Present and Future

The Cleo Stevenson Family Donates More Than 600 Artifacts to UTHSC

Memphis, Tenn. (April 23, 2010) - On April 30, more than 50 members of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) campus community are expected to gather at the Health Sciences Library for a reception in honor of Cleo W. Stevenson, MD, a 1943 alumnus of the UTHSC College of Medicine.  Dr. Stevenson's family has donated more than 600 medical, dental, nursing, allied health and pharmaceutical artifacts to the Health Sciences Library on the Memphis campus.  The reception to acknowledge the donation is scheduled from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on the second floor of the UTHSC Lamar Alexander Building, 877 Madison Avenue.

Dr. Stevenson, an internist, has been called one of the last old-fashioned family doctors, often making house calls and spending late hours in the office helping patients.  He practiced medicine and served as medical director of the Nursing School at Methodist Hospital for 40 years.  During these years, he amassed a diverse collection of artifacts, machinery, antiques and health care books (18th and 19th Century) for display.

 "The Cleo Stevenson Collection is a major, historically significant addition to our campus and we are extremely grateful to the Stevenson family for this generous donation," stated Richard H. Nollan, associate professor, Health Sciences Historical Collections at UTHSC.

Dr. Stevenson and his two brothers who were also physicians built a clinic at 1469 Poplar in the late 1940s, which stayed in operation until the late1970s.  It was during the 1940s when Dr. Stevenson came across a pair of medical saddlebags that his wife's grandfather, a doctor (Dr. John Washington McCarley), used in his practice around the turn of the century.  This discovery fueled his interest in antique medical instruments, an interest he pursued for most of his life.

Initially the pieces Dr. Stevenson accumulated were kept in his office but patients urged him to display the items.  Methodist Hospital constructed the first cabinet for the collection in the early 1970s.  The Simon R. Bruesch Endowment to the UT Health Science Center provided the funds for the university to purchase the seven display cases for the collection.

Dr. Stevenson continued to make house calls until his retirement in 1990.  He died in September 1995 at age 74.

In a 1993 article, The Commercial Appeal observed, "The collection of Dr. Cleo Stevenson conveys both nostalgic charm and an appreciation for the vast medical advances of this century . . ."  In the same article, Ronald Brister, chief curator of collections for the Memphis Museum System, explained, "Most of the collection is 19thCentury to early 20th Century, when really effective scientific medicine began to come in.  The doctors were well-educated in the 19thCentury but medicine did not really get scientific until the 20thCentury."  Brister called the Stevenson Collection "one of those little-known secrets in the city . . . one of the finest private collections in Memphis."

In addition to more common artifacts like pill boxes, eye glasses, mortar and pestles, ear trumpets, dental pliers, apothecary jars, and Singer surgical stitching instruments, items in the Stevenson Collection include: