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Medical Writings |

The Mütter Museum: Education, Preservation, and Commemoration

Erin H. McLeary, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

University of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, PA 19104 (McLeary)


Grant Support: By the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship and Francis C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine Resident Research Fellowship.

Requests for Single Reprints: Erin McLeary, Department of History and Sociology of Science, 303 Logan Hall, 249 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Requests To Purchase Bulk Reprints (minimum, 100 copies): the Reprints Coordinator; phone, 215-351-2657; e-mail, reprints@mail.acponline.org.


Ann Intern Med. 2000;132(7):599-603. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-132-7-200004040-00033
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In the mid-19th century, Austrian anatomist Joseph Hyrtl began to collect skulls: skulls from every ethnic group in Eastern Europe, skulls of robbers and of prostitutes, skulls of men killed by violence and men killed by grief. These skulls were more than an impressive demonstration of ethnic variation. The skull collection, along with Hyrtl's other anatomical preparations—microscopic injections of lymphatics and comparative anatomy collections—was a source of income for the anatomist. Like many vendors of unique wares, Hyrtl advertised and issued catalogs, some of which made their way to the United States. In 1874, Philadelphia physician Thomas Hewson Bache traveled to Austria and acquired the skull collection for 6410 Prussian thaler, or about $4800. For the past 125 years, these 139 skulls have peered down at visitors to the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (1).

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Figure 1.
Interior of the Mütter Museum, housed in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The skeleton of a giant and that of a dwarf are exhibited together. Photograph by Jack Ramsdale. Courtesy of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

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Figure 2.
The museum at Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, as it was used to study topographic anatomy in the 1920s.

Students would sit at tables (shown on the right) and study specimens that they selected from the collection. From Hardesty I. Department of Anatomy, Tulane University School of Medicine. In: Methods and Problems in Medical Education, series 16. New York: Rockefeller Foundation; 1930:174-89.

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Figure 3.
Terra cotta discus covered with glass for mounting cross-sections.Bulletin of the International Association of Medical Museums.

Methods of preserving specimens so that they retained their informational value were frequently discussed in the The method shown here was considered visually pleasing, long-lasting, and affordable ($4 in 1918). From Terry RJ. Museum jars of porcelain and terra cotta. Bulletin of the International Association of Medical Museums. 1992; 8:79-82.

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Figure 4.
The anatomical amphitheater at Hahnemann Medical School, Philadelphia.

The lecture is accompanied by demonstration of museum specimens. From Bradford T. History of the Homeopathic Medical College of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Boericke & Tafel; 1898.

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