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COLLECTION Identifier: WAM001

Warren Anatomical Museum artifact collection


Warren Anatomical Museum artifact collections include anatomical and osteological preparations; wet tissue preparations; watercolors, drawings, photographs, and lantern slides; anatomical models and casts; human and non-human calculi; and medical, dental, and public health instruments and devices.


  • Creation: 1725-2017 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Object labels, inscriptions, etc. are primarily in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Warren Anatomical Museum objects are available for research access. Access is premised on the availability of space and staff to facilitate use. Contact Public Services for the Warren Anatomical Museum for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Warren Anatomical Museum does not hold copyright on all the materials in the Museum. For works over which the Museum does not hold or does not wish to assert copyright, the Center will charge no publication or usage fees, and will not grant or deny permission to publish. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For works over which the Museum holds and exercises copyright, researchers should submit a Permission to Publish form. No publication or usage fees will be charged. For assistance determining the copyright status for specific materials, consult Public Services. View the Center's Photography and Reproductions Policy for more information.


15,000 objects

Warren Anatomical Museum artifact collections include medical, dental, and public health instruments and devices; anatomical models and casts; furniture; memorabilia; and histological specimens.

Please note that the inventory presented in this finding aid is not a complete or comprehsensive representation of the Museum's artifact holdings; the inventory chiefly represents objects and collections of objects that have been recently accessioned and/or cataloged by the Museum.

Historical Note

John Collins Warren (1778-1856) first began to teach with his personal anatomical and pathological collection at Harvard Medical School’s new Mason Street location in 1816. This collection was entitled the Museum of the Massachusetts Medical College. In 1847 John Collins Warren retired from Harvard Medical School and donated his personal teaching museum to the University, along with an endowment of $5,000 in railroad stock to support the collection. Harvard renamed the museum the Warren Anatomical Museum in honor of John Collins Warren and his gift. A professor of anatomy and surgery at Harvard Medical School, Warren was also a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, a founder of the New England Journal of Medicine, and son of John Warren, Harvard Medical School’s principal founder and first professor. Warren recognized the importance of anatomical specimens for instructing students in medical schools and wished to ensure that his collection would continue to be used for that purpose.

When first opened, the Warren Anatomical Museum was housed on North Grove Street in Boston. John Barnard Swett (J. B. S.) Jackson (1806-1879) served as the museum’s first curator, from 1847 to 1879. A professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School, he published A Descriptive Catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum in 1870. In 1879, William Fiske Whitney (1850-1921) became curator, and in 1883, the museum moved with the Medical School to Boylston Street, Boston. During this time, Whitney worked closely with Thomas Dwight (1843-1911, who followed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. as Parkman Professor of Anatomy at Harvard Medical School), a grandson of John Collins Warren. Dwight worked to develop the museum’s osteological collection. In 1906, the museum moved again with the Medical School, this time to the new Longwood campus, where it was located on the top floors of the main administration building, now known as Gordon Hall. The move to Longwood resulted in an increase in the museum’s collections, facilities, and outreach efforts. During this time, it continued to serve a significant role as a resource for the teaching of medicine.

After Whitney’s death in 1921, control of the museum was transferred to the Committee of the Warren Museum and then the Pathology Department, until Myrtelle M. Canavan (1879-1953) was named curator in 1924. Canavan focused her collecting efforts on neuropathological specimens and also helped to standardize the museum’s accessioning practices. Upon Canavan’s retirement in 1945, the Committee of the Warren Museum once again oversaw its operations until Paul Yakovlev was appointed curator in 1956. By then, however, the museum’s space in Gordon Hall had been reduced to make room for administrative offices, and changes in teaching practices marked a decline in the use of the museum for educational purposes. In 1961, the Committee and Harvard Medical School Dean George Packer Berry reassessed the function of the museum, resulting in a further reduction of space and the movement of non-historical exhibits out of Gordon Hall and into related departments or storage, and the appointment of Hersey Professor of Anatomy and cell biologist Don Wayne Fawcett (1917-2009) as curator. This transitional period marked the end of the museum’s teaching function and the beginning of its historical function. Fawcett resigned in 1969, in part due to philosophical differences with the medical school’s administrative staff over the museum’s role at the school. Charles Peirson Lyman (1912-2010) became curator in 1970.

The 1970s and 1980s were a period of further contraction of the Warren Museum’s status and space. David L. Gunner served as curatorial associate and as the primary administrator for the collection from 1970 to 1989 while the museum was under the administrative control of the Anatomy Department. During Gunner’s tenure, in 1987, the remaining collection not on exhibit was removed to long-term storage. In the 1990s, the museum was administered by a part-time curator and part-time curatorial assistant and, in 1997, the last exhibits were moved out of Gordon Hall and into storage. The museum was reorganized in 2000, becoming part of the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine’s Center for the History of Medicine. Library staff realized the potential of the museum for both historical and modern medical research and worked with museum colleagues at Harvard and elsewhere in order to revitalize and re-focus the museum’s mission. Large-scale surveys of the collection were completed, as well as a move to a modern museum storage facility.

The museum currently resides in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and is a part of the library’s Center for the History of Medicine. The museum’s collection comprises around 15,000 objects, with most of the objects in storage and the remainder in permanent exhibit space on the Library’s fifth floor.

Collection Arrangement

Objects and collections of objects are grouped according to their primary creator or user, and are listed under those names in alphabetical order. Objects for which the creator or user is unknown are grouped together as the "Warren Anatomical Museum Collection" and are listed at the end of the inventory in alphabetical order by object title.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Objects collected by the Warren Anatomical Museum from various sources; see description of specific objects for associated acquisition information.

Processing Information

From 2018-2020, Theodora Burbank completed an inventory of the museum’s medical instrumentation backlog for a project titled “"Maximizing Cataloging Output for the Warren Anatomical Museum Instrumentation Backlog Through Minimal Processing." After this inventory was complete, items were reunited with their original collections where possible. These collections were rehoused and a finding aid was created to support researcher access.

Other collections in the finding aid were processed by museum staff as they were donated or transferred from archival collections. These items were rehoused to aid with preservation.

Finding aid was authored by Theodora Burbank, with editing and data migration support from Amber LaFountain, Charlotte Lellman, and Jessica Sedgwick.

Please note that this finding aid represents a portion of the Warren Anatomical Museum’s artifact collections (chiefly items that have been recently accessioned or cataloged), and is not a comprehensive guide to entirety of the museum collections.

Warren Anatomical Museum artifact collection, 1725-2017: Finding Aid.
Theodora Burbank
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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