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Adler Museum of Medicine

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. The Adler Museum celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 and an exhibition relating to the history of the museum was arranged.

In June 1974 the Museum's co-founders, Drs Cyril and Esther Adler, presented the Museum to the University of the Witwatersrand which named it the Adler Museum as a token of the esteem in which the founders were held by the University.

In addition, the University bestowed the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) upon Dr Adler and the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (honoris causa) upon Mrs Esther Adler. Until Esther Adler's death in 1982 she was the Museum's Honorary Curator while Cyril Adler acted as Honorary Director of the Museum. From 1982 Dr Cyril Adler was appointed by the University as Director/Curator of the Adler Museum, a post he held until his death in 1988.

1975 saw the inception of the Adler Museum Bulletin, the brainchild of Mrs Rose Meltzer. Mrs Meltzer produced the first edition single-handedly and she continued to edit it until her retirement in 1991 and was editorial consultant until her death in 1992.

The Museum contains interesting and invaluable collections depicting the history of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy through the ages. Apart from the hundreds of items of medical historical interest on display, there are also documents, sculptures, pictures, videos and philatelic and medallion collections relating to medical history as well as the history of allied health sciences. The Museum has a library of rare books and a significant history of medicine reference library. In addition, a rich archive arranged by subject matter is housed in the library, and biographical information relating to thousands of medical and allied health professionals is available to students, researchers and interested members of the public.

There are reconstructions of an African herb shop, a patient consulting a sangoma (traditional healer), and a 20th century Johannesburg pharmacy, a doctor's consulting room, a dental surgery, an operating theatre and an optometry display of the same period. 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.

A showcase containing new acquisitions to the collection is constantly changed as donations are received. The objects displayed provide an insight into the range and diversity of the collection.

In the foyer outside the Museum are shop fronts of a 19th Century Apothecary and Optometrist as well as a doctor's surgery and operating theatre. Panels relating to the history of the Cradle of Humankind (Sterkfontein and environs) and a display of replicas from the site give visitors a fascinating glimpse into this world heritage site.

The Museum arranges regular public lectures, tours for students of all ages, film shows, exhibitions and provides excellent facilities for medical historical teaching and research.

The Museum is situated in the foyer of the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa

Visiting hours are:

  • Monday to Friday, 09:00 to 16:00
  • Saturdays on request

Tel: 27 11 717 2081 
Fax: 0865532484
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