Eighty Years and Counting


This gallery contains 4 photos.

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections Many of you are aware that the Malloch Suite of rare book rooms (the Coller Rare Book Reading Room and the Seminar Room) has been under renovation since early … Continue reading

For your viewing pleasure

This Wednesday’s 2013 New York Academy of Medicine Gala featured the following video on the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. If you would like to learn more about our work or visit us in person, please email history@nyam.org and library@nyam.org.

History Night: Seeking Submissions

RBR deskThe New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health is pleased to announce its Third Annual History Night to be held on April 8, 2013, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. The event will take place at NYAM located at 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street.

We are inviting all those interested in presenting to submit papers on topics in the history of medicine and public health for consideration. Papers submitted previously at other educational events are eligible for submission. The time allotted for those papers chosen for presentation will be 15 minutes, with an additional 3-5 minutes for Q & A.

A panel of members of the NYAM Section on the History of Medicine and Public Health will select the papers to be presented.

The submission deadline is February 1, 2013. Papers may be submitted electronically to Donna Fingerhut at dfingerhut@nyam.org. Questions may be directed to Donna at 212-419-3645.

NYC History of Medicine Events in October — Hildebrandt, Tresch, Largent, and Warner

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

This month sees an exciting line up of history of medicine (and science) events in NYC. In fact, almost a festival. Hope to see you at some or all…

On October 10, NYAM’s Malloch lecture series begins with an exploration of the practice of anatomy under the Third Reich, with Dr Sabine Hildebrandt discussing the impact and legacy of the 1933-1945 period. More details here.

At the NYPL’s Cullman Center, John Tresch discusses his new book “The Romantic Machine” on October 11. Tresch explores the connections between Romanticism and industrialization in Paris after Napoleon, drawing on examples from art, literature, opera, scientific discoveries, and technological advancements. Find details here.

On October 17, Mark Largent is appearing at NYAM to discuss his new book “Vaccine: The Modern American Debate”. In it he explores the history of the vaccine-autism debate and argues that it obscures a constellation of concerns held by many parents.  More details here.

And on Oct 18 the A.C. Long Health Sciences Library at Columbia will host Prof. John Harley Warner, who will speak on “The Image of Modern Medicine: Professional Identity, Aesthetic Belonging and the American Doctor, 1880-1950.” Prof. Warner focuses on the visual choices that American physicians made in representing their profession, their work, and themselves during 1880’s through the 1940’s. Details here.

Click for larger size (possibly disturbing) images from Prof. Warner’s work with James Edmonson, Dissection.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, 1895. European-American dissecting teams (left) and African-American teams (right) were racially segregated after the medical student body at the University of Pennsylvania was integrated. DHMC

More upcoming events can be found on our Calendar. Please feel free to get in touch at please email history@nyam.org if you have an event you would like to see featured.

Snakes in Medicine: Slippery Symbolism

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director

Image of Hygieia and Asclepius with staff and snake between them, accompanied by dogs, representing watchfulness.

Bas-relief of Hygeia and Asclepius overlooking our main entrance on 103rd St. Our 1926 building features numerous emblems and mythological figures associated with medicine. In this figure, father and daughter have the figure of the staff and snake between them, and are accompanied by dogs, representing watchfulness.

The snake in our blog header is a reference to Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation. Hygieia was often symbolized by a snake drinking from a bowl and was shown in sculptures and images with a serpent entwined around her. Her father was Asclepius, the god of medicine, generally depicted carrying a staff with a snake coiled around it. Snakes were introduced in Asclepian temples across the classical world, for use in healing rituals, and have remained associated with medicine in many ways since that time.

Brass snake inlaid on foyer floor

Our snake in-situ on our foyer floor, one of a series of inlaid figures with a connection to the practice of medicine over time.

As Walter J. Friedlander describes in his 1992 The Golden Wand of Medicine, the staff of Asclepius remained the primary symbol of medicine in the West until the 16th century, when examples of the caduceus began to be associated with medicine. The caduceus shows two snakes entwined around each other and a central staff, often with wings, and was associated with the god Hermes, especially as a symbol of commerce and trade. It was only in the late 19th century that the caduceus began to be widely accepted as a symbol of medicine. Friedlander suggests that this emerged in part from the use of the caduceus as a printer’s mark by medical publishers.

A wooden caduceus symbol shown in NYAM rare book reading room

A caduceus symbol in the NYAM rare book reading room

Most significant for the use of the caduceus as a medical symbol in the 20th century was the United States Army’s General Order Number 81, July 17, 1902. Included in its new regulations concerning army uniforms was the instruction that the new Medical Department insignia would be a gold or gilt caduceus. Subsequent arguments about the symbolism of the caduceus interpreted its elements in medical terms. For example, the rod represented power, the wings intelligence and activity, and the serpents wisdom and healing. Others argued that its use should be understood more in the traditional sense associated with Hermes, symbolizing a noncombatant messenger or envoy.

Despite initial objections to the appropriation of the symbol, the caduceus is now widely used as a symbol of medical practice, while Hygieia’s bowl continues to be particularly associated with the practice of pharmacy.