Date of this Version
Schmidt, E. (2019). The Ralph Mueller Health Galleries: Uncovering the Lost History of UNL’s Morrill Hall. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Birth Series sculptures portrayed human development from fertilization through birth and were created by Robert Latou Dickinson, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and Abram Belskie, an artist. The sculptures were commission by the Maternity Center Association and were exhibited in 1939, at the Word’s Fair in New York City. Extremely popular at the fair, the sculptures were displayed all over the world, were used as educational models, and were the subject of the Birth Atlas.
In 1952, a set made their way to Morrill Hall as part of the Great Plain’s first health exhibit where they would remain on display for over 20 years. The Birth Series helped the public health movement expand from New York to Cleveland and Nebraska through the work of the Cleveland Health Museum director Bruno Gebhard and UNL alumnus Ralph Mueller. At Morrill Hall, Dickinson and Belskie’s sculptures were the inspiration for the creation of the 1952 Ralph Mueller Health Galleries and gave both adults and children an accurate view of birth and pregnancy. The artistic nature of the sculptures helped to inspire wonder about the human body, a concept created by the Germans, the creators of the first health museum.
This thesis is the result of research into the University of Nebraska State Museum archives. Many correspondences between Nebraska and Ohio museum employees were used along with articles written by Bruno Gebhard about the history of health museums. This thesis chronicles the development of the Ralph Mueller Health Galleries through the lens of the Birth Series starting with a description of the German Health and Hygiene Movement in the 1920s. Next, the creation of the 1939 Dickinson-Belskie Birth Series sculptures is outlined followed by how they impacted the success of the Cleveland Health Museum. The proceeding sections follow the connection of Cleveland Health Museum to the Ralph Mueller Health Galleries during the 1950s and their development over the next 20 years. The final sections describe the impact of the Birth Series and Health Galleries in Morrill Hall, the removal of the sculptures from display in the 1970s, and their resurgence 40 years later.