Preserving Medical History since 1962
The Adler Museum of Medicine preserves the history of the health sciences in Southern Africa, with special reference to Gauteng. It supplements the educational activities of the University, especially the Health Sciences, by means of collections, research, teaching, exhibitions and publications.
The Adler Museum of Medicine was founded in 1962 and was situated in the grounds of the South African Institute for Medical Research, Johannesburg.
It is now housed at the University of the Witwatersrand's Medical School Campus in Parktown, Johannesburg.
In June 1974 the Museum's co-founders, Drs Cyril and Esther Adler, presented the Museum to the University of the Witwatersrand.
The Museum contains interesting and invaluable collections depicting the history of:
- The Museum library is home to rare books and has a significant history of medicine reference section
- The library also houses an archive that makes biographical information of thousands of medical and allied health professionals available to students, researchers and members of the public
The Museum contains interesting and invaluable collections depicting the history of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy through the ages.
The collections include:
- Hundreds of items of medical historical interest
- Postage stamps
There are a number of reconstructions including those of:
- An African herb shop
- A patient consulting a sangoma (traditional healer)
20th-century reconstructions include:
- A Johannesburg pharmacy
- A doctor's consulting room
- A dental surgery
- An operating theatre
- An optometry display
A history of scientific medicine is augmented with displays of several alternative modalities. Other attractions range from a reconstruction of a patient being treated by the famous Persian physician Avicenna to an exhibition of early electro-medical equipment.
The Museum library is home to rare books and includes a history of medicine reference section containing some 5 000 volumes and journals.
The archives contain documentation related to the history of the Museum, an extensive subject archive (including photographs), and archives of biographical information relating to hundreds of medical and other health care professionals, both local and foreign. The collection also includes photographs, notebooks, academic certificates, records, journals, personal papers, and memorabilia of prominent doctors and academics, mainly associated with the Wits Medical School.
For details regarding the nature of items collected please see the collecting policy.
The Museum provides an introduction to medical history and its important discoveries.
Grade 6 and 7 learners, in particular, will benefit from a visit, as the Museum covers areas in the RNCS curriculum:
- The History of Medicine
- Important epidemics
- The HIV Aids pandemic
Worksheets, based on evidence located in the Museum displays (primary and secondary sources), are available for learners from Grade 4 to Grade 7. Incorporated into these worksheets are important skills such as empathy, investigation, analysis, enquiry, classifying, contrasting etc. Activities correlate directly with the RNCS and follow the conceptual acquisition of knowledge: cause and effect, chronology and time, change and continuity and similarity and difference.
Fun activities such as developing a time line, Who am I? cards, disease cards and cards posing questions to which the answers are available in the Museum, take the learners in an interactive and fun way around the Museum.
All activities are based on the principles for teaching Social Sciences as underpinned by the RNCS
Tours take place from Monday to Friday between 09:00 and 16:00 and last for approximately 2 hours. An introductory talk on the history of scientific medicine is given. Learners are then divided into groups (ideally a maximum of 20 per group) and complete worksheets.
The Museum's professional staff will devise a tour to suit the particular needs of learners and educators.
Videos on various subjects are available for viewing at the Museum. A list of videos is available on request.
Assistance with portfolio work
The professional staff of the Museum are available to assist learners with portfolio work. Learners are welcome to use the Museum's library and archives which houses primary and secondary sources of information. Photocopying facilities are
available on the campus.
Career guidance, subject choice and requirements for admission to the Faculty of Health Sciences is offered. Schools may request this at the time of booking a tour.
Booking a tour
Please book a tour for your school by contacting us as follows:
Telephone and fax: 011 717 2081
R15 per learner
The cost may be reduced for disadvantaged learners on application to the curator.
- 1962: The Museum of the History of Medicine, brainchild of Dr. Cyril Adler, was formally inaugurated at a public lecture held in the Great Hall of the University of the Witwatersrand in April. The inaugural address was delivered by Major-General AJ Orenstein. The Museum's role was to collect and preserve for posterity all material that would illustrate the history of medicine in general and of South Africa in particular.
- 1974: In June 1974, the Museum was officially handed over to the University of the Witwatersrand and its name was changed to the Adler Museum of Medicine of the History of Medicine. Dr and Mrs Adler were further honored by the University when it conferred on them the honorary degrees of LLD and PhD respectively, in recognition of their services to students, researchers and the public.
- 1988: The Museum's first home was a flat belonging to the University, but it did not take long for Cyril to fill the space. Fortunately, the South African Institute of Medical Research (SAIMR), offered Cyril the ground floor of the Director's House, around which Cyril added many outbuildings. Shortly after his death, the Museum took over the entire house.
- 1999: The name was shortened to Adler Museum of Medicine.
- 2002: The Museum moved to the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Application forms for membership of the Adler Museum of Medicine can be obtained from the Curator, Adler Museum of Medicine, 7 York Road, Parktown, 2193.
Telephone: (011) 717 2081.
You can also donate any items to the museum. Download the Donation form and contact us for collection.