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History of Medicine

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Images from the History of the Public Health Service written in gold lettering on a brown background.


The photographic exhibit, "Images from the History of the Public Health Service," consists of 165 photographs depicting people involved in the work of the Public Health Service (PHS) over much of its long history. For the most part they are fleeting images frozen in time by the lens of the camera, but they are symbolic of much more -- the spirit of a Federal agency whose mission focuses on care and service.

The challenge of this exhibit was to capture through photographic images the rich texture of nearly 200 years of PHS history, the sense of excitement and discovery as well as dedication to service and duty in safeguarding the nation's health that inspired those who served and continue to serve in the PHS. We knew that our effort could not be comprehensive -- only selective of some of the highlights of PHS history. We did not want an exhibit that was a mere chronology of events, famous people, and bureaucratic reorganizations. We wanted to capture some of the dynamism and excitement of the PHS which comes from its many missions and from the great variety of people who serve both in the Commissioned Corps and in the Civil Service. And so, we chose images which showed these people at work fulfilling their various missions.

To preserve the richness of the history of the Public Health Service, the specific names and functions of the organizations mentioned in the captions are those in use when the images were created, not necessarily those in use today.

Instead of an agency-by-agency approach, we chose six themes which describe in general the work of the PHS and the eight major agencies which make it up. The first theme of "Disease Control and Prevention" is one of the oldest functions of the PHS. Today it is primarily carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Biomedical Research" is mainly the domain of the National Institutes of Health. "Pure Foods and Drugs" are assured by the Food and Drug Administration. "Mental Health and Drug Abuse" is primarily the concern of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Health Care Delivery" is the major function of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Agency for Health Care Policy, and the Indian Health Service. The sixth theme of "International Health" combines the function of a number of PHS agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Within each of these broad themes we have chosen images which would illustrate certain specific public health missions, functions or goals of the organizational units involved and how they change over time. Again, the primary focus is on people at work, people helping people.

People helping people is also how collaborative exhibits such as this one get done, and there are many people from many institutions to thank. Seeds for this exhibit were planted in the 1970s when Erna Landsiedel, of the PHS Parklawn Library (now retired), with the support and encouragement of Rupert Moure, then Director of the Administrative Services Center in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), and with the help of PHS photographer Walter Monroe, began collecting photographs and objects for a PHS history exhibit that, unfortunately, never came to fruition. About a dozen artifacts collected for that exhibit were transferred in 1980 by Surgeon General Julius Richmond to the Smithsonian Institution, where I as a new curator with a mandate to collect and document public health history assumed their care. Many of them are on display at the National Museum of American History in an exhibit celebrating the centennial of the National Institutes of Health. The photographs which were collected by Erna Landsiedel and Walter Monroe, supplemented by others from the National Library of Medicine and other PHS agencies, form the core of the "Images" exhibit. They have been reproduced in sepia tone, in various sizes and shapes, and are displayed in oak wood-framed panels along the corridor walls in the Parklawn Conference Center on the third floor of the Parklawn Building in Rockville, Maryland.

For their help in providing photographs and information we are especially thankful to;

Thomas Reutershan of OASH;

John Parascandola, Ph.D., PHS Historian; Jan Lazarus, Lucinda Keister, and Frances Beckwith of the National Library of Medicine;

Suzanne White, Wallace Janssen, Richard S. Peres, Robert Barringer, and Nancy King of the Food and Drug Administration;

Susan Gerhold, Susan Johnson, and Maggie Bartlett of the National Institutes of Health;

Walter Clark and Edythe London, Ph.D., of the then Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration;

Bernadine Moore of the Health Resources and Services Administration;

Sandra Smith, Dennis McDowell, and Geanie Daves of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

Everett R. Rhodes, M.D., of the Indian Health Service;

Suryabala Kanhouwa, M.D., and Wilhelmina Carey of St. Elizabeths Hospital;

and Michael Harris of the Smithsonian Institution.

The designer, project manager, and guiding light of the exhibit was Ronald J. Kostraba from the Administrative Services Center of OASH. The human warmth and caring that Ron brought to the exhibit's subject matter is evident in its design. The amount of energy that he could muster to shepherd this project to its successful conclusion while his body was being drained by a terrible disease is truly amazing. His courage and dedication should be an inspiration to us all.

The exhibit was officially opened with a dedication ceremony at the Parklawn Conference Center on January 24, 1989. Wilford J. Forbush, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Operations and Director of the Office of Management, was the master of ceremonies. He introduced the distinguished guests in the audience and asked Assistant Secretary for Health Robert E. Windom, M.D., and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., to make a few brief remarks. The guest speaker was the exhibit curator, Ramunas Kondratas, Ph.D., who is curator in the Division of Medical Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of America History. After the presentation of awards, the exhibit was dedicated and opened by Dr Windom.

Ramunas Kondratas

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