The Warren Anatomical Museum’s approximately 15,000 item anatomical, pathological and artifact collection dates earlier than its 1847 founding by John Collins Warren. The museum’s earliest teaching preparations originate with the Museum of the Massachusetts Medical College (1810-1846), which was established by Warren with his personal collection to teach Harvard medical students anatomy and pathology. John Collins Warren formally donated the Museum of the Massachusetts Medical College to Harvard Medical School in 1847, and the Warren Anatomical Museum was born. The anatomical and pathological teaching and research collection grew rapidly until the early 1920s, and came from numerous sources. New England physicians, Harvard-trained clinicians and surgeons, and Harvard Medical School professors and scientists donated teaching remains to the collection. The museum purchased osteological preparations and anatomical models from early 19th-century French and German anatomy dealers. Artists and photographers were hired by the faculty to create teaching works for the Warren. Harvard physicians made casts of their patients and added them to the museum.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Museum began collecting historical medical instrumentation and devices to document the history of medicine and Harvard’s contribution to that history. The Museum continues that mission today as part of the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine.
Much of the Warren’s collection historical collection was still extant when it was transferred from Harvard Medical School’s closing Department of Anatomy to the Center for the History of Medicine in 1999. The survival of the collection was rare for an American medical school, as most US medical museums were decommissioned in the mid-20th century. The present collection includes approximately 3200 anatomical and osteological preparations, 750 wet tissue preparations, over a 1000 watercolors, drawings, photographs, and lantern slides, an estimated 1000 anatomical models and casts, 500 human and non-human calculi, and roughly 8500 medical, dental, and public health instruments and devices. The collection’s strengths are in anatomy, pathology, and medical education, and it draws from the Harvard and Harvard affiliate health services community.
Artifacts, Collections & Medical Cases of Note in the Warren Anatomical Museum collection:
The skull, life cast, and tamping iron of Phineas Gage.
Phineas Gage (1823-1860) is one of neurology’s most famous cases. Gage was injured in Cavendish, Vermont when a 3’ 7” inch tamping iron was fired through his head. The accident cost Gage an eye and altered his personality, but he survived. Gage’s skull and tamping iron were donated to the Warren Anatomical Museum by his physician John Harlow (1819-1907). More about the case can be found here.
The Boston Phrenological Society collection
The Boston Phrenological Society began in 1832 to commemorate the life and work of famed phrenologist Johann Gaspar Spurzhiem (1776–1832). The Society developed a cabinet of phrenological castings, built off of Spurzheim’s original lecture and research collection. They published an 1835 Catalogue of Phrenological Specimens. John Collins Warren purchased the Society’s cabinet in 1849 and added it to his eponymous museum. Approximately 250 of the castings remain in the Warren Museum’s collection.
The Boston Society for Medical Improvement
The Boston Society for Medical Improvement had an expansive anatomical cabinet, begun in 1828, the year of its founding. The first curator of the Warren Museum, J. B. S. Jackson (1806-1879), was also the curator of the Society’s cabinet. In 1847 Jackson published A Descriptive Catalogue of the Anatomical Museum of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, which details the first 954 specimens in the cabinet. The Society’s collection eventually grew to around 1200 items and Jackson facilitated the transfer of the cabinet to the Warren Museum circa 1870. Harvard Medical School formally accepted the cabinet in 1889.
Dickinson-Belskie Obstetrical Model Collection
In 2007 the Cleveland Museum of Natural History donated the Dickinson-Belskie collection to the Warren Anatomical Museum to join the Robert Latou Dickinson papers already in the Center for the History of Medicine. The collection was started by obstetrician and gynecologist Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950) and sculptor Abram Belskie (1907-1988) in 1939 to teach birth anatomy to health care professionals and the public. The Cleveland Health Museum acquired the model collection and the right to reproduce the models from Dickinson circa 1950. The Health Museum was later absorbed into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Dickinson-Belskie collection contains approximately 200 models from Dickinson and the Cleveland Health Museum, including the Dickinson’s statistic constructions of the average American man and woman, “Norma and Normman.”
Pelvis and Proximal Femurs of Charles Lowell
The Warren Anatomical Museum has a mounted hip preparation of Charles Lowell (d.1858). Lowell dislocated his hip in a horse-riding accident in 1821. Dissatisfied with his physician’s failure to put his left hip back into place, Lowell entered into a well-publicized, early American malpractice case. Lowell took issue with the medical evidence presented at the trials, and requested an examination be done after his death. The post-mortem was conducted by Harvard physician Henry Oliver at the request of Jonathan Mason Warren (1811-1867). Warren’s son, John Collins Warren (1842-1927) donated the hip preparation to the Warren Anatomical Museum. More about the case can be found in the CHoM online exhibit Charles Lowell’s Hip: An Early Case of (alleged) Medical Malpractice.