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Virginia Apgar papers

Identifier: MS 0504

Scope and Contents

The Virginia Apgar Papers consist of diaries, correspondence, course records and training records, Aqualumni records, Director of Anesthesiology records, writings, Apgar Score material, material relating to speaking engagements and meetings attended and to radio and television appearances, a scrapbook, financial records, notebooks, an index to scientific publications, memorabilia, Charles E. Apgar material, biographical information, a sound recording and photographs. This material chiefly concerns Apgar's education and professional life between 1925-1974. Much of the collection relates to her work for the National Foundation (later the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) from 1959-1974. Material concerning her activities on behalf of that organization consists of diaries, extensive correspondence relating to speaking engagements, meetings attended, and radio and televison appearances, her writings about prenatal care and birth defects, articles about her work, and numerous photographs. Other diaries, correspondence, reports, notebooks, financial records, a scrapbook and photographs concern her education and training at Mount Holyoke College (1925-1929), Columbia University and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (1929-1935), the University of Wisconsin (1936-1937) and Johns Hopkins University (1959), and her work as an anesthesiologist, administrator, and professor at Columbia-Presbyterian (1938-1958) and Johns Hopkins (1972-1973). This material includes documents relating to her association with the Aqualumni, a group of anesthesiologists trained by Dr. Ralph M. Waters at the University of Wisconsin, and to the Apgar Score that she developed for evaluating the health of newborn infants. Other material in the collection consists of financial records containing information about her income and expenses between 1925-1942; several notebooks from the 1940s-ca.1969 that include lists, notes, and more details about her finances; a card index of scientific publications in the library of Dr. K. B. Warren which appears to have prepared ca. 1960; diplomas, certificates, two medical bags, and other memorabilia; and a sound recording from a television appearance that she made ca. 1960. Her papers also include two documents by her father Charles E. Apgar: a letter that he wrote describing his life as a student at Centenary Collegiate Institute in Hackettstown, New Jersey in 1880 and an article about his family's home in Westfield, New Jersey that was published in February 1906 issue of "The Suburbanite, A Monthly Magazine For Those Who Are and Those Who Ought To Be Interested In Suburban Homes."


  • Creation: 1880 - 1975
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1925 - 1974

Conditions Governing Access

Unrestricted except for reports on operations at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (May-October 1935) in Series 3. These documents may be used by researchers who complete a Restricted Records Statistical and Quantitative Research Contract, Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

Biographical Note

Virginia Apgar was born in Westfield, New Jersey on June 7, 1909 to Charles E. Apgar, a businessman and insurance executive, and Helen May Clarke Apgar. After graduating from high school in Westfield she entered Mount Holyoke College in 1925. She majored in zoology, wrote articles for the student newspaper, participated in campus athletics and dramatics, and played violin in the College orchestra. After receiving a B.A. in 1929 she became one of the first women to study at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She received her M.D. in 1933 and began an internship in surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. After two years of work Apgar became convinced that a woman could not support herself as a surgeon and decided to enter the newly-emerging field of anesthesiology. She trained at the University of Wisconsin and Bellvue Hospital and became a board-certified anesthesiologist in 1937; she began teaching anesthesiology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before she had completed her training. She was appointed Director of the Center's Division of Anesthesiology in 1938. When she became a full professor in 1949 she relinquished her other duties and devoted herself to studying the use of anesthesia during childbirth. In 1952 she presented her system for evaluating the health of infants immediately after birth which became known as the Apgar Score. In 1959 Apgar received a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and joined the staff of the National Foundation (later the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation). She devoted much of the rest of her life to increasing public support for research about the causes, prevention, and treatment of birth defects. In 1972 she wrote "Is My Baby All Right?" with Joan Beck, a book aimed at helping parents understand birth defects. While continuing to work for the National Foundation she also was a lecturer in the Department of Genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and lecturer and clinical professor of pediatrics at Cornell University Medical College in New York City. From 1966-1971 Apgar was an alumna trustee of Mount Holyoke College. She received many honorary degrees and awards during her lifetime, for example, becoming the first woman to receive the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Medicine from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1973. She died in New York City on August 7, 1974 at the age of sixty-five. Posthumous honors for Apgar include a commemorative postage stamp issued in 1994 and induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1995.


16.46 Linear Feet (21 full Hollinger, 9 half Hollinger, 1 record storage, and 3 specialty boxes)

Language of Materials



Apgar, Virginia, 1909-1974; physician and anesthesiologist. Mount Holyoke College graduate, 1929. Papers chiefly consist of diaries, correspondence, course/training records, writings, Apgar Score material, financial records, biographical information and photographs; focusing principally on her education and training at Mount Holyoke College, Columbia University, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, the University of Wisconsin, and Johns Hopkins University; her work as an anesthesiologist, administrator, and professor at Columbia-Presbyterian and Johns Hopkins; and her work for the National Foundation (later the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation). Also includes a letter and an article written by her father Charles E. Apgar.


Arranged in 18 series: Series 1. Diaries, 1937-1941, 1949-1974. Series 2. Correspondence, 1925-1974. Series. 3. Course Records/Training Information, 1926-1973. Series 4. Aqualumni Records, 1938-1948. Series 5. Director of Anesthesiology Records, 1939-1946, 1948. Series 6. Writings, 1941-1975. Series 7. Apgar Score Material, 1959-1974. Series 8. Speaking Engagements/Meetings Attended, 1959-1974. Series 9. Radio/Television Appearances, 1963-1974. Series 10. Scrapbook, 1925-1929. Series 11. Financial Records, 1925-1942. Series 12. Notebooks, 1949, 1957, 1958, ca. 1969. Series 13. Index to Scientific Publications from Warren Library, ca. 1960. Series 14. Memorabilia, ca. 1918-1974. Series 15. Charles E. Apgar Material, 1880, 1906. Series 16. Sound Records, ca. 1960. Series 17. Biographical Information, 1938-1975. Series 18. Photographs, ca. 1912-1974.

Apgar papers, 1880-1975 (bulk 1925-1974)
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Repository Details

Part of the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections Repository

50 College Street
8 Dwight Hall
South Hadley MA 01075-6425 USA