Photographs and Prints

Archives & Special Collections holds over 100,000 images relating to the history of the health sciences. While most of these are photographs from the 20th century and document the activities of the Columbia University Medical Center and its predecessor institutions, there is also a small collection of prints and photographs of important figures in the history of medicine which date from the 17th century to the present.

Reproduction and permission fees are described here.

Images at Archives & Special Collections are arranged in several different collections.  As the department continues to digitize its photographic holdings individual items are withdrawn from their original collections and filed by a unique identification number.

Columbia-Presbyterian Photograph Collection

Photographs, and a few prints, of people, buildings, events, groups, and activities associated with the Medical Center and its predecessor institutions. They date from the early 19th century to the present and are organized by topic. These images have come from a wide variety of Medical Center offices and in many cases are unidentified and undated. A subject list is available. The bulk of this collection is now digitized.

School of Nursing Photograph Collection

Photographs, and a few prints, of people, buildings, events, groups and activities of the Columbia University School of Nursing and its predecessor, the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing (founded 1892).

Images date from c.1900 to the present. This collection has been almost entirely digitized.

Elizabeth Wilcox Photographic Collection

The over 100,000 images taken by Elizabeth "Libby" Wilcox (1916-2000), the unofficial Medical Center photographer from 1957 to 1991, comprise an unparalleled picture of life at one American medical center during the last half of the 20th century. As the wife of Herbert Wilcox, Jr., a long-time faculty member and attending physician at Columbia-Presbyterian, Mrs. Wilcox had unhindered access to the workings of the Medical Center.  She illustrated countless in-house publications including annual reports, fundraising brochures, school catalogs, and the Center's monthly newsletter, the Stethoscope. While it covers a wide range of activities, the collection is unusually rich in images of nursing, pediatrics and surgery. It is also a visual record of the vast changes that took place in the physical fabric of the Medical Center during this period.

While most of the collection remains in negative form, over 1100 vintage prints that came with the collection have been digitized. Another 165 Wilcox prints, found in other photograph collections held by the department, are also available in digital form. Access to the entire collection is via an index compiled by Mrs. Wilcox in the 1990s and which can be consulted at Archives & Special Collections.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital Office of Public Affairs Photographs

Almost 40 cubic feet of photographs created by and for the Office of Public Affairs of the Columbia University campus of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and its predecessor, Presbyterian Hospital.  The photos date from the late 19th to the early 21st century, with the bulk being from 1925-2003.  The photos document every aspect of the Hospital's operations, but are especially rich in images of patient care.  Because the photos in this collection were created for a variety of Hospital publications, the activities of the University's health science schools are not as well documented. The bulk of these photographs remain in paper form though several hundred have been digitized.

Center for Biomedical Communications Collection

Archives & Special Collections acquired over 60 cubic feet of visual material from the Columbia University Center for Biomedical Communications when it closed in January 2009. Included are photographic prints, negatives, contact sheets, slides, and CDs created by the Center's photography staff.  The Center’s photographers documented a wide variety of persons and activities at the Columbia University Medical Center: construction and renovation; faculty and administrator portraits; lectures, symposia, receptions, commencements and other events; clinical and scientific work; patients, students, and visitors; and campus views.  Though the material covers 1982-2008, the bulk dates from 1985-2006.

Although the photographers were employed by Columbia University, they took numerous photos of activities at the University’s main clinical partner, Presbyterian Hospital and, after 1997, its successor New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Though prints and slides are present in the collection the bulk of the early material exists in negative form only. Digital images stored on CDs begin to appear in 2001; by 2005 all images are on CDs. In 2018, Archives & Special Collections completed a project to preserve the approximately 800,000 CD images.

The collection came with an electronic index that provides Archives staff access to the contents of the collection.

Department of Psychiatry/New York State Psychiatric Institute Collection

Archives & Special Collection holds about 19 cubic feet of photographic materials created by the Art Department of the Dept. of Psychiatry/New York State Psychiatric Institute.  The collection includes photographs, negatives, contact sheets, slides, and photo CDs  Although a few images date back to the early 20th century, the bulk are from 1929 to about 2005, when the Art Dept. was closed.  Subjects documented include buildings, personnel (both faculty and staff), and events.  Patients are sometimes depicted though it’s not clear if these are actual patients or staff members playing the role of patient.  About 500 of the images are available in digital form.

Other Collections

Personal papers held by Archives & Special Collection often include photographs. These images are kept together with the papers and are noted in the finding aid.