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Robert J. Terry PapersAdd to your cart. | Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives

Title: Robert J. Terry PapersAdd to your cart.
ID: FC/FC006
Extent: 15.0 Linear Feet
Predominant Dates: 1895-1966
expand icon Biographical/Historical Note

Robert James Terry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on January 24, 1871.  He finished his pre-medical education at Cornell University in New York in 1892.  Terry was accepted into the class of 1895 at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.  However, after one year of study, financial troubles forced him to leave Columbia University.  He returned to St. Louis and completed his medical education at Missouri Medical College, graduating cum laude in 1895.  Following graduation, he established a private practice in St. Louis and was appointed as Assistant Director in Anatomy at Missouri Medical College.

In 1897, Terry married Grace Valle Speck.  Soon after the wedding, the Terry’s moved to Scotland for a year where Dr. Terry studied at Edinburgh University.  Upon his return to St. Louis, Terry was promoted to Lecturer at Missouri Medical College.  He held this position until 1899, when Missouri Medical College merged with the Medical Department of Washington University.  With the 1899 merger came a promotion to Assistant Professor in Anatomy.  The following year Terry was promoted again to Full Professor and Head of the Department of Anatomy.  Terry would maintain his full professorship for 41 years until his retirement in 1941.

In 1903, Dr. Terry and his family traveled to Freiberg, Germany where he took up the study of anatomy at the University of Freiberg under the instruction of Professors Gaupp, Keibel, and Widersheim.  In 1906, he was named an Austin Teaching Fellow in Histology and Embryology at Harvard University.  He returned to St. Louis in 1907 and continued in his role as Professor and Head of the Department of Anatomy at Washington University.  Three years later in 1910, the medical school underwent a major reorganization and all department heads were asked to step down.  Upon the completion of the reorganization, Terry was the only full time department head asked to remain in his previous position.

During the First World War, Terry acted as the dean of the Officers School of Oral and Plastic Surgery in St. Louis.  In 1921, he was awarded with the honorary title of Anthropologist from Barnes Hospital.  He maintained the title of Anthropologist Emeritus until his death.  In 1956, he was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree from Washington University.  Dr. Terry retired from active teaching in 1941 but remained an active researcher until 1958.

During his tenure at Washington University, Terry initiated and assembled one of the largest skeletal research collections in the United States.  Beginning in 1924, he started to gather and preserve skeletons from some of the cadavers used in the medical school anatomy courses.  As his collection grew, he became more particular about the skeletons chosen, often identifying them prior to dissection and marking them for soft tissue dissection only, a precaution taken in order to preserve the bones.  After the dissections, Terry would prepare the skeletons, removing all but a small amount of fat.  He believed that the remaining fat would help to ensure better preservation of the bones, a fact proven true by the continuous good condition of the collection.  Following Dr. Terry’s retirement from teaching in 1941, care and preservation of the collection was given over to Mildred Trotter.  Dr. Trotter continued to enlarge the collection until 1964, when it was indefinitely loaned to the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to his work at Washington University and his dedication to anatomical education, Terry was also an active member of a number of local and national organizations.  He was a founding member of both the American Journal of Anatomy and the American Association of Physical Anthropology, an organization for which he later served as President and Associate Editor of the affiliated journal.  Terry also served as president of the St. Louis Academy of Science and the editor of the Washington University Medical Alumni Quarterly.  He was also very active in naturalist circles, founding organizations such as the St. Louis Naturalist Club in 1898 and the St. Louis Bird Club in 1901.  He also collaborated in the establishment of a migratory bird treaty between the United States and Great Britain and assisted in the founding of the St. Louis Bird Sanctuary.  Due to his dedication and passion for nature, Terry was recognized by the City of St. Louis in 1959, when a park at the corner of Eads and Compton was named for him.  Dr. Terry remained an active member of both the medical and naturalist communities until his death in 1966.

expand icon Access and Use Restrictions
Restrictions: The collection is open and accessible for research.

Users of the collection should read and abide by the Rights and Permissions guidelines at the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives.

Users of the collection who wish to cite items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication must request, sign, and return a Statement of Use form to the Archives.

For detailed information regarding use of this collection, contact the Archives and Rare Book Department of the Becker Library (

Related Materials:
Preferred Citation: [Item description, Box number, Folder number], Robert J. Terry Papers, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University School of Medicine.
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