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[Woodhead, Joseph]

Catalogue or Guide to the Liverpool Museum of Anatomy.

  • The rare catalogue of the Liverpool Museum of Anatomy, describing in detail the Museum’s contents and policies, and illustrating its interior by an engraving on the lower cover.

    The Liverpool Museum of Anatomy was one of a number of such museums in the UK and US that specialised in wax anatomical models and, unlike many of the museums of professional medical organisations, were open to the public. Though the stated goal was always education, particularly regarding reproduction and the dangers of sexual vice, these museums also traded on the shock or titillation value of their exhibits and some were targeted by the medical establishment as purveyors of vice and quackery.

    The proprietor of the Liverpool Museum was the physician Joseph Thornton Woodhead, who describes himself as “having spent thirty years in the study and treatment of diseases affecting the mental and generative organs, nervous and dyspeptic debility, either constitutional or acquired, decline of physical vigor, loss of mental energy, and the numerous concomitants to sexual disorganisation” and writes that those afflicted can consult him “personally at his establishment daily from 11am till 9pm, Sundays excepted”, while those living outside town could write (p. 63).

    The Liverpool Museum offered a wide variety of exhibits on the human body, including most of the internal organs; the skeleton; digestion (”articles of human food, and what they are converted into”); common surgical procedures such as the removal of kidney stones; and the usual exhibits on STDs, obstetrics (including a caesarian section model and anatomical venuses), masturbation, circumcision, hermaphrodites, and “freaks of nature”. The admittance of women into such museums was controversial, but defended by many proprietors as an important educational opportunity for women who cared for their families’ health. This booklet advertises the Museum’s hours of admission for ladies as being Tuesdays and Fridays from 2-5pm, and also offers a course of six lectures on midwifery (p. 26). One of the exhibits aimed specifically at women was on the “dreadful effects of tight lacing”, being “a magnificant full-length figure in wax, the model of a young lady... who having from her earliest childhood accustomed herself to the pernicious habit of tight lacing, suddenly dropped down dead in the arms of her partner while dancing” (p. 52).

    The Museum’s timeline is difficult to determine from historical sources (and it seems to have moved between Liverpool and Manchester several times), but in this booklet Woodhead claims that it had already been open for forty years. It appears to have been tolerated by the medical establishment until 1874, when Woodhead was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. “To Woodhead's justification ‘that the Royal College of Surgeons possesses, and admits the public to, an exhibition similar to his own”’, the magistrate replied that ‘he could understand museums of the character of the defendant's being connected with the hospitals and medical colleges, but when they came into the hands of private individuals they were likely to produce serious evils’ (Bates, “Indecent and Demoralising Representations: Public Anatomy Museums in mid-Victorian England”, Medical History vol. 52, January 2008). The Museum was closed and the exhibits sold to Louis Tussaud’s waxworks show.

    This catalogue is rare. A search on WorldCat locates only four copies, at the Wellcome Library, Harvard, the University of Rochester, and the Getty Research Institute.

    Bibliography: Hoolihan, An Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine & Health Reform S-741.1

  • ...29, Paradise Street. This superb collection with all the latest additions, comprising upwards of 1000 models and diagrams, procured at the anatomical galleries of Paris, Florence, and Munich. Now forms the largest collection of anatomical preparations in England, with one exception only, namely of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Museum...

    Liverpool: Matthews Brothers, Printers, [c. 1870s].

    64 page pamphlet. Original light blue wrappers printed in black. Engraving depicting the museum on the lower wrapper, 1 engraving within the text. Wrappers rubbed, dulled, and spotted, minor crease to the upper corner slightly affecting the contents. Very good condition.





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