History of Medicine

Rare books and archives illuminating the birth of medicine as a scientific endeavor and Washington University’s place in medical history.

Travel scholarships 

In the fall of 2021, Divyansh Agarwal, an MD-PhD trainee from the University of Pennsylvania, traveled to the Becker Archives to research the structure of academic training for surgeon-scientists at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Agarwal’s research in the Becker Archives focused on the collections of Evarts Graham, Carl Moyer, and Jessie Ternberg, who each contributed to important scientific investigations in their role as academic surgeons at the School of Medicine. 

Also in the fall of 2021, Tina Bharani, MD, a surgery resident from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, traveled to the Becker Archives to research the evolution of the field of reconstructive surgery. Her research included the archives’ holdings on Vilray Blair, Evarts Graham, and James Barrett Brown, School of Medicine faculty members who were early pioneers in plastic surgery and developed many of our modern-day reconstructive surgical practices. 

Rachel Chua is a PhD candidate in history at University College in London. For her dissertation, she is researching “western” medical school involvement in China in the early 1900s. She came to Becker Archives in the spring of 2022 to review the E.V. Cowdry Papers. Dr. Cowdry, former head of Washington University’s anatomy department, spent the years 1917-21 as a visiting faculty member at the Peking Union Medical College to help transition the school to educate students in “western” medicine. 

  • He Bian (Ch. 邊和), PhD.  “Longevity for the World: Self and the Social Body in Early Modern China”.  October 20, 2021. 
  • Merlin Chowkwanyun, PhD.  “Riots, Racism, and Urban Health Reform in the 1960s”.  November 3, 2021. 
  • Elisabeth Brander, MA, MLS.  “Dissecting the Past: Doctors, donors and assembling a collection”.  February 23, 2022. 
Through the Scope poster

Through the Scope: A Small History of Microscopy
June 17, 2022-Oct. 21, 2022

The invention of the microscope revealed the invisible and enabled new fields of biomedical research. This exhibit explored a small history of microscopy, from Robert Hooke’s “Micrographia” to the electron microscope, through artifacts in the Becker special collections including the first electron microscope used in a biomedical investigation in the United States.

Out of Scope poster

Out of Scope: Unexpected Items in the Rare Book Collections 
Feb. 17, 2022-June 15, 2022

Rare book collections usually coalesce around a unifying theme, and it’s no surprise that most of the rare books in the Becker collections focus on anatomy and pathology. And yet, a browse of the Becker Library catalogue reveals several titles that seem like they don’t quite fit. This exhibit highlighted those works that appear to be “out of scope,” telling the story of why they nonetheless have found a place on Becker’s shelves.

19th Century Medical Schools poster

Nineteenth Century Medical Schools of St. Louis
Sept. 20, 2021-Feb. 15, 2022

St. Louis witnessed the creation of two-dozen medical schools in the 1800s, including the first west of the Mississippi River and the only two still in operation today. While this may have been the heyday of medical schools in the city, the education at these institutions was often irresponsibly poor and sometimes willfully fraudulent. This exhibit presented a timeline of 24 local medical schools.

Manhattan Project

Washington University’s Involvement in the Manhattan Project  
Feb. 15, 2021-Sept. 10, 2021

Did you know Washington University played a vital part in the development of the atomic bomb? Several faculty, staff and graduates played key roles in birth of the atomic age. The university’s role in the development of the bomb during the war, as well as peaceful uses of atomic energy after the war, can be traced to two main influences: WashU’s first Nobel Prize winner, Arthur H. Compton, and the creation of the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. This exhibit focused on on WashU’s role in an age of scientific discovery and ethical conundrum.

Outreach and interpretation  

Becker Rare Books hosted its Annual Display of Rare Anatomical Texts in December over Zoom. The event was recorded and is now available on the Library’s YouTube channel. Rare Book Assistant Angela He also created a video highlighting the Chinese medical texts in the Tyler Collection, which is also available on YouTube.  

Academic Women’s Network exhibit 

Becker Archives partnered with the medical school’s Academic Women’s Network to create an exhibit highlighting twenty-two women who are current or former School of Medicine faculty members, and who mentored and inspired women in science and medicine. This remarkable exhibit was displayed in the library’s atrium in March 2022 in conjunction with Women’s History Month. 

Women in Medicine exhibit

Class visits

Class visits continued to be few in number in the wake of the pandemic, however, a session for the undergraduate “Art of Medicine” class was conducted over Zoom, and a studio arts class from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville came to visit Becker Library in person. Quill and Scalpel, the undergraduate medical humanities club, also came to visit. 

Rare book collections and acquisitions 

A significant number of last year’s new acquisitions are East Asian materials, reflecting the library’s goal to diversify its holdings in order to tell a more global history of medicine. View specific examples of acquisitions in the supplement to the annual report.

Archival collections and acquisitions

Becker Archives continued progress on myriad digitization and description projects, hosted researchers, and fielded questions from the general public throughout FY22.

452 new linear feet of archival material, 4732 total linear feet of archival material

The Washington University Medical Center Desegregation History Project

The Washington University Medical Center Desegregation History Project highlights the stories of students and faculty, doctors and nurses, advocates and administrators who lived and worked under segregationist and other racist policies before the medical center desegregated in the 1960s. Becker Archives maintains project participants’ oral history interview transcripts and audio recordings, which capture and preserve first-person accounts and reflections on this notable time in the history of the medical school. All project materials were made freely available online in the fall of 2021 through Digital Commons@Becker and the Becker Archives Database

Departmental histories in Digital Commons@Becker

Digital Commons@Becker added a new collection to host historical accounts of Washington University School of Medicine. Ten histories of School of Medicine departments, with original publication dates ranging as far back as 1898, were uploaded in the spring of 2022 and are now freely publicly accessible online.

Notable among these historical accounts, most of which were authored by faculty members of the medical school, is A History of the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine by Eugene Rubin, MD, PhD. Dr. Rubin’s 108-page history represents the first book to be published in Digital Commons@Becker. He relied on significant research support from the archives staff to publish this book.

Other acquisitions

The library now holds the papers of Dr. Walter F. Ballinger, who was the former head of the Washington University School of Medicine Department of Surgery. 

Additionally, the library acquired the papers of distinguished neuroscientist Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge and her equally notable neurobiologist husband, Dr. Richard Bunge. The Bunges were longtime faculty members at School of Medicine and their electron microscopy prints were displayed in the Glaser Gallery during the past year. 

2022 Annual Report