Not much is widely known about Mary McKibbin-Harper, MD, but there are a few interesting pieces of information available about her life and her connection to the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Dr. McKibbin-Harper graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, in 1899, and for many years lived in the Chicago western suburbs of Maywood, Oak Park, and River Forest, serving as a professor of clinical and didactic gynecology at the Harvey Medical College of Chicago and as a village health officer in Maywood, IL. She served as president of the Medical Women’s National Association (now the American Medical Women's Association) and was an editor of its Bulletin. She also served as coeditor of the Medical Review of Reviews and editor of Women in Medicine. Later, she wrote a health-and-medicine-focused travelogue, The Doctor Takes a Holiday, published in 1941, which reflected her experiences during a tour around the world.
Dr. McKibbin-Harper’s connection to the American College of Surgeons comes from one of her University of Michigan Medical School classmates, H. Winnett Orr, MD, FACS. Dr. Orr (1877-1956), was an orthopedic surgeon, a founder of the American College of Surgeons, and a well-known lecturer on the history of medicine. Through his work, Dr. Orr created the eponymous “Orr treatment,” a method of treating open fractures. But it was his interest in the history of surgery that spurred Dr. Orr to become an enthusiastic book collector and his collected books formed the basis of “The Orr Collection.” With approximately 2,600 volumes that include books on the history of medicine and surgery, some as rare and valuable as books by Galen and Vesalius, the collection was donated by Dr. Orr to the ACS. Some of the donated books were volumes contributed by Dr. McKibbin Harper, who was also an avid collector of books—particularly books describing the history of women in medicine. She also contributed funds to make an endowment to help ensure proper care and preservation of the collection. It is her donation to the College that ensures the support of this collection to this day. The complete catalogue of the Orr Collection is posted on the ACS Archives page as a PDF file.
Dr. McKibbin-Harper’s love of books extended into her service as national vice president of the Bookfellows Library Guild and as a founder of the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; and Berkeley, CA, branches of the Charles Dickens Fellowship, as well as honorary life president of the fellowship’s Chicago and Berkeley branches. A lover of poetry, she awarded the Mary McKibbin-Harper prize for lyric poetry to a deserving poet for three years.
In 1974, the American College of Surgeons permanently loaned the Orr collection, including Dr. McKibbin-Harper’s books, to the University of Nebraska Medical Center Library, in Omaha, where it is housed in the special collections of the McGoogan Library of Medicine.
ACS Archives Highlights is a series showcasing the vibrant history of the American College of Surgeons, its members, and the history of surgery. For further information on our featured highlights, search the Archives Catalog or contact the ACS Archivist.