The Women Behind the Japanese Woodblock Print Collection

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist

One of UCSF Archives & Special Collections’ most famous and beloved collections is the Japanese Woodblock Print collection – a collection of over 400 colorful and informative woodblock prints on health-related themes, such as women’s health and contagious diseases like cholera, measles, and smallpox. According to the Library website dedicated to the prints, they “offer a visual account of Japanese medical knowledge in the late Edo and Meiji periods. The majority of the prints date to the mid-late nineteenth century, when Japan was opening to the West after almost two hundred and fifty years of self-imposed isolation.”[1] The collection has been used, most recently, in a documentary about woodblock prints to be aired on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, and has been a subject of enduring interest to researchers. I’ve heard colleagues wonder aloud about how UCSF came to own this unique collection, so I did some research. Naturally, an enterprising curator and librarian – Atsumi Minami, MLS – is to thank for the collection’s arrival at UCSF.

Walters, Tom F., “Atsumi Minami with items from UCSF Library East Asian Collection,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

While I was not able to find the exact dates of her employment at UCSF Library, I do know that Minami began working at UCSF Library in 1959, and soon took charge of a small collection of 70 titles of materials related to East Asian medicine started in 1963 by John B. de C.M. Saunders (a shortening of his full name, John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders), then Provost and University Librarian.[1] Minami could read Japanese script, so she became responsible for the collection and was soon given free rein to begin collecting additional materials. In order to do this, Minami “traveled to Japan and China and purchased items from various smaller, private collections, acquiring the woodblock prints as well as hundreds of rare Chinese and Japanese medical texts, manuscripts, and painted scrolls.”[2] Her collecting efforts spanned over 30 years, and produced a collection with over 10,000 titles. It would appear that Minami was still working at UCSF when this informative article was written for a 1986 issue of UCSF Magazine.[3] At the time that article was published, the East Asian medicine collection was also the only active collection of its kind in the U.S., making it even more notable.  

Another woman who was influential in shaping the East Asian collection was Ilza Veith, a German medical historian and former UCSF professor in both the Department of the History and Philosophy of Health Sciences and the Department of Psychiatry. Veith, who in 1947 was awarded the first ever U.S. Ph.D.in the History of Medicine from Johns Hopkins University, was also awarded later, in 1975, the most advanced medical degree conferred in Japan, the Igaku hakase, from Juntendo University Medical School in Tokyo.  Veith was extremely knowledgeable about both Chinese and Japanese medicine, and, in her time at Hopkins, translated Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the oldest known document in Chinese medicine. Though the text has somewhat mythical origins that make its author and date a little difficult to determine, it probably dates from around 300 BC. Veith also helped shaped UCSF’s East Asian medicine collection by donating a number of her Japanese medical books. 

“Ilza Veith,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

I would encourage anyone interested in the collection to browse the prints on our website, and to read more about their history via a finding aid on the Online Archive of California. Archives & Special Collections also houses the Ilza Veith papers. While we don’t yet have an Atsumi Minami collection, we welcome donations and would appreciate any information that the present-day UCSF community has about this amazing woman.


[1] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”

[2] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

[3] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”


[1] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

October is Archives Months

October is American Archives MonthThe UCSF Archives have a double celebration this month. October is not just an American Archives month, but also the California Archives month. This event “raises public awareness of the importance of archives and to honors the efforts of the professionals who protect and maintain historical documents.”
Please visit the UCSF Archives to:

  • Access Historical Materials in the Reading Room
    We collect and preserve rare and unique materials to support research and teaching in the history of health sciences, the development of UCSF, and biomedical discoveries. Make an appointment to view rare books, archives, manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts.
  • Develop Research Strategies
    Schedule a consultation to develop effective research strategies.  Discover print and online primary sources in the history of health sciences and UCSF history.
  • Get Help with Documenting Your Career/Preserving Your Department’s Records
    We review your personal papers & organization records (print & digital) and advise on how to preserve them. Consult us about donating your materials.
  • Locate materials and Access Digital Collections
    https://www.library.ucsf.edu/collections/archives
  • Connect with Us:
    Brought to Light blog
    Twitter: @ucsf_archives

Please meet the UCSF Archives & Special Collections team (in order of appearance):

  • David Krah, processing archivists (Tobacco Control Archives and Eric Berne collections)
  • Kelsi Evans, processing archivist (Radiologic Imaging Laboratory and Dr. J. Michael Bishop collections)
  • David Uhlich, UCSF assistant archivist
  • Polina Ilieva, UCSF archivist, Head of Archives & Special Collections

[iframe src=”https://archive.org/details/ucsf_archives_2015″ width=”640″ height=”480″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen=”true” mozallowfullscreen=”true” allowfullscreen]

Or watch the video on the Internet Archive.

Joint Project to Digitize State Medical Society Journals, 1900 – 2000 Funded

librarylogo  The UCSF Library is collaborating with four other preeminent medical libraries on a project to digitize and make publicly accessible state medical journals. The Medical Heritage Library (MHL), a digital resource on the history of medicine and health developed by an international consortium of cultural heritage repositories, has received funding in the amount of $275,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its proposal “Medicine at Ground Level: State Medical Societies, State Medical Journals, and the Development of American Medicine and Society.“ Additional funding has been provided by the Harvard Library.

Illustration for the article by Charles Kirkland Roys, M.D., published in the California State Journal of Medicine, Vol. Xi, No.3, March 1913.

Illustration for the article by Charles Kirkland Roys, M.D., published in the California State Journal of Medicine, Vol. XI, No.3, March 1913, page 116.

The project will create a substantial digital collection of American state medical society journals, digitizing 117 titles from 46 states, from 1900 to 2000, comprising 2,500,369 pages in 3,579 volumes. State medical society journal publishers agreed to provide free and open access to journal content currently under copyright. Once digitized, journals will join the more than 75,000 monographs, serials, pamphlets, and films now freely available in the MHL collection on the Internet ArchiveFull text search is available through the MHL website . MHL holdings can also be accessed through the Digital Public Library of America – DPLA, and the Wellcome Library’s UK-MHL.

Illustration for an article by Eugene S. Kilgore, M.D., published in the California State Journal of Medicine, Vol. XIII, No.12, December 1915, page 464.

Illustration for the article by Eugene S. Kilgore, M.D., published in the California State Journal of Medicine, Vol. XIII, No.12, December 1915, page 464.

State medical society journals document the transformation of American medicine in the twentieth century at both the local and national level. The journals have served as sites not only for scientific articles, but for medical talks (and, often, accounts of discussions following the talks), local news regarding sites of medical care and the medical profession, advertisements, and unexpurgated musings on medicine and society throughout the 20th century. When digitized and searchable as a single, comprehensive body of material, this collection will be able to support a limitless array of historical queries, including those framed geographically and/or temporally, offering new ways to examine and depict the evolution of medicine and the relationship between medicine and society.

UCSF is collaborating on this project with: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University; the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health at The New York Academy of Medicine; and the Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland, the Founding Campus (UMB). The participants are currently reviewing their holdings, establishing workflows and will start digitizing the volumes this fall (UCSF holdings will be sent to the Internet Archive scanning facility in San Francisco); the project will be completed in April 2017.