It’s been more than 130 years since Harriet Cole worked as a cleaning lady at Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University) in Philadelphia. She’s still there, although in a significantly different form. You see the lady that once disinfected the halls of this institute of higher learning now hangs in them. Harriet was just 35 when she died from tuberculosis and having worked at the college for several years, she agreed that upon her death to donate her body to science. More specifically, allow Dr Rufus B. Weaver, who was the leading Professor of Anatomy at the school, take charge of her remains. Dr. Weaver had plans for Harriet and he followed through, it would take the good doctor almost six months to meticulously detach her nervous system. To assist in the painstaking process he used fine needles to seperate each and every nerve with surgical precision. When he finished he preserved his display, simply titled “Harriet”, with a lead based paint and attached her nervous system to a blackboard with thousands of tiny pins. “Harriet” became an extremely popular specimen, even making her way to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, where she won several medals. While it’s unclear if Harriet knew of Dr. Weaver’s specific plans for remains, it is certain that her generous gift has mesmerized generations. Next time you’re in Philly stop by and say “Hi! you can find what remains of Harriet encased in glass just outside the bookstore at the Student Activities Center.


Clark, Katie. Harriet Cole: Drexel’s Longest-Serving Employee July 19, 2012

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