This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
Guide to the Smithsonian Archives
E-mail exchange with Ramunas Kondratas, December 15, 1999
Smithsonian interest in the medical sciences dates back to the Toner Lecture Series, which was established by Joseph M. Toner in 1872. The Secretary of the Institution served on the Board of Trustees for the fund that supported the series, and the Smithsonian published the lectures, which took place between 1873 and 1890, in its Miscellaneous Collections.
In 1881, the Section of Materia Medica was established in the Department of Arts and Industries, United States National Museum (USNM), to curate medical specimens. Until 1900, the United States Navy detailed a Navy surgeon to act as honorary curator for the Section of Materia Medica. The surgeons included James M. Flint, 1881-1884, 1887-1891, and 1895-1900; Henry G. Beyer, 1884-1887; John C. Boyd, 1891-1892; William S. Dixon, 1892-1893; C. H. White, 1893; C. U. Gravatt, 1893-1894; R. A. Marmion, 1894; and Daniel McMurtrie, 1894-1895.
In 1897, the Section of Materia Medica became the Division of Medicine in the Department of Anthropology. Upon his retirement from the Navy, Flint volunteered to remain and served as Honorary Curator, 1900-1912. Until 1917, responsibility for the collections moved first to Walter Hough, Division of Ethnology, and then to Frederick L. Lewton, Division of Textiles. Lewton appointed Joseph Donner as Assistant Curator of the materia medica collection in 1917 and Charles Whitebread in 1918. Whitebread served as Assistant Curator, 1918-1938, and Associate Curator, 1939-1948.
Between 1931 and 1938, the Division merged with the Division of Textiles, under Lewton's direction. In 1938 the Division was separated from the Division of Textiles and established as the Division of Medicine and Public Health in the newly established Department of Engineering and Industries, and in 1957, upon the creation of the Museum of History and Technology, it was renamed the Division of Medical Sciences, reporting to the new Department of Science and Technology.
In 1969 the Museum of History and Technology was reorganized as the National Museum of History and Technology, and the Division of Medical Sciences remained a part of the Department of Science and Technology. A 1978 reorganization sent Medical Sciences to a new Department of History of Science. In 1980, with the creation of the National Museum of American History, the Division of Medical Sciences began reporting to the Department of the History of Science and Technology. Then, in 1995, it was assigned to the Department of Science, Medicine and Society, where it remained when Science, Medicine and Society began reporting to a new Department of History within the National Museum of American History.
Staff of the Division in this period have included George S. Thomas, Associate Curator, 1948-1952; George B. Griffenhagen, Associate Curator, 1952-1956, Curator, 1956-1959; John B. Blake, Associate Curator, 1957-1959, Curator, 1959-1961; Sami Khalaf Hamarneh, Associate Curator, 1960-1962, Curator, 1963-1972, Historian, 1972-1977, Curator Emeritus, 1982-1985; Audrey B. Davis, Assistant Curator, 1968-1969, Associate Curator, 1970-1977, and Curator, 1978-1994; Barbara Melosh, Curator, 1983-1991; and Ramunas Kondratas, Assistant Curator, 1977-1983, Curator, 1984- .
For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520