What Did Virginia Apgar ’29 Carry in Her Medical Bag?

Dr. Virginia Apgar’s ’29 medical bag.

Dr. Virginia Apgar ’29 is most known for changing the landscape of obstetric medicine with her invention in 1952 of the Apgar Score, the first standardized method for evaluating newborn health.

But do you know what she carried in her medical bag?

Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections does. In fact, they are in possession of Apgar’s medical bag, which she used throughout her forty-year career until her death in 1974. Filled with equipment and medicines, the bag gives a peek into the work and possible day-to-day life of one of the world’s premier physicians and anesthesiologists.

Inscribed with the gold initials V.A., the black leather zipper bag contains medical equipment including a blood pressure cuff, medical clamp, and what may be a few oropharyngeal airway devices (OPAs). According to the Archives, Apgar carried these OPAs with her at all times, either in her medical bag or in her purse. A friend once noted she even carried them “when dressed for opening night at the NYC opera; they were used for resuscitation a number of times.”

The tools inside Dr. Virginia Apgar’s ’29 medical bag.

Other items in the bag include vials of ephedrine sulfate injectors, ready for instant use to counteract an asthma attack or treat a drop in blood pressure; a bottle of Seconal Sodium, a depressant primarily used to calm the central nervous system; and a box of film most likely intended for a Kodak Kodaslide stereo slide viewer—similar to the viewfinder toys popular with children for generations—with the words “Lungs” and “For Thursday Evening” written in pencil on the front of the box.

A slide inside Dr. Virginia Apgar’s ’29 medical bag.

While most of the items are not surprising for an anesthesiologist to have on hand, we can only guess the films could be of samples belonging to a patient, with whom Apgar may have met or treated on a Thursday night.

The bag and its contents are just a small part of the Archives’ extensive Apgar collection, which includes diaries, scrapbooks, and sound recordings, among other documents and items.

By Jess Ayer

—Photos by Deirdre Haber Malfatto

This article appeared as “Tools of a Trailblazer” in the fall 2017 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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