It is easy to say that S.S. Still and his wife, Ella Still, are historical celebrities here at DMU. Both graduated from the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, founded by S.S.’s uncle, A.T., before moving to Des Moines to found and teach at DMU in 1898. Of the seven names DMU has been known under, four included a tribute to Still as our founder. Yet most people don’t know of the historical resources regarding the family that can be found in the University Archives and Special Collections.
One of the brightest stars of our collections is the S.S. and Ella Still book collection, which was donated by the couple. The majority of the approximately 100 books contain the signatures of either S.S. or Ella in the front, making them even more of a treasure due to the personal nature of these artifacts. The majority containing Ella’s signature pertain to obstetrics and gynecology, consistent with her position teaching OB/GYN courses here. The books bearing S.S.’s signature are much more varied, and many relate to the basics of medicine for students, such as anatomy, physiology and surgery. However, he also donated several books dating from 1896 to 1917 on the newly discovered Roentgen Rays, which are known today as x-rays.
While rare books are often thought of as being beautiful tomes placed lovingly on velvet cushions, it is an unfortunate reality that not all precious books are in pristine condition. This collection was well-used and loved during the time it was housed in the library for regular use by students and faculty. This means that most of the books need careful hands and more stable conditions, which the Kendall Reed Rare Book Room provides with its specialized archival environmental controls and resident archives and special collections librarian.
In the several months I’ve served in that role, I’ve had the pleasure of separating these extraordinary artifacts from the rest of the rare book collection. This is just the start of many new projects to come from the University Archives and Special Collections.
Kay Grigsby, MSLIS, is archives and special collections librarian and assistant professor at DMU. For more information regarding the S.S. and Ella Still Collection or to set up a time to view the volumes, contact her at 515-271-1428 or email@example.com.