Mitchell-Nelson History Library Is a Treasure Trove

In the midst of Cincinnati Children’s Burnet Campus with its state-of-the-art research and patient-care facilities, lies a hidden gem—the Mitchell-Nelson History Library and Museum. Tucked away on the third floor of the Old Research Building (Location R) just outside the Research Auditorium, it’s a place that seems frozen in time—the early 1930s to be exact—with its parquet floor, arched windows, book-lined walls and stone fireplace.

The room is quiet and filled with artifacts from the medical center’s past—a worn leather-upholstered examination table that belonged to the second B.K. Rachford Chair of Pediatrics A. Graeme Mitchell, MD, a baby scale, a metal infant carrier used by doctors and nurses to transport tiny patients to the hospital, volumes of hand-written patient records dating back to the late 1800s, part of the first heart-lung machine that enabled doctors to perform open-heart surgery, and much more.

The Children’s Hospital Research Foundation Library was founded originally as part of the opening of the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation in 1931. In 1989, it was renamed in honor of former Chief of Staff and B.K. Rachford Chair, Edward L. Pratt, MD. Years later, when the Pratt Library moved to the second floor of Location D, the space became known fondly as the old Pratt Library and served as an informal gathering spot for researchers, most notably on Friday afternoons.

In 1980, Bill Gerhardt, MD, a community pediatrician and member of Cincinnati Children’s Medical Staff, volunteered to be the medical center’s staff historian—a role he dedicated himself to for 35 years. During that time, he carefully collected documents, photos, videos, artwork, and other artifacts related to the institution’s past and put them on display in the library, which was renamed in December 1995 for Mitchell and Waldo Nelson, MD, author of the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics.

Michelle Wirth was brought on as a temporary archivist from January 2014-2016 with funding from the Co-operative Society to help catalog collections. During this period, Wirth did an assessment and inventory of the material on hand, processed seven collections, created finding guides and posted them to OhioLink for increased access. This valuable work led to the medical center hiring a second part-time archivist in 2018.

When Gerhardt retired as volunteer historian in 2015, there was no clear succession plan for preserving Cincinnati Children’s rich legacy. The Mitchell-Nelson Library and Museum continued to be a repository for artifacts and a little-known lounge for employees looking for a quiet space to work or recharge.

An electric calculator, by Marchant, circa 1930-1950, was one of the "supercomputers" of its time.

This portable infant incubator was invented by John L. Prager and patented in 1949. It was used to transport high-risk infants to Children's Hospital.

Too Much at Stake

Members of the History Committee, which is an offshoot of the Medical Executive Committee, advocated for a more formal approach to organizing and maintaining Cincinnati Children’s memorabilia. They succeeded in hiring part-time archivist, Kevin Proffitt, in 2018. Proffitt dug in with enthusiasm and set about culling Gerhardt’s voluminous files, saving what was historically significant and discarding what wasn’t. One important find was the original hospital charter, handwritten in pencil, folded in an envelope, and stashed in a file folder. The document has since been professionally preserved and framed.

Proffitt also cleaned up the library, which had become a catch-all for extra furniture, empty coffee cups and miscellaneous items.

Proffitt retired at the end of December 2021. With the support of Medical Operations, his successor, Jim DaMico, works full-time, posting regularly on Yammer and in Connect about important moments in Cincinnati Children’s history. Most recently, he’s launched the Cincinnati Children’s Archives website, which provides a centralized location where you can search our collections, request information and learn more about our impressive accomplishments and culture of caring.

One of DaMico’s goals is to collect history as it’s made. He is available to meet with individuals or groups by appointment to help preserve their history. He is also working to make our one-of-a-kind collections accessible to the community through digitization and cataloging efforts.

If you’d like to schedule a visit to the Mitchell-Nelson History Library and Museum, contact DaMico at

The Mitchell-Nelson History Library and Museum, housed in the old Research Building (Location R), is a retreat to another century.

Share this page

Go to the next article

Why I'm Here: Megan Courtney