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Anatomical Manikins

Anatomical Manikin, of German origin
Thomas Jefferson University Archives collection

The anatomical manikin pictured here is a rarity among the cased sets of surgical instruments, amputation kits, and other medical items that make up the artifact collection of the University Archives. Often these manikins are confused with Chinese diagnostic dolls or "doctor’s ladies".

In Chinese culture, modesty forbade a woman from undergoing a physical examination or even mentioning parts of her body to a male physician. To circumvent this situation, during a house call the doctor brought along the diagnostic doll. By marking the section giving her discomfort, the woman could communicate her problems to the physician.

While both anatomical and diagnostic manikins were somewhat similar in appearance, the craftsmen fashioned anatomical manikins with much more detail. Sometimes produced in male and female pairs, it was far more common to create only the female figure and always in an advanced state of pregnancy. Medical history contains little information on the origin or intended use of the manikins. Since early anatomists had few subjects available for dissection, most anatomy studies focused on two-dimensional drawings.

Historians surmise the models provided a means during the 17th and 18th centuries to study anatomy with a three-dimensional object or teach pelvic anatomy to midwives. K.F. Russell proposed in his 1970 study that while detailed, the structure of the manikins did not provide enough accurate information for serious study. Instead the models were probably used to educate the lay public on the differences between the sexes and the physiology of pregnancy.

Since neither the manikins or diagnostic dolls possess dates, signatures, or any information about their creators, dating and attribution is difficult to make. Russell studied 98 manikins from several different medical libraries and his observations allowed him to separate the manikins into several different groupings. All the figures Russell studied were from Germany, Italy, or France. None were found from Great Britain, the US, or other European countries. According to his grouping, the anatomical manikin in the University Archives is most likely from Germany.

Further reading:

Russell, K.F. "Ivory Anatomical Manikins," Medical History 16 (2) (April 1972): 131-142.

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