For more than 30 years, Elizabeth “Libby” Wilcox (1916-2000) served as the unofficial photographer of what was then called the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. From 1957 to 1990 she captured both its daily life and special events with grace and subtlety in more than 100,000 images.
As the wife of Herbert “Bud” Wilcox Jr., a graduate and long-time faculty member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Libby was given unhindered access to the workings of the Medical Center from commencements to operating rooms. Her legacy is a comprehensive photographic record of the people, places, activities, and events of a major U.S. academic medical center during a time of tremendous change in American health care.
On the centennial of her birth, Archives & Special Collections at the A.C. Long Health Sciences Library is pleased to share a selection of her Medical Center photos with the Columbia University Medical Center community. The approximately 40 images on display – most of them vintage prints developed by Wilcox herself – show her mastery of the photographic process and document an era at the Medical Center that is now passing into history.
On display are photos illustrating patient care; student life; the physical expansion of the Medical Center; pioneering open-heart surgery (1958); the “Great Blackout” of 1965; and an array of visiting dignitaries. Included are portraits of prominent Medical Center figures such as neurologist and P&S Dean H. Houston Merritt; microbiologist Hattie Alexander; and Virginia Apgar, developer of the eponymous Apgar Score, in what has become an iconic image.
While the exhibition can show only a small fraction of Wilcox’s photos, we hope this selection gives a glimpse of the richness of her work. In connection with the exhibition, the Medical Center’s Communications Office has created a digital slide show of Wilcox photos that can be seen here: http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2016/01/22/libby-wilcox-her-lens-captured-20th-century-giants-moments/
Elizabeth and Herbert Wilcox donated her photography collection to Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital in 1991 and deposited it with Archives & Special Collections, which remains its custodian.
The exhibit was curated by Stephen E. Novak, Head, Archives & Special Collections. For more information contact him at (212) 305-7931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: The hands of Drs. Milton Porter and Robert H. Elliott during surgery, 1963