Illustrated Lecture: The Maude Abbott Medical Museum: 1822-2017

With objects dating from 1822, the Maude Abbott Medical Museum has collected thousands of specimens over the years.

The talk reviews the history of the museum, key individuals associated with it, and important changes introduced in recent years.

All are welcome.

Part of the solution, not part of the problem

Papier-mâché model: Head details. Fabrication: Louis Thomas Jerome Auzoux. Date: early 1900s. Maude Abbott Medical Museum

All kinds of materials have been used to create medical models, including wax, wood, ivory, cardboard, bronze, fabric, plaster, rubber, and plastic. Some of the most intricate models were produced by Louis Thomas Jerome Auzoux (1797-1880), a preeminent producer of papier-mâché models in France during the 1800s.

Auzoux’s use of papier-mâché as a modelling material, as well as his system of labelling, was a radical change from earlier techniques.

In his “Catalogue. Preparations of Artificial Anatomy By Dr Auzoux, 1841”, the models were promoted as being “ …instrumental to the student whose repugnance to the dissecting room is difficult to overcome… ”. The models could be taken apart piece by piece and responded to the shortage of cadavers available for human dissection.

Since the Licensing Act of 1788, which stipulated “cadaver surgery”, dissection was an integral part of the medical student’s training in Canada. At the time the Act was passed, no guidance was given for the procurement of cadavers. In 1843 the legislative assembly of the Province of Canada passed “An Act to regulate and Facilitate the Study of Anatomy”. The Act stipulated that “the bodies of persons found dead publically exposed, or who immediately before their death shall have been supported in and by any Public Institution receiving pecuniary aid from the provincial Government… ” (with the exception of bodies claimed by relatives) be delivered to medical schools. However, because a cadaver could only be used once, and because of religious customs and the lack of means of preservation, shortage of cadavers remained a problem. In 1871, the Editors of the Canada Medical Journal blamed the shortage partly on “ …maudlin notions about the desecration of the dead”.

The number of medical students enrolled in medical faculties also put pressure on the need for cadavers. By the fall of 1871, Montreal alone had three medical schools. Dr. Shepherd, demonstrator of anatomy at McGill in 1875, freely admitted that he had to accept cadavers from “Resurrectionists” (usually medical students) who charged thirty to fifty dollars per body.

Montreal newspapers at the time reported on grave-robbing incidents that horrified the relatives and citizens. The practice of using resurrected bodies for dissection more or less ended after the passage of an amendment to the Anatomy Act in 1883.

Today, Auzoux’s papier-mâché models are relegated to museum collections and admired for their beauty and intricate detail. Most models are surprisingly robust and have numbered pieces. A caveat: it is easier to “dissect” them than to put them back together. Something that students do not have to do after dissection: reassemble the body.


  • Catalogue of preparations of artifical anatomy:
  • Hallam, E. (2016). Anatomy museum: Death and the body displayed.
  • G. Lawrence. Resurrection and Legislation, or Body-Snatching in Relation to the Anatomy Act in the Province of Quebec. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 32, 1958, p. 408
  • Francis J. Shepherd, Reminiscences of Student Days and Dissecting Room (Montreal: Privately Printed, 1917), p. 24-25
  • Resurrecting the History of Body-Snatching at McGill:
  • W.J. Goob. The Anatomical Models of Dr Louis Auzoux: A Descriptive Catalogue (Leiden: Museum Boerhaave Communication 305, 2004)








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