-Courtesy of Broad Street Communications
photo courtesy of the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
The oldest independent medical library in the U.S. is now open to the public, for the first time in its 200+ year history. Rotating exhibits of rare books, artwork, and more will be on display on weekends.
Admission to the Historical Medical Library is available Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is included with tickets to the Mütter Museum, Philadelphia’s premier museum of medical history. The Museum and Library are part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a professional organization for medical professionals that was founded in 1787, and housed in the same building.
Valued at $37 million (as of 2014), the Historical Medical Library was established in 1788 and in its current location since 1908. It contains 300,000 rare books, art, historic medical photographs, medical trade ephemera, first editions, and woodcut art, plus scrolls, stone tablets, lithographs, daguerreotype photos, handwritten letters, and many more remarkable items.
“Up until now, the only way to access our collection was by appointment or viewing our digital collection, which only represents 1% of the overall collection,” said Heidi Nance, Historical Medical Library Director. “Opening our doors to all visitors on weekends represents a new phase for one of Philadelphia’s greatest hidden treasures, sitting just above the iconic Mütter Museum.”
“As we’ve worked to make The College of Physicians of Philadelphia more accessible in a variety of ways, inviting the public into the Historical Medical Library has long been a dream,” said Dr. Mira Irons, President and CEO of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. “The complementary collections within our Museum and Library work together to tell a story of the past, present, and future of medicine.”
Historical Medical Library
The Historical Medical Library was created by the College’s Fellows and was Philadelphia’s central medical library for over 150 years, serving its medical schools, hospitals, physicians and other health professionals. In 1908, The College’s current building was built to house the growing Library. Today, it is an independent library dedicated to the history of medicine and the medical humanities, serving hundreds of scholars, health professionals, students, and popular writers each year. The jewel of the Library is a collection of more than 400 books printed before 1501, called “incunabula.” The oldest book on-site was printed in the 13th century.
Until this summer, the Library was only open to researchers. Thanks to the vision and generosity of College Trustees and 2021 Giving Tuesday donors, the Library doors are unlocked, welcoming Museum visitors for the first time in 200+ years.
“Now, more than ever, it’s important that the public be exposed to medical history. Understanding where we’ve come from helps us to understand, and appreciate, the present — and look towards the future of healthcare,” continued Dr. Irons.
Visitors to the Library’s Gallery will encounter rotating exhibits that change every three months and historic artwork on the walls, in a recently-restored space with coffered ceilings and a grand, late Gothic stone fireplace. The Library’s fireplace was moved from the College’s previous building located on Locust Street, where it had been donated by George W. Childs, the publisher of the Philadelphia Ledger. Designed by architect Theophilus P. Chandler in 1885, the fireplace consists of a massive stone mantel, elaborately carved and carried on triplets of columns to either side.
Photography of the exhibits, even with flashes, is welcomed.