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Medical Education on Film

A guide to the educational and archival films (1928-1963) of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


Medical Motion Pictures Collection

Galter Library is home to a unique 16mm film collection that showcases the contributions of physicians and medical schools to the midcentury trend of educational film. This collection spans the years 1928 to 1963 and contains medical education films created by or collected by Northwestern University Medical School, now known as Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The medical school was an early adopter of the mid-century educational trend to use film as a curricular tool, and in 1941 it established a department to manage visual materials. The department managed a film rental service and facilitated collaboration between faculty and cinematographers—often Chicago cinematographer Mervin LaRue—to produce its own medical motion pictures. Films portray procedures, conditions, and research in 10 health sciences areas: anatomy, bacteriology, dentistry, neurology & psychiatry, obstetrics & gynecology, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, pediatrics, physiology, and surgery.

Creators of note include:

  • Isaac Abt, MD, one of the first physicians to specialize in pediatrics;
  • Loyal Davis, MD, PhD, Chicago’s first neurosurgeon and longtime chair of the surgery department;
  • Joseph B. DeLee, MD, an influential obstetrician and an early proponent of medical motion pictures;
  • Andrew Ivy, PhD, MD, a prolific physiologist-clinician well known for his participation in the Nuremberg Medical Trial;
  • Mervin LaRue, Sr., a local cinematographer specializing in medical motion pictures, was involved in producing 15 films in this collection;
  • Michael Mason, MD, noted hand surgeon and mentee of Allen Kanavel, MD;
  • Raymond McNealy, MD, a prominent general surgeon dedicated to standardizing care and to medical education.

In addition to educational films, archival and cultural films were included in the scope of the grant project, including the earliest known footage of the medical and dental schools. These archival films complement the medical education films to help viewers better understand the culture of these schools and of the greater medical profession in the pre- and post-war United States, making its preservation a high priority. Learn more about these films below.

Northwestern University Medical School Film Collection

This collection consists of films that were collected or created by faculty or staff that were not intended for medical education. They depict activities of the school in the early and mid-20th century, including ceremonies for the Morton Medical Research Building cornerstone laying in 1954, and part of the celebrations for the medical school's centennial in 1959. Two films include footage of dozens of prominent scientists—including Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov—attending international meetings: the 13th International Congress of Physiology held in Boston in 1929 and the International Neurological Congress held in Bern, Switzerland, in 1931.

Of particular note is the film titled Northwestern Marches On. It showcases the activities of medical school faculty and clinical staff in the newly-opened A. Montgomery Ward Memorial Building in the late 1920s. The film shows Mrs. Elizabeth Ward at the groundbreaking ceremony in 1925, and then highlights the medical school at work in the new building. Footage includes some of the medical school's clinics and medical students, faculty members, and researchers at work, probably shot between 1926 and 1929.

Northwestern University Dental School Film Collection

This collection consists of films that were collected or created by faculty or staff that were not intended for dental education. The majority depict Alumni Association golf outings from 1934 to 1937, the 50th anniversary celebration for the dental school in 1937, and some of the daily activities of the school in the 1930s and 1940s.