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NLM Mourns the Loss of Elizabeth Fee, PhD, former Chief of the NLM History of Medicine Division

October 22, 2018

Elizabeth Fee

Elizabeth Fee, PhD, died from complications of ALS, on October 17, 2018. 

Dr. Fee served most recently as NLM Senior Historian and previously as Chief of the NLM History of Medicine Division. She recently retired to become an independent researcher, continuing her world-renowned scholarly research in the history of medicine and public health.

Dr. Fee was born in Ireland in December, 1946, daughter of John Fee and Deirdre Fee.  As a child, she travelled with her parents to China, Malaysia, India, Egypt and throughout Europe and Great Britain, eventually going to school in her native Ireland.  She was a Cambridge scholar, completing her coursework in biology, although equally gifted in mathematics.  She continued her education at Princeton University where she earned her PhD in the History of Philosophy and Science.

Dr. Fee began teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton and was extremely popular as a scholar of science and medical history, as well as new and controversial courses in human sexuality. 

She moved to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore in the 1980s, where she was a professor. Baltimore is also where she met and fell in love with her lifetime partner and wife, Mary Garafolo, an artist and a nurse. They married in Vancouver, Canada, in 2005.

Following her tenure at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Fee dedicated twenty-two years of outstanding service to NLM, as chief of the History of Medicine Division. In this leadership role, she supported internal staff development, and brought subject specialists from all over the world to surface and explore the rich historical collections held by our institution. Under her leadership, HMD reached new levels of global access and support for broadly-based scholarship. These were some of her proudest achievements alongside paving the way for the division to restructure formally to include three sections: Rare Books and Early Manuscripts, Images and Archives, and the Exhibition Program, with which we are all familiar today. Combined with widespread support of the value of history as part of our institutional mission, this administrative accomplishment confirmed and assured the role of the history of medicine for future generations as our institution continues grow, to reach millions of individuals annually, and to share important historical medical stories and connect them to current events which inform the lives of our many stakeholders.

Over the course of her entire career, Dr. Fee authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited nearly thirty scholarly books and hundreds of articles, all containing her masterful prose which inspires new ways of learning and understanding the history of medicine and public health, and its significance for today and the future. Dr. Fee’s impressive body of scholarship will continue to help us understand profoundly that key figures and major events of the past have valuable currency today as we think critically about public health, epidemic disease, and the interplay of science and society as it touches of the lives of millions of people, as it has for centuries.

Dr. Fee will be missed by her friends and colleagues, and remembered as a dynamic woman with diverse and complex ideas and a lifelong passion for learning.  Conversations with her were never boring, nor would she have allowed them to be.

She is survived by her wife, Mary. Donations can be made to the ALS association.


The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is a leader in research in biomedical informatics and data science and the world’s largest biomedical library. NLM conducts and supports research in methods for recording, storing, retrieving, preserving, and communicating health information. NLM creates resources and tools that are used billions of times each year by millions of people to access and analyze molecular biology, biotechnology, toxicology, environmental health, and health services information. Additional information is available at

Last Reviewed: October 22, 2018