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NLM Lends Collections to Grolier Club Exhibition “Extraordinary Women in Science and Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement”

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is pleased to be a part of a new exhibition on view until November 23, 2013, at The Grolier Club in New York City. Designed and curated to interest a wide audience, Extraordinary Women in Science and Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement opens a window onto the stories behind the careers and accomplishments of women in science since the mid-seventeenth century. The exhibition will focus on the women from viewpoints such as educational opportunities or lack thereof, career choice issues, gender discrimination, role models, and hidden factors that influenced recognition or lack of recognition. Events planned in conjunction with the exhibition will include invited lectures, lectures by the Curators, and opportunities for mentored visits. There will be a catalogue including invited essays.

Established in 1884, the Grolier Club is America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts. The Club is named after Jean Grolier, the French Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library with friends. The Grolier Club’s objective is to foster appreciation for books and prints, their art, history, production, and commerce. As part of this mission the Grolier Club maintains a library, mounts exhibitions, publishes books, and hosts lectures and symposia. In its 125-year history the Club has organized more than five hundred such exhibitions on topics ranging from Blake to Kipling, from chess to murder mysteries, from Japanese prints to Art Nouveau posters. There are four shows a year in the Club’s main ground floor gallery, all open to the public free of charge.

Featured in the Grolier Club’s Extraordinary Women in Science and Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement are three items from NLM’s collections, two works by Louise Bourgeois Boursier; Observations diverses, sur la sterilité, perte de fruict, foecondité, accouchements, et maladies des femmes, et enfants nouveaux naiz (1617) and The Compleat midwife’s practice enlarged (1663), and Recherches quantitatives sur la marche du processus de différenciation des neurones dans les ganglions spinaux de l’embryon de Poulet, (1943), co-authored by Rita Levi-Montalcini and her husband Giuseppe Levi. Boursier’s Observations and Compleat midwife’s practice are, respectively, the French original and an English translation (both 17th century) of the first extensive textbook on midwifery written by a woman. Mme. Bourgeois Boursier (1563–1636) was midwife to Marie de Medicis, wife of Henry IV, King of France, and delivered six children for the queen, all of whom survived to adulthood, including one future king of France, two queens (England and Spain), two dukes and a duchess. Her book was reprinted many times and widely translated.

Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909–2012) won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in neurology, specifically working on the growth of nerve fibers. As a Jew in Italy in the 1930s and 1940s, she worked under the constant threat of arrest and imprisonment by the Fascist regimes that controlled her home country. Nevertheless, she continued to work in a makeshift lab in her kitchen in Turin, measuring nerve development in chicken embryos. Levi-Montalcini’s Recherches quantitatives, a seminal article which summarizes her work, could not be published in Italy, and somehow made it into print in Liege instead. Levi-Montalcini never left Italy during the war, although she and her family fled south to Florence and she eventually worked as a physician with the Allied forces. In 1946, she emigrated to the United States, where she continued her research at Washington University and then jointly in Rome at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche. She remained active in both medicine and politics until her death in 2012, at the age of 103.

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