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COLLECTION Identifier: RG M-CL02.01

Warren Anatomical Museum records


The Warren Anatomical Museum records, 1835-2010 (inclusive), 1971-1991 (bulk), are the product of the administrative, curatorial, teaching, and research activities of the staff of the museum.


  • 1835-2010 (inclusive),
  • Majority of material found within 1971-1991 .


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Researchers should also be aware that due to the unique nature of the Warren Anatomical Museum holdings, museum object files and related documentation may include personal health information that is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. For this reason, all files in the collection must be screened in advance in order to determine whether or not an access application is required. Consult Public Services for further information.

Some of the Records are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for further information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.


36 cubic feet (28 records center cartons, 10 letter size document boxes, 1 legal size document box, 2 half letter size document boxes, 2 half legal size document boxes, 6 flat oversize boxes, and 1 lantern slide box)

The Warren Anatomical Museum records, 1835-2010 (inclusive), 1971-1991 (bulk), are the product of the administrative, curatorial, teaching, and research activities of the staff of the museum. The bulk of the records date from 1971 to 1991, during which time David L. Gunner served as Curatorial Associate, and consist of the administrative records he produced and maintained. The bulk of the remainder of the records serve to document the items in the collection itself, and consist of registration, accession, donor, exhibition, loan, and permission to publish records.

The Warren Anatomical Museum records consist of thirteen series: I. Administrative Files of the Curator and Curatorial Associate; II. Collection Registration Records; III. Accession Records; IV. Object Files; V. Curatorial Photographs and Assorted Graphic Materials; VI. Donor Records; VII. Exhibition Files; VIII. Education Program Files; XI. Loan Files, Outgoing; X. Permissions and Licenses to Publish; XI. Research Registration Records; XII. Budget Preparation and Monitoring Files; and XIII. Construction Project Drawings, Maps, and Plans.

Additional and active records belonging to all of the archival series described are maintained in the Office of the Curator of the Warren Anatomical Museum, and are not included in the finding aid.

Materials are entirely in English.

Historical Note on the Warren Anatomical Museum

The Warren Anatomical Museum was established at the Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1847 through a gift from John Collins Warren (1778-1856) from his personal collection of anatomical specimens, along with an endowment of $5,000 in railroad stock to support the collection. 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 Dr. John Warren, one of Harvard Medical School’s founders. Warren recognized the importance of anatomical specimens for instructing students in medical schools and used his collection for teaching purposes. He 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 also 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, 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 (born 1879) was named Assistant 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; Hersey Professor of Anatomy Don Wayne Fawcett (born 1917) was also appointed 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, marking the last time the primary steward of the museum was a full faculty member of the medical school. In 1970, Charles Peirson Lyman (born 1912) became the museum’s curator.

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 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 Warren Museum is one of three anatomical teaching museums that still exist in the United States, along with the Mutter Museum (College of Physicians and Surgeons, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and the National Museum of Health and Medicine (Washington, D.C.), and the only such example associated with a university medical school. 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.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Series 00013: I. Administrative Files of the Curator and Curatorial Associate, 1847-2003, undated
  2. ___A. Correspondence, 1856-1999, undated
  3. ___B. General, 1966-1997, undated
  4. ___C. Manuals, 1973-1984, undated
  5. ___D. Paintings, 1927, 1978-1998, undated
  6. ___E. Planners, 1973-1984
  7. ___F. Publicity Files, 1953, 1976-2003, undated
  8. ___G. Reference Files, 1965-1996
  9. ___H. Collected Publications, 1847-1988, undated
  10. Series 00012: II. Collection Registration Records, 1835-1996, undated
  11. Series 00342: III. Accession Records, 1912-1984, undated.
  12. Series 00343: IV. Object Files, 1776-2001, undated
  13. Series 00344: V. Curatorial Photographs and Associated Graphic Materials, 1973-1981, undated
  14. Series 00867: VI. Donor Records, 1911, 1950-2003, undated
  15. Series 00341: VII. Exhibition Files, 1906, 1971-2010, undated
  16. Series 00345: VIII. Education Program Files, 1901-1967, undated
  17. Series 00346: IX. Loan Files, Outgoing, 1928-1994
  18. Series 00347: X. Permissions and Licenses to Publish, 1973-1999, undated
  19. Series 00348: XI. Research Registration Records, 1924-2005, undated
  20. Series 00349: XII. Budget Preparation and Monitoring Files, 1916, 1942, 1956-2003, undated
  21. Series 00350: XIII. Construction Project Drawings, Maps and Plans, 1961-2000, undated
  22. Series 00505: XIV. Collected Photographs, 1807-1914, 1941, 1969-1988, undated

Related Papers in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

  1. Papers of Myrtelle M. Canavan. GA 10.20.
  2. Papers of Ernest Amory Codman. B MS c60.
  3. Papers of William Fiske Whitney. GA 94.20.
  4. Papers of Paul Ivan Yakovlev.

Associated Records in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

  1. Records of the Warren Anatomical Museum. AA 192.5.

Resources on the Warren Anatomical Museum

  • Hunt, Virginia A. From medical education to historical collection: the evolution of the Warren Anatomical Museum, a case study, Thesis (A.L.M., Museum Studies) Harvard University, 2009.
  • Jackson, J. B. S. A descriptive catalogue of the Warren Anatomical Museum, Boston: A. Williams, 1870.
  • Whitney, William F. The Warren Anatomical Museum of the Harvard Medical School and the arrangement of its collection, 1911.

Processing Information

Processed by Bryan Sutherland and Christina M. Thompson in May 2011 with additions in April 2014 by Elise DeAndrea.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access to the collection. To enhance preservation, processing staff re-housed the collection and, where necessary, photocopied documents onto acid-free paper. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals.

Warren Anatomical Museum. Records, 1835-2010 (inclusive), 1971-1991 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
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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