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 Bellevue Hospital and became a board-certified anesthesiologist in 1937; she began teaching anesthesiology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center before she 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 a lecturer and clinical professor of pediatrics at Cornell University Medical Center 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.
The Virginia Apgar Collection includes an oral history interview with Apgar, biographical information, material relating to a postage stamp issued in her honor, a student's paper about the Apgar score, an exhibit catalogue, material from the Columbia University Apgar Symposium in 2002, Apgar family material, her National Women's Hall of Fame medal, and photographs. Of particular note is a transcript of an oral history interview done by Jourdan Moore Houston (Mount Holyoke College Class of 1966) in the summer of 1974 with related correspondence and an article about the interview. There are photographs (a print and negatives) of Apgar on that occasion. Most of the remaining collection consists of biographical sketches and newspaper and magazine articles about Apgar chiefly dating from after her death in August 1974. This material provides an overview of her life and accomplishments with particular emphasis on her development of the Apgar Score for evaluating the health of newborn infants. A paper written for the National History Day competition in 1999 by Sarah Sellers is also about the Apgar Score. Other articles concern her work for the National Foundation (later the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation), especially her interest in preventing birth defects in children. Also included is an extensive series of newspaper and magazine articles about Apgar dating from 1972-1994 collected to support the proposal for a commemorative postage stamp. Other material in the collection concerning the stamp includes documents about the development of the stamp, letters by and to the stamp's main proponent, Dr. L. Joseph Butterfield, articles concerning the stamp's dedication, copies of the stamp and a commemorative pin. There is also a video-recording of the stamp dedication ceremony held in Westfield, New Jersey on October 27, 1994. Apgar family material chiefly consists the second volume of a family history, "Johannes Peter Apgard and his Descendants" (1988) and copies of newsletters published by the Apgar Family Association in 1993 and 1994. The exhibit catalog is for a 1999 traveling exhibit entitled "A State of Health: New Jersey's Medical Heritage" that included information about Apgar. The medal in the collection is from her induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1995. Rounding out the collection are photographs of the Apgar's home, her grave and the family's cemetery plot, all located in Westfield, New Jersey.
Material from this collection is available in an online digital format.
This collection is organized into ten series:
Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:
Virginia Apgar Collection, Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, MA.
Selected images from this collection are available in this online exhibition Profiles in Science. National Library of Medicine. The Virginia Apgar Papers.
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
8 Dwight Hall
50 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Phone: (413) 538-2013
Fax: (413) 538-2370 Email Reference Form: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/library/arch/forms/areq.htm