

Series XII: Special Projects documents special projects of the Museum for the years 1991 through 2012, including numerous projects about the Hyrtl skulls, such as re-labelling as well as CT scans of the objects; the specimen conservation project of 1987, and the reorganization and re-labelling of the tumor room gallery in 2006.

Dates

  • 1892-2015
  • Majority of material found in 1988-2007

Creator

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.

Bibliography:

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).

Extent

5.2 Linear feet (13 document boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Overview

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 1892 through 2015, although the bulk of the material dates from 1988 through 2007. The records document the past exhibits displayed in the Museum, “Only One Man Died” and “The Medical World of Benjamin Franklin;”; grant funded projects, including the 2011 Quay Brothers film and the Museum Assessment Program (1994 to1995 and 2004 to 2006); portrait appraisals and acknowledgment letters; press clippings; and special projects, including wet specimen conservation in 1987, as well as various projects about the Hyrtl skull collection.

Researchers especially interested in the history of Mütter exhibitions and the processes of curating them will find this collection particularly rich in detail.

Creator

Title
Records of the Mütter Museum III
Author
Chrissie Perella
Date
October 2019
Language of description
English
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

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

Contact:
19 S. 22nd Street
Philadelphia PA 19103 United States
215-399-2001