The Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Countway Library of Medicine has one of the world's leading collection in the history of health care and medicine, attracting researchers from around the world to consult its rare books and journals, archives and manuscripts, photographs and prints, and art and artifact collections The history of medicine plays a critical role in informing contemporary medicine, at the same time as it informs our understanding of the larger society within which medicine is embedded. 

The Center's online exhibits include several related to women in the field. The Center is also home to the Archives for Women in Medicine program. The Archives for Women in Medicine actively acquires, preserves, promotes and provides access to the professional records of outstanding women leaders in medicine and the medical sciences. It comprises over 50 collections of materials related to women in medicine.

The history of the Center's collection can be traced to 1782 when the Medical School itself was formed. The Harvard Corporation hoped to acquire "a collection of the most approved authors in anatomy, surgery, physic, chemistry, etc.— a collection more perfect than any in America." The Boston Medical Library, a free-standing library of medical literature, was founded in 1805 but was absorbed by the Boston Athenaeum in 1826. However, the growing need for a separate library led to formation of the Boston Medical Library as an entity in 1875 by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who served as its President. In 1960, the Boston Medical Library and the Harvard Medical School Library entered into an agreement to combine their collections and administration in a new building known as The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. When the Countway opened, the collection then known as the Rare Books and Special Collections was established to care for the historical materials of both libraries, make them accessible, make them better known, and promote research and scholarship in the history of medicine. The combined library ranks as one of the largest medical libraries in the world.

Drawings of Phineas Gage's skull and the iron barThe Center includes the personal and professional papers of many prominent American physicians. It is also the institutional repository for the records of Harvard Medical School (founded 1782), Harvard School of Dental Medicine (1867), and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (1913). There are also online exhibits and digital resources.

The Warren Anatomical Museum  is also under the aegis of the Center. It maintains and adds to the collection originally donated by Dr. John Collins Warren. The collection is used for all forms of medical education, and also provides public programming and educational resources to the wider community. For instance, it provided information and a backdrop for the Harvard EdX course "Fundamentals of Neuroscience."  Some of its recently digitized works are included in the Medical Heritage Library, a digital collaborative among some of the world's leading medical libraries to provide free access to historical medical resources.

The Museum gallery, located on the 5th floor of the Countway Library, is open to the public, free of charge, Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except University holidays. One of the Museum's most famous artifacts is the skull of Phineas Gage, along with the iron bar that went clear through his head (see image above). You can learn more about the Phineas Gage case here.