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Medical Motion Pictures

Identifier: ghsl-15

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Medical Motion Pictures 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. This is an artificial collection and does not represent all the medical motion pictures that Northwestern University Medical School faculty created, nor the entire catalog that the medical school once owned. This collection represents most of the medical motion picture films that remain in Galter Library’s Special Collections.

The collection covers 10 health sciences subject areas. All films are in 16mm format. Most do not have accompanying sound, and they are split almost evenly between color and black and white. It is assumed that most were shot on location in Chicago, likely at the offices, labs, and places where the creators worked, or at the clinics and hospitals where they held positions.

Professionally produced films represent the bulk of the collection. These films were usually shot by a professional cinematographer with attention paid to proper lighting, layout, timing, and reshoots. Specialty services like cinemicroscopy, medical illustration, and animation were sometimes used. Films were usually shot silent and spliced with title cards so that instructors could lecture over the film. Many of the films appear in catalogs and were made available to rent or buy from the medical school’s Department of Audio-Visual Medical Education. The Journal of the American Medical Association even ran reviews of medical motion pictures in its issues.

Instructors were encouraged to use the films to enhance their courses, and the obstetrical films of Joseph B. DeLee, MD, were in fact an official part of the obstetrics and gynecology curriculum for a time. These films presented obstetrical scenarios the student might not encounter during their rotation, and thus were relied upon to expose students to some of the more difficult birth presentations. In contrast to student education, some films were aimed at audiences of established physicians as continuing education. The film Fenestration Operation for Otosclerosis presents the goals, techniques, and outcomes of a relatively newly established surgical procedure. Still others, such as The Human Body series by Coronet Instructional Films, were aimed at a lay audience. A few films are simply research or candid footage that may not have been meant for wider viewing.

Northwestern faculty of particular 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; Michael Mason, MD, noted hand surgeon and mentee of Allen Kanavel, MD; and Raymond McNealy, MD, a prominent general surgeon dedicated to standardizing care and to medical education. Mervin LaRue, Sr., a local cinematographer specializing in medical motion pictures, was involved in producing 15 films in this collection.

There are also two unpublished series in this collection, consisting of undigitized copies and reels that were digitized but deemed of no research value upon review. The latter mainly consists of title cards and fragments of digitized films. There are 18 total reels between the two series.


  • 1928-1963


Conditions Governing Access

Access to the physical films is restricted at the discretion of the Galter Library staff due to the fragile nature of the film. Please contact Special Collections staff for more information.

Access to the digitized films is determined at the item level. Refer to individual records for access information.

Biographical / Historical

The Department of Audio-Visual Medical Education was known by several very similar names during its existence: the Office of Visual Medical Education, the Department of Visual Medical Education, Visual Education, and the Department of Audio-Visual Education. We will refer to it as the Department of Audio-Visual Medical Education (DAVME).

DAVME was established as the result of a meeting at Passavant Memorial Hospital on August 8, 1941. Irving S. Cutter, MD, the Dean of the medical school, convened a group of physicians, medical students, and photographers to discuss creating a unit dedicated to providing visual education resources for the medical school, in three primary media: photography, illustration, and film. Dean Cutter—who was set to retire at the end of the month—tapped Andrew C. Ivy, PhD, MD, J. Roscoe Miller, MD (Cutter’s successor as dean), John S. Schweppe, MD, and Donald C. Balfour, Jr., MD as committee members to establish the office. John Schweppe endowed the office in memory of his parents, Charles Schweppe and Laura Shedd Schweppe.

Harry B. Harding, MD served as the first director of DAVME, and he initially focused on developing the motion picture arm of the department before other formats. Harding conducted site visits at the Mayo Clinic Photographic department and the University of Minnesota Bureau of Visual Instruction to inform the design of Northwestern’s program, and he attended an American Medical Association conference on medical motion pictures that featured leaders in the field of medical cinematography.

DAVME officially opened on May 27, 1942, though it had been showing films since February. The department managed an internal film screening service, wherein instructors would arrange to have a DAVME projectionist screen a film for their class or department. While the onsite film collection was modest at just 36 films in June 1943, patrons could rent films from holding institutions across the country through the department and it likewise loaned its films to others.

DAVME served as a producer of medical motion pictures created by Northwestern faculty members. The department financed film production and facilitated the process of working with freelance cinematographers and animators. DAVME often contracted Chicago cinematographer Mervin LaRue to produce its medical motion pictures. LaRue had early on established himself as a specialist in medical and scientific film, and in 1954 was honored by his peers for his “development and adaptation of motion-picture techniques to research, to visual instruction and to science (La Rue, Jr., Mervin W. “Mervin W. La Rue, Sr. Honored as SMPTE Pioneer in 1954 and by BPA in 1956.” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. 1957 April, 66: 224.).”

In addition to screening and producing films, the DAVME staff maintained all the film equipment, coordinated the film schedule, and kept its film catalog up-to-date. Julie Anne Morgan, who became director in 1943 after Harding retired from the position, supervised the creation of a card catalogue of 1,524 medical motion pictures held at institutions across the US. The catalog was indexed by subject and holding institution, and entries included standard descriptive data, plus brief reviews of the quality and effectiveness of the film.

At some point in the mid- to late 1940s, DAVME expanded its scope beyond film, becoming 3 sections: Motion Pictures, Still Photography, and Medical Art. The department staffed these sections with a photographer and an artist—both full time and salaried—who were supported by part-time assistants. They worked for faculty on a fee-based schedule. Thus, these sections paid for themselves most of the time, while the Schweppe endowment funded the Motion Picture section.

It is unknown when Julie Anne Morgan stepped down; records indicate it was before 1945, and the department operated without a director for some time. Alexander A. Day, MD, a professor of bacteriology, took over the directorship, most likely in 1946, and when he retired from Northwestern in 1949, William B. Wartman, MD, the chair of the Department of Pathology, became the last DAVME director.

By the September of 1950, DAVME had depleted the Schweppe fund. The department had been screening films for free since its inception, but began to charge $5 per screening to cover external film rental fees, secretarial services, projectionist pay, and equipment repair and purchase. This fee did not, in fact, cover the expenses of the film section, and on January 1, 1951, a librarian from the Archibald Church Library took over the work when the film section staff member was laid off.

It seems that DAVME dissolved in 1954 or 1955, though the fact that faculty members were still publishing films after that date shows that the work of the department had not ceased altogether. Medical motion pictures were no longer novel, and since DAVME had run out of funds and could not cover any production costs, faculty may have started to produce films directly with cinematographers.


69 Reels (13 boxes)

62 items

Language of Materials



This collection consists of 44 medical motion pictures made between 1928 and 1963, most of which were created by Northwestern University Medical School faculty members. The films depict medical procedures, conditions, processes, and research across 10 health science fields.


Arranged in 10 series by subject area, which corresponds to respective departments in the medical school. The series and the contents of each are arranged alphabetically. The series are as follows:

  • Anatomy, 1929-1956.
  • Bacteriology, 1932.
  • Dentistry, circa 1940s.
  • Neurology & Psychiatry, 1950.
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology, 1930-1943.
  • Ophthalmology, circa 1938-1963.
  • Otolaryngology, circa 1934-1956.
  • Pediatrics, 1938-1941.
  • Physiology, 1928-1956.
  • Surgery, 1942-circa 1961.
  • Physical Location

    This collection is stored off-site, and the items are housed with the Northwestern University Medical School Film Collection, the Northwestern University Dental School Film Collection, and the Northwestern University Medical School Audio Collection.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    This collection was transferred to Galter Health Sciences Library, formerly known as Archibald Church Library, at an unknown date. There is no longer documentation about the transfer or the collection. It is surmised that all the films were once held by the Department of Audio-Visual Medical Education, which transferred its film collection to the library upon its dissolution, possibly around 1955. In the 1980s or 1990s, library staff weeded out most of the films that were not created by Northwestern medical or dental school faculty.


    Select recordings have been made public via the Internet Archive. You can see if a recording for a specific item is available by selecting the item link in the Collection Organization table.

    Processing Information

    The digitization of this collection was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

    This project was also supported by a generous donation from Roderick McNealy, son of Raymond McNealy, MD.

    This collection was digitized in 2021 by The MediaPreserve. All films were rehoused in archival film cans and transferred from original metal reels to archival cores when possible. The original canisters have been retained and stored separately from the films. Empty reels were discarded. Each record indicates the physical location of both the film itself and its original canister.

    Guide to the Medical Motion Pictures Collection
    Katie Lattal, Mahonry Estrada, Emma Florio, Dave Heckler, and Gretchen Neidhardt
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    Script of description
    The digitization of this collection was supported by a Recordings at Risk grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This project was also supported by a generous donation from Roderick McNealy, son of Raymond McNealy, MD.

    Library Details

    Part of the Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center Repository

    320 E. Superior Ave.
    Chicago IL 60611-3008 US