Friends of the John Martin Rare Book Room

Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month

Damien Ihrig, MA, MLIS
Curator, John Martin Rare Book Room


A color photo of a black and white illustration of a cleft palate being repaired from Mütter's A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault, 1843.The University of Iowa is a worldwide leader in cleft palate research and repair, so we thought it only appropriate to recognize National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month.

Many of you have no doubt heard of the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, with its famous collection of anatomical specimens and medical instruments. The namesake of the museum, Thomas Dent Mütter, was a 19th-century American surgeon who overcame personal tragedy to become a renowned surgeon and educator.

One area that fascinated him was cleft palate and lip repair. This month's book, A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault, written by Mütter and printed in 1843, details his straightforward repair for a cleft palate.

The earliest evidence of cleft lip repair comes from the Jin Dynasty (265-420 CE) in China. The earliest detailed description of a repair is from Jehan Yperman (c.1260–c.1331), a pioneering medieval Flemish surgeon. The first known detailed description of a cleft palate comes from 16th-century French surgeon Pierre Franco (1505-1578). Franco emphasized the importance of the palate to speech development and the congenital origin of the malformation.

Clefts could also be caused by syphilis, however, and during the 16th and 17th centuries, surgical repairs were not advised. Instead, our old friend, Ambroise Paré, along with the Portuguese surgeon Amatus Lusitanus (aka João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco), wrote of using obturators - custom prosthetic devices used to close the palate.

Interest in surgical repair continued, though, especially for congenital clefts. By the 19th century, several Fench surgeons had devised their own methods for repair, including Guillaume Dupuytren, whom Mütter trained with while continuing his medical education in Paris.

Read more below about Mütter, his connection to cleft repair, and more.

Stay well and happy reading!


The Room is available Monday-Thursday, 8:30-5:00 (U.S. Central) and Friday by appointment. Face masks are welcome and available for free to all visitors.. To guarantee the Room is available, please contact me at or 319-335-9154.




A color photograph showing a Caucasian male, Dr. Jonathan Reeder, with short, brown hair. It shows his head and upper torso, dressed in a light blue button up shirt, while he is standing in a green field.October 18 at 5:30 pm (central) – The John Martin Rare Book Room Presents
An evening with Dr. Jonathan Reeder

401 Hardin Library (in person, but it will be recorded)

Jonathan Reeder, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Classics
University of Iowa

More details soon.




Book of the Month

A color photo of the black cloth spine and cover of Mütter's A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault, 1843. The spine has the title and call number vertically gilt stamped.

MÜTTER, Thomas Dent (1811–1859). A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault. Printed in Philadelphia by Merrihew & Thompson, 1843. 28 pages. 23 cm tall.

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is celebrated for its collection of anatomical specimens of rare conditions, from the famous (and infamous), as well as medical instruments. The museum was founded with an original donation from the collection of Thomas Dent Mütter.

Mütter was born in 1811 in Richmond, Virginia. Sickness is a common theme in Mütter's life and he lost both of his parents by the time he was eight. He was raised by a distant relative in a seemingly supportive environment.

Money left to him by his parents allowed him to attend Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Mütter himself fell ill during medical school. He left for Europe after graduation in the hopes of improving his health in a different climate and to further pursue his medical education.

In Paris, he worked with the aforementioned Dupuytren, and in London with Robert Liston. Mütter eventually put together a collection of lectures by Liston, which he annotated with 250 pages of his own.

Dupuytren was known for his exacting nature and Liston for his speed when performing a surgical procedure (which could mean the difference between life and death in the days before anesthesia and antibiotics). Mütter seems to have embraced the teachings of both his mentors, stressing the need for the simplest of tools and techniques when performing his reconstructive surgeries while trying to keep the pain and blood loss to a minimum.

A color photo of the black printed text of the title page from Mütter's A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault, 1843.

In 1841, he joined the faculty of the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. It was there that he made a name for himself as an excellent speaker and engaging teacher. He used his ever-expanding anatomical and instrument collection to provide his students with hands-on experience.

Unfortunately, his ill health never truly subsided and he was forced to retire in 1856. He died three years later at the age of 48.

A report on the operations for fissures of the palatine vault demonstrates Mütter's adherence to his surgical principles. It is not a long book, only 28 pages, but it provides insight into his process and surgical philosophy. It includes several small illustrations of the steps of the procedure and the instruments used, examples of which you can see above.

The book is covered in a "library binding" of black cloth and the textblock shows evidence of having been trimmed (see the ownership mark in the upper right corner of the title page above). Indeed, this book was at some point pulled from the circulating Hardin collection and added to the Rare Book Room collection. It still contains the date due slip (last checked out in 1967!) and barcode sticker.

The spine shows a stamped and gold painted title and Library of Congress call number. Although there is some staining on the first and last pages, likely from the glue of a previous binding, the paper is in excellent condition.

Contact me to view this tiny but mighty book or any others from this or past newsletters: or 319-335-9154 to arrange a visit in person or over Zoom.


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