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Galter Library Special Collections

Information on Galter Library's rare books, archives, and historical artifacts.


The rare book collection houses approximately 8,000 volumes representing the major advances and theories in the history of western medicine, basic science, and natural history. 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.

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 from authors such as J.B. Murphy, William Osler, and Benjamin Rush 

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

History of the 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.

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 scholars—from the liberal 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.