In Memoriam: Genevieve Miller
James M. Edmonson, December 2013
Historian of Medicine and Medical Museum Director
Genevieve Miller surmounted two disciplinary challenges over the course of a long, accomplished career. Miller first strayed into medical history in the 1940s, a time when physicians still dominated that field and historians were seen as interlopers at best, or incompetents at worst. Despite this circumstance, she pursued graduate studies in medical history, becoming one of the first women to earn a PhD in this field. Her dissertation, published as The Adoption of Inoculation for Smallpox in England and France (1957), won immediate acclaim and is still considered a classic work in the history of medicine. Miller’s second challenge lay in a career shift to the domain of medical museology. She became the first nonphysician director of the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in 1967, bringing to that endeavor training in museology and a commitment to public history. Miller’s career thus comprised a distinctive blend of academic attainment and respected museum curation.
After graduating from Goucher College (1935), Genevieve Miller became a research assistant for Henry Sigerist, director of the fledgling Institute for the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. She then pursued an MA 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 toward her PhD, which she received from Cornell University in 1955.
In the course of researching her dissertation, Miller traveled to Cleveland, then home of the rare book and manuscript collections of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office (housed in the Allen Memorial Medical Library, 1942–62). She soon became active in the Cleveland Medical Library Association (CMLA, proprietors of the Allen Library), and the trustees of the CMLA invited her to evaluate their historical collections, which had fallen into a sort of limbo following the death of longtime curator Howard Dittrick in 1954. Miller impressed the trustees, and they subsequently invited her to take responsibility for those collections and to group them under the rubric of the Dittrick Museum, which in time subsumed rare books, archives, images, and artifacts.
In 1953 Miller 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 (1957), which received the 1962 Welch Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine (AAHM). When John Duffy glowingly reviewed this work in the William and Mary Quarterly, he cited Miller as one “of a number of young scholars with training in history and medicine [who] are now industriously applying themselves to correcting old misconceptions and to opening new fields of historical knowledge.”
The CMLA trustees appointed Miller curator of the Dittrick Museum in 1962; 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. She developed a plan for the reopening of the Dittrick Museum to the general public on a regular basis, and in 1967 the trustees named her museum director. In this capacity Miller consolidated the museum’s artifact collection and rare books into a single historical division and hired as museum curator Patsy Gerstner, who conducted the first inventory of the artifact collections, introduced a new and revised catalog system, and made information about the collections more available.
In the mid-1960s, following the repatriation of the rare book collection of the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office, Miller and Gerstner created an enlarged museum exhibit gallery (with NEH funding) on the history of medicine. At the same time, they offered a course on the nature, collection, and handling of historical materials, and participated in the development of a museum studies graduate curriculum at CWRU. Miller 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.
While at the Dittrick, Miller became very involved in the AAHM and focused her energies on 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 of the United States and Canada, 1939–1960 (1964) and edited A Bibliography of the Writings of Henry E. Sigerist (1966). Miller 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 1971–75, president 1978–1980, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. In 2007 the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences honored Miller’s lifelong accomplishments in the library and archival fields by granting her the ALHHS Recognition of Merit, “designed to honor and recognize individuals for their service to health science libraries.”
In retirement in Cleveland, Miller enjoyed living in Judson Manor, home of 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, a distinguished Cleveland internist and fellow arts and culture devotee. In the past 25 years, she regularly attended lectures, programs, and lectures at CWRU. As an individual Genevieve was buoyant, resilient, optimistic, confident, and forthright. She was uniformly enthusiastic and complimentary of efforts at CWRU to carry on the endeavor that she once directed and that she put on a professional footing in its fledgling years. For that, we at the Dittrick are immensely grateful. AHA members can be proud of the role she played in bringing historians into the field of medical history by scholarly example and professional organizational leadership.
James M. Edmonson
Case Western Reserve University