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March 2007 Issue

Artifacts in UC's Center for the History of the Health Professions
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Treasures Abound in Medical History Center

By Jill Hafner
Published March 2007

If you think you can only catch a glimpse of health history at the public library or a local museum, then you might be missing out.

One of Cincinnati’s “hidden treasures,” UC’s Center for the History of the Health Professions (CHHP) is largely considered a Mecca for health professionals and history buffs alike.

Part of the academic information technology and libraries (AIT&L) department and formally known as the Cincinnati Medical Heritage Center, the CHHP boasts the region’s largest collection of rare medical artifacts, manuscripts and photographs.

Spend an afternoon searching its archives and you’ll find some unique pieces, including the original copy of the largest medical book ever published, the last iron lung used by the March of Dimes in Cincinnati and a replica of a 15th-century Italian pharmacy—complete with 109 highly decorated Cantagalli apothecary jars—that was originally displayed at the 1899–1900 Paris Exposition.

Now in its 33rd year, the center is preparing to move from its long-time home in 122 Wherry Hall on Eden Avenue into the newly renovated Medical Sciences Building (MSB).

The new space on the MSB E-level, which will open in spring 2008, will feature a museum-like environment, complete with a main exhibit area, conference room and well-lighted areas for researchers to work.

“The new center will be a primary attraction of the MSB,” says Jack McDonough, MD, associate professor of clinical surgery and chair of the center’s advisory board, “making it one of the first things visitors see when they enter the building. It will be an exceptional space that will preserve and showcase Cincinnati’s noteworthy medical history.”

The center’s shelves are currently jam-packed with nearly 35,000 journals and manuscripts dating back to 1500, and more than 60 archive collections from famous scientists, including UC College of Medicine founder Daniel Drake, MD, and U.S. Founding Father and medical theorist Benjamin Rush, MD.

The center also holds more than 2,000 medical instruments and artifacts, such as Civil War surgery kits, and nearly 5,000 medically related photographs and original art works.

The most popular collections are the Drake manuscripts and the archives of Albert Sabin, MD, developer of the oral, live-virus polio vaccine, and Robert Kehoe, MD, who pioneered early lead-poisoning studies.
Visitors are afforded an inside look into Sabin’s papers, research materials, medals, awards and honors, and all of Kehoe’s research materials from the early 1930s through the mid-1970s.

The center, says McDonough, annually attracts hundreds of scientists, medical historians and even lawyers who review its collection to help qualify scientific theories, stimulate new research or clinical techniques—or gain an edge in the courtroom.

“The importance of the health library can’t be overstated,” adds McDonough. “Its holdings are being used to improve research and clinical practice and to inspire health professionals all over the world.”

While the new space is being developed, the center is currently open to the public by appointment only, Monday through Friday.

For more information, including how to donate health or medical archives or to schedule an appointment, call (513) 558-5656 or visit

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