Guest Editorial

Donation to Center for History of Family Medicine Reminds Us of Our Roots

June 27, 2013 03:06 pm Rick Kellerman, M.D.

After four years of medical school, three years of residency and years of medical practice, we family physicians oftentimes think we are practicing up-to-date, evidence-based and scientifically valid medicine. But medicine is constantly changing. New research brings new scientific understanding, new diagnostic methods and new treatments.

Looking back through old medical literature can quickly -- and humbly -- inform us of just how far we've come and remind us of how, in just a few years, we will look back on today’s state-of-the-art practice as outdated.

In her 1906 book Feminology: A Guide to Womanhood, Florence Dressler, M.D., wrote about a chemist's theory that childbirth is painful because the fetus's bones are firm, and a mother's blood is the source of the "bony matter." A woman could avoid having bony matter "deposited in the structure of the child" by altering what she ate or drank.

[Rick Kellerman, M.D.]

Rick Kellerman, M.D.

That pearl of wisdom is from a chapter titled "Easy Labor." It's unclear whether Dressler had any children of her own at the time of publication.

It's easy to poke fun at old, debunked theories, but 20 or 30 years from now -- or sooner -- we will look back and realize how far we have come in the treatment of medical illness. In a short time, our knowledge and understanding of mental health, genomics and novel therapeutic measures will change drastically.

Whatever changes may come, the Center for the History of Family Medicine( (the Center), which is the only repository devoted exclusively to preserving and sharing the story of family medicine in the United States, will be here, marking our specialty's evolution and maintaining its important papers and other artifacts.

Dressler's Feminology is one of more than 550 works recently donated to the Center by Adam Moore, M.D., who practiced family medicine for more than three decades in Squantum, Mass. During that time, he amassed a large personal library and collection of artifacts.

The Adam G.N. Moore, M.D., Collection in the History of Family Medicine -- shipped to the Center in 22 large boxes because of its vast size -- is ideal for use as a research, reference and teaching resource.

The materials date from before the Revolutionary War to 2008 and add to our understanding of and appreciation for how family medicine has evolved.

According to Moore, "These materials have been collected with the intention of showing, in a historical context, how people's health has been maintained and also how their medical problems have been recognized, interpreted and treated."

So, what is the Center? Well, if all you're picturing is a bunch of dusty file cabinets stuffed with old papers, think bigger. The Center contains a wide-ranging set of carefully maintained documents, photographs, books, films, videos, artifacts and memorabilia, including the personal and professional papers and oral histories of many family medicine leaders, as well as organizational records for all seven of the family of family medicine organizations.

The addition of Moore's immense collection advances the Center and further validates its work. Researchers will be able to access the new resources in person or by contacting the Center's staff.( Details of the Moore collection will be available via the Center's online catalogue( in July.

Requests to the Center from researchers and educators have been growing by roughly 20 percent per year. And last year, the Center processed 442 reference requests, up from 357 in 2011. Those numbers are likely to jump again now that the Center has received what is one of the best and most comprehensive library collections on the early history of the specialty ever assembled by a private collector.

Rick Kellerman, M.D., is a member of the Center for the History of Family Medicine's Board of Curators and past president of the AAFP.