Museum restored to robust health

Blood-letting instruments used circa 1820.
Public Health Museum
Blood-letting instruments used circa 1820.

A vintage iron lung, antique traveling dentist’s chair, blood-letting tools, insane asylum patient restraints, and rare documents are all on display at the Public Health Museum  on the historic grounds of Tewksbury Hospital. 

The museum, which was incorporated in 1994, closed in July to allow for a major renovation of the exhibits.

The public is invited to a celebration of the museum’s reopening from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 365 East St., Tewksbury. 


“The museum provides an extraordinary ambience and setting to better understand the evolution of public health,” said Dr. Katherine Domoto, president of the museum. “You do have to learn from the past.”

Public Health Museum
Early traveling dentist's chair, circa 1880.

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The mission of the museum, according to its website, is to educate the public about the achievements and contributions of public health efforts in preventing disease and improving the health of individuals and communities.

It also wants to inspire students, researchers, health care workers, and public health professionals to build upon the past and advance the future of public health.

The museum collections and exhibits are housed in the hospital’s old administration building, an 1894 Queen Anne-style building designed by John A. Fox. 

The building also has Work Projects Administration murals from the 1930s by artists W. Lester Stevens, Maurice Compris, and Samuel Hershey. 


“Its not just the objects, it’s the concept that it is a historic building and seeing objects in the setting evokes the circumstance of what it was like before,” Domoto said.

Part of the exhibit redesign is the addition of text describing the objects, which Domoto said “makes a big difference.”

The museum attracts public health students and professionals, as well as people who want to reflect on their own experiences in public health, Domoto said.

There also are plans for the museum to host conferences.

“Our mission includes providing a forum for today’s key issues in public health,” said Domoto. “We are in a moment in history where we are exploring the ethical balance between the rights of the individual to make personal health decisions versus the health needs of the community at large.”

Public Health Museum
The Museum building itself is in Queen Anne style, designed by John Fox, and dates from 1894.


The museum’s website has been updated to be a more active forum and include information on events.

At the reopening celebration, the public can meet historians, museum enthusiasts, members of the public health community, and the staff and board members of the museum.

There will be a short presentation at 5:30 p.m. with visiting curators Leena Akhtar, Lisa Haushofer, and Cara Kiernan Fallon, doctoral candidates from Harvard University’s History of Science Department.

“This for us is a major change, and we’re hoping a major move forward. It’s exciting,” Domoto said. “Everyone says ‘I have never heard of that museum,’ and I say, ‘It’s a hidden gem.’ ”

The Public Health Museum, 365 East St., Tewksbury, is open to visitors 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, the first Saturday of the month, and by appointment. Admission is $5, free for museum members and children younger than 6. 

The museum is wheelchair accessible and stroller parking is available. There are guided tours.

Call 978-851-7321 ext. 2606 or visit

Wendy Killeen can be reached at