MedHum Monday: The Rose Melnick Medical Museum, Taking the “Show on the Road”

DailyDose_PosterHappy MedHum Monday, Everyone! Now that you’ve returned to the weekday grind (after at least one cup of coffee, likely) it’s time to hear from someone who uses an incredible amount of creativity and hard work to share the collections of a medical history museum without a physical gallery space. Cassie Nespor, curator of the Rose Melnick Medical Museum, partners with neighboring academic buildings, schools, and local museums to bring the history of medicine to her community. In addition to these efforts, the museum has a digital presence, allowing an even broader audience to appreciate and learn about all of the amazing artifacts. Welcome, Cassie!


The Rose Melnick Medical Museum at Youngstown State University opened in 2000. The core collection of artifacts comes from John Melnick, a local radiologist, who wanted to start a museum to help foster an appreciation for the history of medicine in the community. The museum consists of about 10,000 artifacts and a small collection of historical medical books. The museum also has a blog and YouTube channel.

In the beginning of 2013, it was decided that the museum should be relocated to the Health and Human Services academic building on the campus core. The move meant that I would be without a physical space to display exhibits and host events for possibly several years. The situation forced me to rethink my programming. I decided that I’d need to take “the show on the road” to other buildings on campus and into the community.

Hallway exhibit cases featuring an exhibit on medicinal alcohol
Hallway exhibit cases featuring an exhibit on medicinal alcohol

The Health and Human Services building was remodeled to include several hallway exhibit spaces for the museum throughout the building. These are small exhibits that I can change easily and in the future I plan to use them to feature student work from the collection. The current exhibits are fun and visually appealing to students waiting for class to begin or catching the eye of someone visiting the building. I have also reserved a number of banner exhibits from the National Library of Medicine. These banners get displayed near the café in the building and cover a variety of topics I bring in related speakers for public events or individual classes. For the “Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine” exhibit, I partnered with the local historical society for a public event featuring Betsy Estilow from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. For the “Literature of Prescription: Charlotte Gilman Perkins and the Yellow Wall-paper,” I spoke to a graduate class in English about the “rest cure” and mental health care at the turn of the century. With these banner exhibits, I am trying to engage our college students in a variety of medical history topics that will hopefully drive them to our website and blog for more information and create an interest for using the collection on campus in the future.

Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries banner exhibit
Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries banner exhibit

The other component to “taking the show on the road” was developing a suitcase tour. I shadowed the local historical society on some of their mobile tours to local elementary schools. Since many of our tours were local schools as well, I developed a tour with curriculum standards in mind. The tour features durable artifacts (like pill molds) and some replica instruments I purchased from online Civil War sutlers (monaural stethoscopes, leech boxes, and an ether canister). The suitcase also carries 8 mortar and pestle sets that I use for a hands-on activity in making medicine (an 1881 tapeworm remedy using pumpkin seeds and sugar). My artifacts and PowerPoint presentation have been well received by the kids and I’ve given almost 20 suitcase presentations in the past year.

Suitcase Tour Items
Suitcase Tour Items

I am also a part of a Cultural Collaborative group of local museums. I let them know that I was looking for ways to get out in the community and they’ve responded with a number of invitations to join in their programs. This summer I am participating in several summer camps hosted by the park and the historical society, using my suitcase tour. I’ve had a table of historical instruments at the children’s science museum when they were making their own stethoscopes and microscopes. I did a fun presentation on quack medicine for the historical society’s brown bag/ lunch-and-learn program. The park also invited me to be part of their Family Garden Day with an Alice in Wonderland theme. For that, I created a new color-changing “digestive elixir” (out of cabbage juice). I’ll get to use this fun drink again with the science museum hosts a STEM festival in September.

Pumpkin Walk at the Mill Creek Metro Parks. The kids were using the mortars and pestles to make the tapeworm remedy using pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin Walk at the Mill Creek Metro Parks. The kids used mortars and pestles to make the tapeworm remedy with pumpkin seeds.

These new partnerships will hopefully expand my reach in our community and create new audiences whenever the physical museum finally opens again!

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