Image of Dr. Fee surrounded by a collage of her selected publications and images from the NLM historical collections.

Remembering Elizabeth Fee, PhD, 1946-2018

By Jeffrey S. Reznick ~

Every December we think about the year gone by and the one to come. As we reflect, grateful to all who support our public service, we remember the passing of our dear colleague Elizabeth Fee, PhD, in October of this year.

A photograph of Dr. Fee speaking at a podium at NLM.
Elizabeth Fee, PhD (1946-2018)

For over two decades, Dr. Fee served the NLM as Chief of the NLM History of Medicine Division and more recently as NLM Senior Historian. Under her leadership, the division reached new levels of global access and support for broadly-based scholarship. She brought subject specialists from all over the world to the Library to search, explore, and share the multitude of stories in the institution’s rich historical collections. Dr. Fee’s leadership assured access to important historical medical knowledge for future generations and brought that knowledge to bear on current events through publications, public programs, and exhibitions.

A woman in a nursing uniform carrying a notebook touches the head of a child in a woman's arms.
A visiting nurse from the Institute of Nutrition in Guatemala, examining a child, 1950s. In “Public Health in Central America
National Library of Medicine, Fred L. Soper Papers

Dr. Fee actively involved many of our staff directly in this broad historical enterprise, working creatively with them—mentoring them—in researching and writing about the National Library of Medicine collections. Interested readers will find these joint publications among the hundreds completed by Dr. Fee over the course of her career, dozens of which are included in the NLM PubMed database and available to read for free through PubMed Central. These articles cover diverse topics and include Public Health in Central America, Domestic Violence—Medieval and Modern, The Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and The Air We Breathe, to name just a few. As NLM Senior Historian she contributed a number of posts to this blog. Dr. Fee and her collaborators revealed the visual and intellectual expansiveness of the NLM historical collections, attracting more researchers to use the collections for their scholarship, teaching, and learning.

A woodcut in which a hot-tempered, choleric man has raised a stick to strike a woman who has fallen to the ground.
A domestic assault as it was frequently represented in medieval and early modern Europe, from Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum, 1582. In “Domestic Violence—Medieval and Modern
National Library of Medicine #101434568

NLM is a better institution today, and its staff better stewards of its collections and programs, for Dr. Fee’s enthusiastic—indeed infectious—commitment to the craft of the history of medicine, with all of its precision and rigor which she achieved so admirably and collaboratively. We will always remember the many conversations she had with us, the enthusiasm for living history she shared with us, the love of lifelong learning she encouraged us to embrace and celebrate, and the thoughtful leadership she offered us.

In a large hall patients sit at moving picture show wearing masks because of an influenza epidemic.
U. S. Army Hospital Number 30, Royat, France: Patients at moving picture show wearing masks because of an influenza epidemic, 1918. In “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
National Library of Medicine #101396929

Learn more about Dr. Fee’s esteemed career from The Lancet. This post draws on details about Dr. Fee’s life and career which appear in the NLM formal announcement about her passing. 

Next October 17—on the anniversary of her passing—we will welcome Ted Brown, Professor of History and Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester, who will offer a special public lecture in honor and memory of Dr. Fee, on the subject of the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978, a subject which was near and dear to Dr. Fee, and one about which she published several articles with Professor Brown, including A Return to the Social Justice Spirit of Alma-Ata. His lecture is part of the NLM 2019 History of Medicine Lecture Series.

Portrait of Jeffrey S. Reznick in the HMD Reading RoomJeffrey S. Reznick, PhD, is Chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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