Genevieve Miller (1914-2013)

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It is with sadness that I report the passing on June 23rd of Genevieve Miller, former Director of the Dittrick Museum, at the age of 99.  Reaching that age is rare enough, and I think gives credence to the notion that Genevieve lived life fully and with great commitment and determination. I never worked with Genevieve during her tenure as head of the Dittrick, but got to know her better in retirement and especially as a companion on a trip to visit London medical museums in 2004.  As a way of celebrating her, permit me to review some highlights of her career.

 Genevieve Miller’s career registered several notable achievements, including:

  • First professional staff responsible for historical collections of the Cleveland Medical Library Association, now jointly administered in the College of Arts and Sciences of Case Western Reserve University.
  • Opened the Dittrick Museum to the public on a regular basis.
  • Notable scholarship in the history of medicine, with emphasis upon smallpox and vaccination.
  • Published important bibliographic works on the history of medicine
  • Conducted landmark survey on the teaching of the history of medicine in American medical schools.

 After graduating from Goucher College (1935), Genevieve became a research assistant for Henry Sigerist, Director of the Institute for the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  She then pursued an M.A. in the history of medicine and became an instructor (1943-48) at Johns Hopkins.  During that time she became Associate Editor of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine and began work towards the Ph.D., which she received from Cornell University in 1955.  (I have heard said that Genevieve received the first PhD in the history of medicine granted to a woman in the United States, but leave it to others to confirm or refute this assertion.)  

 In the course of researching her dissertation Genevieve came to Cleveland, which was then home to the rare book, manuscripts, prints, and photography collections of the Surgeon General’s Library (housed in the Allen Medical Memorial Medical Library, 1942-62).  While in Cleveland, she became active in the Cleveland Medical Library Association (CMLA) and the Trustees of the Association invited Genevieve to evaluate their historical collections, which had fallen into a sort of limbo following the death of Howard Dittrick in 1954.  She evidently impressed the Association Trustees, for they invited Genevieve to take responsibility for those collections grouped under the rubric of the Howard Dittrick Museum of Historical Medicine, which in time subsumed rare books, archives, images, and artifacts. 

 In 1953 Genevieve was appointed Research Associate in Medical History and Assistant Professor of the History of Medicine at the School of Medicine of Western Reserve University.  She soon became editor of the Bulletin of the Cleveland Medical Library Association and authored The adoption of inoculation for smallpox in England and France. (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957), which received the 1962 Welch Medal from the AAHM.

 The CMLA Trustees appointed Genevieve Curator of the Dittrick Museum in 1962 and to prepare for those responsibilities she participated in the Seminar for Historical Administrators at Colonial Williamsburg, and became knowledgeable about museum administration, policies, and procedures.  Genevieve developed a plan for the re-opening of the Dittrick Museum to the general public on a regular basis, and in 1967 the Trustees named her museum Director.  In this capacity she consolidated museum artifact collection and rare books in a single historical division and hired museum curator (Patsy Gerstner), who conducted first inventory of the artifact collections, introduced a new and revised catalogue system, and made information about the collections more available.  At this time Genevieve also hired Eugenia Kucherenko as archivist.

 In the mid 1960s, following the  repatriation of the rare book collection of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, Genevieve and Patsy created an enlarged museum exhibit gallery (with NEH funding) on the history of medicine.  At the same time , they offered course on “Nature, collection, and handling of historical materials,” and participated in the development of a museum studies graduate curriculum at CWRU.  Genevieve also created the Robert M. Stecher Rare Book Room, to accommodate a notable collection of Darwin and Freud literature and hired a rare book librarian.  In 1972 Genevieve and Patsy served as consultants to the New York Academy of Medicine, preparing Medical history museum feasibility study.

 While at the Dittrick, Genevieve became very involved in the AAHM and focused her energies upon the status of teaching the history of medicine in American medical schools, and access to medico-historical literature in the era before the advent of online access.  She compiled the Bibliography of the history of medicine in the United States and Canada, 1939-1960 (1964), andA bibliography of the writings of Henry E. Sigerist,Montreal, (McGill University Press, 1966).  Genevieve became a leading figure in the AAHM as is recognized by the numerous offices she held and awards she received: Garrison Lecturer in 1973, Treasurer 1942, Secretary-Treasurer 1971-1975, President 1978-1980 and Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. In 2009 the the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences honored Genevieve’s lifelong accomplishments in the library and archival fields by granting her the Lisabeth M. Holloway Award, in recognition of “significant contributions through leadership and service to ALHHS and the profession.” As Jodi Koste, Secretary of the AAHM observed, Genevieve was “an amazing woman who really did leave a mark in our specialty area.”

 When Genevieve retired in 1979, she removed to Baltimore, where perhaps she hoped to regain some of the magic of earlier times spent there so memorably.  She soon realized that she missed friends and familiar haunts in Cleveland, compelling a return here a couple of years later.  In retirement in Cleveland, Genevieve enjoyed living in Judson Manor, populated by many friends also retired from CWRU, and in close proximity to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, and other cultural institutions of University Circle, including of course the Dittrick.  She usually showed up at these places with longtime friend A. Benedict (Ben) Schneider, MD, a distinguished Cleveland internist and fellow arts and culture devotee. In the past twenty-five years we also saw her regularly at our lectures, programs and lectures.  Genevieve was uniformly enthusiastic and complimentary of our efforts to carry on the endeavor that she once directed, and which she put on a professional footing in its fledgling years.  For that, we at the Dittrick are immensely grateful and lastingly appreciative.

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 Jim Edmonson, Genevieve Miller, and Ellen More, 2007

About the blogger

James Edmonson is Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum of Case Western Reserve University, and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of History. Publications include American Surgical Instruments (1997) and Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 (Blast Books, 2009).  Dr. Edmonson serves as American liaison to and Secretary General of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medical Sciences. Read more here.

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I am Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center in the College of Arts and Sciences, Case Western Reserve University

One thought on “Genevieve Miller (1914-2013)”

  1. Thank you, Mr. Edmonson, for your lovely memorial to Dr. Miller. She was a remarkable woman, and it was a pleasure to have known her.

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