Coronavirus information for Feinberg.

Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Special Collections


Rare Books & Special Collections

The Special Collections Department is the steward of Galter Health Sciences Library and Learning Center’s rare, unique, and historical materials. The library’s rare book collections consist of medical and dental works from European and American sources, spanning the 15th through the 20th centuries, with strengths in anatomy, pathology, obstetrics and gynecology, and urology, among others. The department also houses collections of medical and dental artifacts, manuscripts, institutional and personal archives, and more. The great majority of our titles are cataloged, and their records may be located in our online catalog.


The Special Collections department provides historical reference support to the Northwestern University community as well as the general public. Some services, such as scanning, printing, and photography, may be fee-based. Please contact us for details.


Galter Health Sciences Library and Learning Center is open only to the faculty, staff and students of Northwestern University and its affiliated hospitals. See our policy here. The Special Collections reading room, however, is open to the general public by appointment only. Please contact us by phone or email to register as a user.

Instructors wishing to use our materials during class sessions may schedule the use of our reading room. The instructor must be present during these sessions and various security protocols respected. Reservations must be made in advance.

Contact us Mailing Address

Katie Lattal, Special Collections Librarian

Special Collections
Galter Health Sciences Library
303 East Chicago Avenue
Suite 2-212
Chicago, Illinois 60611
back to top

Books & Printed Materials

The rare book collection was amassed largely in the mid-20th century under the leadership and direction of Irving S. Cutter (medical school dean, 1925-1941), who recognized the importance of the history of medicine as a discipline. In addition to investing time and effort into the building the library’s general and historical collections, Dean Cutter was a private collector specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and William Harveyiana.

The rare book collection was acquired to provide the students and faculty of Feinberg School of Medicine with primary source materials for studying the history of medicine. Over the years, these texts have been used as part of class seminars and projects for medical students as well as art students and pre-med undergraduates. Physicians and researchers—from the liberals arts and the sciences—also consult the collection for their research. While the rare book collection exists primarily to serve the Northwestern University community, the public is welcome to use the collection as well.

In addition to research, display has long been one of the important activities of the rare book collection. Cutter believed that rare books were meant to be handled, read, and used by faculty and students alike, instead of locked away and inaccessible. The Special Collections Department continues to embrace this belief and works to increase usage of its collections whether it is physical, electronic, or by display.

The rare book collection houses approximately 8,000 volumes representing the major advances and theories in the history of western medicine, dentistry, and basic science. These titles have been expertly chosen over decades of curation to create a collection that includes many of the fundamental and secondary works in most fields of medicine. The major collections are:

Archibald Church Historical Medical Collection

Archibald Church, a professor of nervous diseases and medical jurisprudence at the medical school from 1892 to 1925, and his wife donated funds to establish the medical library’s first substantial endowment in 1923. Subsequently, the library in the new Montgomery Ward Memorial Building was named for him until 1990, when Jack and Dollie Galter made their generous donation to renovate and expand the library. The history of medicine rare book collection is now named in honor of Church’s generous support of the fledgling library.

Highlights include:

  • Incunabula by Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus

  • Anatomy: works by Andreas Vesalius, William Harvey, William Cowper, Bernhard Albinus, Richard Lower, Clopton Havers, Antonio Valsalva, Jan Swammerdam, Jacques Gamelin, Jacques Fabien Gautier d’Agoty

  • Surgery: works by Pietro d’Argellata, Ambroise Paré, Gaspare Tagliacozzi, John Hunter, Percivall Pott, Charles Bell

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology: Thomas Raynalde's The byrth of mankynde (1560) and works by William Smellie, Jakob Rüff, Joseph De Lee, Thomas Denman, Hendrik van Deventer, William Hunter, François Mauriceau, G. Spratt, Charles White

  • Early medical journals

  • Manuscripts include authors such as J.B. Murphy, William Osler, and Benjamin Rush 

A. D. Black Historical Dental Collection
This is the legacy collection of the Northwestern University Dentals School’s nearly comprehensive rare book holdings on the history of western dentistry. The holdings are comprised of rare books, engravings and prints, the G.V. Black collection, and more. A special effort was made to collect early works on anesthesia, a topic of particular interest to the founders. Highlights include Artzneybuch (1549), the first book on dentistry, multiple editions of Pierre Fauchard’s Le Chirurgien Dentiste, and Practical Observations on the Human Teeth (1783) by Robert Wooffendale, the first dentist to practice in the United States.

Kretschmer Collection of Urology
Holdings include rare books, artifacts, papers, and student notebooks donated by Herman L. Kretschmer.

back to top


The Special Collections Department also houses archival collections and the mission of the archives is to preserve a curated collection of historical materials related to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and its antecedents; health science programs affiliated with Northwestern University that have since closed, most notably the Northwestern University Dental School; and the lives of its students, alumni/ae, faculty, and staff.

To that end the Special Collections Department identifies, collects, preserves, and makes available archival materials documenting these histories. This collection is housed at Galter Library to provide institutional materials and historical reference support primarily to Feinberg School of Medicine students, alumni/ae, faculty, and staff. Users from the general public are also welcome to conduct research in the collection.

Institutional Archives

Feinberg School of Medicine. The collection details the history and/or culture of the medical school and its antecedents, the work and/or personal lives of students, alumni/ae, faculty, and staff, medical school buildings, and more. The collection is comprised of historical records, personal papers, correspondence, photographs, portraits, artwork, ephemera, memorabilia, publications, and more.

Northwestern University Dental School. The collection houses historical records, papers, photographs, and more detailing the history of the Dental School, its alumni/ae and faculty, and the history of dentistry in general.  This is a closed collection and the Special Collections Department does not collect in this area.

Limited photographs and materials related to:

  • the School of Pharmacy of Northwestern University;
  • the Northwestern University Woman’s Medical School;
  • various affiliated nursing programs.

General Archives

Personal collections – materials belonging to former deans, faculty, students, alumni/ae, and staff, including Nathan Smith Davis, G.V. Black, Irving S. Cutter, Archibald Church, and more.

Historical portrait collection – engravings, prints, slides, and facsimile images of figures prominent in the history of medicine.

Photographs, original art, and works on paper – caricatures, ephemera, artwork, prints, etc. on the history of medicine.

Reference Collection

  • Biography files containing secondary sources on individuals.
  • Reference files containing secondary sources on departments, affiliated institutions, and other organizations in the scope of the collection.
  • Limited subject files.

NB: These collections are in the midst of processing. Please contact us for holdings information.

back to top

Museum Artifacts

Holdings include medical and dental instruments and equipment, as well as objects related to the Feinberg School of Medicine, its affiliates, the history of medicine in Chicago, and more.

NB: These collections are in the midst of processing. Please contact us for holdings information.

back to top

Digital Collections

Other items deposited in DigitalHub:

back to top

Video: Leslie B. Arey on the history of the NU Medical School Library

Conversations with Leslie B. Arey: An Oral History of the N.U. Medical School
(60 Minutes; 1985)

James E. Eckenhoff, MD, medical school dean 1968-1985, interviews Leslie B. Arey, PhD, Northwestern University faculty member 1915-1987. The video features personal impressions, memories, and vignettes, with photographs and film clips. Produced by the Medical School Library staff Edward Tawyea, Associate Director 1985-1988, and Pejman Makarechi, Head of Media Production Services 1983-1988, and updated by the Galter Health Sciences Library.

back to top

Updated: December 11, 2020