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The Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine

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  • chm.med.umich.edu
  • Bio

    Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine

    In 1929, a group of medical students approached the Chair of Medicine, Dr. Cyrus Sturgis, with an idea to launch a student-led organization dedicated to the extracurricular study of the history of medicine. With Dr. Sturgis’s assistance, these students established the Victor Vaughan Student Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine, named for the long-serving dean of the Medical School.

    For the next fifty years, members were invited from the senior class. During the Society’s first decades, students and faculty mentors presented lengthy papers at the monthly meetings, all preserved in bound volumes now housed in the University library. The format changed in 1980 to include presentations by students or faculty members interested in the history of medicine. The monthly meetings have included student papers, invited speakers, and sessions on literature and medicine. Members have visited the Medical Rare Book Room at the Taubman Health Sciences Library, the Bentley Historical Library, the William L. Clements Library, and other campus locations rich in medical history.

    In 2003 the society found a permanent home at the Center for the History of Medicine, which is located in the historic Simpson Memorial Institute on Observatory Street. The first director of the Simpson Institute was Dr. Cyrus Sturgis, whose named library is located on the first floor of the Simpson building, so history and the Society truly have come full circle.

    In 2019, several student members expressed concern over the name of the Society. In particular, students were uncomfortable with Victor Vaughan’s support of eugenics and his role as president of the Michigan State Board of Health and his support for the state’s 1913 forced sterilization law. In response, a meeting of the Society was convened to discuss changing the name of the organization. Members voted, and the name was changed to the Society for the History and Philosophy of Medicine.

    All students, faculty, residents, and others interested in the history of medicine are welcome to attend the monthly meetings. Dr. Howard Markel is the faculty advisor with help from co-presidents that are chosen each academic year. For more information, contact the Center at 734-647-6914 or email the Center at chm-umms@med.umich.edu.