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History of Science, Technology, and Medicine


In the spring of 2001 during a meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine, Elizabeth Fee, Chief of the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), invited me to become the Visiting Curator for a new exhibition they intended to present on the history of women physicians. It was the first full-scale exhibition ever devoted to that subject by the NLM. After more than two years’ preparation, the exhibition, “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians,” opened in April 2003 and continued on display at the NLM for more than two years. Recently I had published a history of women in American medicine, Restoring the Balance: Women Physicians and the Profession of Medicine, 1850-1995. After years of archival research and secondary source reading, I had arrived at a narrative structure and a set of unifying thematic ideas centered around the various ways women physicians relied on the concept of balance as a touchstone for their sense of purpose and identity. Although I possessed no curatorial experience whatever, I (mistakenly) thought I could foresee the narrative strategy our exhibition would employ. Archival Elements has asked me to write about my experiences.

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First published in Archival Elements (Summer 2006). Journal home page: Author retains rights.


Archival Elements (Summer 2006). Journal home page:

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Archival Elements


A permanent web site displaying much of the original exhibition as well biographies and pertinent sources can be accessed at