The Virginia Apgar, M.D. Collection

This project was supported in part by an award from the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board, through funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, National Archives and Records Administration. 


Repository: Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology.
Creator: Apgar, Virginia, 1909-1974.
Title: The Viginia Apgar, M.D. Collection
Dates (inclusive): 1936-2005.
Dates (bulk): 1950-1970.
Quantity: 2 containers occupying 0.75 linear feet
Location: WLM Rare Book Room
Language: English
Language: Spanish

Biographical Sketch

Virginia Apgar was born in Westfield, New Jersey on June 7, 1909. Her parents were Charles Emory and Helen May (nee Clarke) Apgar. She had two siblings, one of whom died young of tuberculosis while the other had a chronic illness. Mr. Apgar was an amateur scientist, and may have encouraged his daughter to share this interest. By the time she graduated from high school in 1925, she knew that she want to be a physician. She supported herself through college, earning her bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1929. She earned her medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPS) in 1933, graduating fourth in her class, and completed her residency in surgery there in 1937. But widespread reluctance to hire women surgeons, combined with the economic pressures of the Great Depression, her own debts, and the advice of her mentor, made her change direction.

She was accepted into the residency program in anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1937. This was the nation’s first academic department of anesthesiology, founded by Ralph M. Waters, M.D., and she was Waters’ first woman resident. She then took further training under Emory A. Rovenstine, M.D., at Bellevue Hospital. The influence of Dr. Waters on the profession of anesthesiology was profound, as both a leader and an educator. This was not least because a high percentage of his trainees went on to teach and to found new anesthesia departments, as did Dr. Apgar herself. In 1938 she was hired as the director of the new anesthesiology division at CPS. In the early 1940s her division became a separate department, but Dr. Apgar was passed over for the director’s position. Instead, she was made a full professor, the first woman at CPS to be granted this status.

Her subspecialty was obstetric and perinatal anesthesia, which gave her ample scope to observe the mid-20th Century phenomenon of an increasing number of women being given inhalation analgesia (pain relief) during labor. This coincided with an increasing number of newborn fatalities. She suggested that the inhaled anesthetic, shared with the fetus through the mother’s bloodstream, was causing respiratory failure in newborns. Faced with skepticism, she famously retorted “Nine months’ observation of the mother surely warrants one-minute observation of the baby.”

Dr. Apgar and her associates went on to conduct research that proved her theory was correct. In 1953, she announced these findings, and proposed a system for evaluating the newborn, now known as the Apgar Score. This measures five observable signs: heart rate, respiratory rate, muscle tone, reflexes, and color. The newborn is assessed one minute after birth, and again five minutes after birth. A number of 0, 1, or 2 is given to each sign and the score is totaled. A low score indicates that the infant needs immediate respiratory support. Use of the Apgar Score soon became standard practice. This also resulted in improved obstetric care. Routine inhalation analgesia during labor was abandoned in favor of epidural anesthesia, which poses fewer risks to both mother and child. The Apgar Score has saved millions of lives around the world.

Dr. Apgar continued to do research and trained hundreds of medical students in her 20-year career at CPS. Widely recognized for her many contributions to both anesthesiology and perinatology, she also became a sought-after speaker. After retiring from CPS in 1959, Dr. Apgar earned a master ‘s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She was hired by March of Dimes in 1959 as head of the division on congenital birth defects. Ten years later she became head of the March of Dimes research program. From 1965 to 1971 she lectured in pediatrics at Cornell University School of Medicine, and then from 1971 to 1974 she was a clinical professor at Cornell. She died on August 7, 1974.

During her lifetime Dr. Apgar broke many barriers and won many honors, including the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Distinguished Service Award in 1966,and the CPS Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 1973. On October 24, 1994, twenty years after her death, the U. S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in her honor.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains only a few items that belonged personally to Dr. Apgar. The majority consists of biographical materials, and reprints of her publications. The collection includes most of the annual form letters that she sent to her friends and colleagues, called “Ginnygrams”. The collection also contains information about the creation of the postage stamp that honors Dr. Apgar, and samples of the First Day Covers that were issued by the U. S. Postal Service on October 24, 1994.


The collection does not contain the records of Dr. Apgar’s family or education, nor her work for Columbia University, March of Dimes nor Cornell University.

Related collections at WLM

The Ralph M. Waters Manuscript Collection contains only a small amount of correspondence with Dr. Apgar, and some group photographs of the Aqualumni that include Dr. Apgar. Miguel Colon-Morales, M.D., inventor of the Apgar Score Timing Board, was one of Dr. Apgar’s trainees. Also see collection number MMR 28, containing a letter written by Bernard B. Sankey, M.D. to Dr. Apgar.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in four Series: Biographical, Correspondence, Writings and Memorabilia. The contents of each folder in the Writings Series are arranged alphabetically by title. The contents of all other folders are arranged in chronological order.

Related WLM Collections:

Ralph M. Waters Manuscript Collection, Aqualumni Series

MMS 36, Miguel Colon-Morales Collection

Other Related Collections:

Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, Virginia Apgar Collection.

Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, Virginia Apgar Papers.

Columbia University, Archives and Special Collections. Virginia Apgar materials

National Library of Medicine, Profiles in Science, The Virginia Apgar Papers.


Multiple donations.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Judith Robins, December 2002.

Finding aid revised by Judith Robins, January 2022.

Finding aid encoded in EAD3 by Liz Phillips, April 2023.


Calmes SH. “Virginia Apgar, M.D.: at the forefront of obstetric anesthesia.” American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter October, 1992; 56(10):9-12.

Mhyre J, Wong C. “The Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology 2014 annual meeting: The first annual Virginia Apgar collection.” Anesthesia & Analgesia May, 2015; 120(5):959-961.

National Library of Medicine website. (Accessed February 25, 2021.)

Public Broadcasting System website. (Accessed February 25, 2021) website. “Virginia Apgar.” (Accessed February 25, 2021.)

Zoffer, Berthold. “Ginnie Apgar revisited.” NYSSA Sphere July-August, 1974; 26(4):20-22.

Container List

General, 2002.
Box FF
1 1 Finding aid, December, 2022.


Biographical Series, 1936-2005.
Box FF
1 2 Biographical, 1936-2001.
2 Virginia Apgar. (Membership application), February 13, 1936.
New York Society of Anesthetists Archives.
2 Virginia Apgar. (Membership application), September 2, 1959.
American Society of Anesthesiologists Archives.
2 [The cover this month column.] American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. February, 1951;15(2):1-2, February 1951.
© 1951 American Society of Anesthesiologists
2 [News item.] Distinguished service award. American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. December, 1961:25(12):4, December 1961.
2 [News item.] Her name is a lifeline for newborns. New York World-Telegram., December 19, 1961.
2 [Press release.] Virginia Apgar, M.D., M.P.H. Public Relations Department, National Foundation-March of Dimes, December, 1965.
2 [News item.] Apgar on Apgar – making of a training film. Medical Tribune. February 12-13, 1966:18-19, February 12-13, 1966.
2 [News item.] Dr. Ginnie Apgar’s remarkable career. National Observer. June 6, 1966;5(23), June 6, 1966.
2 [News item.] Guardian of the newborn. Women’s Day. September, 1966.
2 [Awards column.] Virginia Apgar, M.D. Modern Medicine. January, 1968:43, January, 1968.
2 [News item.] For healthier babies. Medical World News. November, 1968;58-63, November, 1968.
2 [News item.] Dr. Apgar given 3 science awards, honorary degree. Medical Tribune. June 20, 1973, June 20, 1973.
2 Zoffer B. Ginnie Apgar revisited. NYSSA Sphere. July-August, 1974:26(4):20-22, July-August, 1974.
2 Calmes SH. Virginia Apgar: a woman physician’s career in a developing specialty. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association. November-December, 1984;39(6):184-188, November-December, 1984.
2 Calmes SH. Virginia Apgar, M.D.: at the forefront of obstetric anesthesia. American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. October, 1992;56(10):9-12, October, 1992.
2 Steinbeck, D. Virginia Apgar, M.D., P.H.D. (1909-1974). October 24, 1994, October 24, 1994.
2 Calmes SH. And what about the baby? Virginia Apgar and the Apgar score. American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. September, 1997;61(9):20-22, September, 1997.
Reprinted with permission American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter, September 1997, Vol. 61, No. 9.
2 [News item.] Virginia Apgar, M.D., notable woman of the 20th century. American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. February, 1999:63(2):24, February, 1999.
2 [News item.] Virginia Apgar shaped the future of anesthesiology. Anesthesiology News. November, 2000;26(11):1 and 59-61, November, 2000.
2 [Editorial.] The Apgar score in the 21st century. New England Journal of Medicine. February 15, 2001;344(7):519-520, February 15, 2001.
3 Obituaries, 1974-1975.
3 [Names in the News column.] Dr. Virginia Apgar. Medical World News. August 23, 1974:54, August 23, 1974.
3 [Medical News column.] Virginia Apgar, MD, birth defects pioneer, dies at 65. Journal of the American Medical Association. September 16, 1974;229(12):1570, September 16, 1974.
3 [Communiqués column.] The Apgar score: a living, working memorial. Canadian Medical Association Journal. November 2, 1974;111:1022 and 1025, November 2, 1974.
3 James LS. Memories of Virginia Apgar. Teratology. December, 1974;10(3):212-215, December, 1974.
3 Brand L. Virginia Apgar 1909-1974. Physicians & Surgeons Quarterly. Winter, 1975:27 and 30, Winter, 1975.
3 James LS. Fond memories of Virginia Apgar. Pediatrics. January, 1975;55(1):1-4, January, 1975.
3 [Editorial Capsules column.] On Virginia Apgar. Medical Tribune. March 12, 1975, March 12, 1975.
3 Westfield Bicentennial Heritage Committee Role of Women Committee. Westfield woman doctor famous for Apgar score, 1975.
4 Memorials, 1972-1996.
4 [Announcement.] Virginia Apgar Award in Perinatal Pediatrics, October 21, 1975.
4 [News item.] First Virginia Apgar Scholar selected. Mt. Holyoke Now. January, 1977:2, January, 1972.
4 [Brochure.] Third Annual Virginia Apgar Seminars brochure. Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Miami Beach, Florida, 1977.
4 [Medical News & Perspectives column.] Apgar Quartet plays perinatologist’s instruments. Journal of the American Medical Association. December 25, 1996;276(24):1939-1940, December 25, 1996.
4 Calmes SH. Virginia Apgar, M.D. inducted into National Women’s Hall of Fame. American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter. December, 1995;59(12):25-26, December, 1995.
5 Apgar Score, 1959-2005.
5 Ahvenainen EK, Veistola T. Evaluation of the newborn infant. Annales Paediatr. 1959;5(1):27-32, 1959.
5 [Brochure.] Apgar on Apgar. Pediatric basics, Gerber Products Company, 1967.
Transcript of a 16 mm sound/color film.
5 [News item.] Dr. Apgar favors new test to rate condition of newborn. Medical Tribune. April 24, 1974:3, April 24, 1974.
5 Jepson HA, Talashek ML, Tichy AM. The Apgar score: evolution, limitations and scoring guidelines. Birth. June, 1991;18(2), June, 1991.
5 Casey BM, McIntire DD, Leveno KJ. The continuing value of the Apgar score for the assessment of newborn infants. New England Journal of Medicine. February 15, 2001:334(7):467-471, February 15, 2001.
5 Papile L-A. The Apgar score in the 21st century. New England Journal of Medicine. February 15, 2001;334(7):519-520, February 15, 2001.
5 Finster M, Wood M, Raja S. The Apgar score has survived the test of time. Anesthesiology. April, 2005;102(4):855-857, April, 2005.
6 Anesthesia Report, 1942.
7 American College of Anesthesiologists fellowship certificate, 1948.
8 City of Hope Citation, 1973.
9 Postage stamp.
10 First Day Covers, October 24, 1994.


Correspondence Series, 1941-1973.
Box FF
1 11 Correspondence, 1941-1971.
11 Application form for residency at Presbyterian Hospital, New York, with cover letter by Dr. Apgar to Helene Mayer, October 10, 1941.
11 Photocopy of letter from Apgar to Dr. Eva Kavan, ND.
11 Letter to Apgar from Dr. Murdina Desmond, May 11, 1961.
11 Photocopy of letter from Apgar to Dr. Vincent Collins, March 14, 1971.
12 Ginnygrams, 1950-1959.
12 1950.
12 1951.
12 1952.
12 1953.
12 1954.
12 1955.
12 1956.
12 1957.
12 1958.
12 1959.
13 Ginnygrams, 1962-1969.
13 1962.
13 1963.
13 1964.
13 1965.
13 1966.
13 1967.
13 1968.
13 1969.
14 Ginnygrams, 1970-1973.
14 1970.
14 1971.
14 1973.


Writings, 1938-1974.
Box FF
1 15 Bibliography.
16 Reprints A-C, 1942-1968.
16 James LS, Weisbrot IM, Prince CE, Holaday DA, Apgar V. The acid-base status of human infants in relation to birth asphyxia and the onset of respiration. Journal of Pediatrics. April, 1958;52(4):379-394, April, 1958.
Together with: Weisbrot IM, James LS, Prince CE, Holaday DA, Apgar V. Acid-base homeostasis of the newborn infant during the first 24 hours of life. Journal of Pediatrics April, 1958;52(4):395-403.
16 Apgar V, Stickle G. Birth defects: Their significance as a public health problem. JAMA. April 29, 1968;204(5):79-82, April 29, 1968.
16 Rochberg S, Apgar V. The combined use of ephedrine and epinephrine in spinal anesthesia. Anesthesiology. January, 1942;3(1):49-51, January, 1942.
16 Apgar V, Holaday DA, James LS, Prince CE, Weisbrot IM, Weiss I. Comparison of regional and general anesthesia in obstetrics. JAMA. December 28, 1957;165(17):2155-2161, December 28, 1957.
16 Apgar V. Comparison of results to infant following maternal regional or general anesthesia for delivery. New York State Journal of Medicine. September 15, 1957;57(18):2955-2956, September 15, 1957.
16 Apgar V. Congenital anomalies, 1960. Bulletin Maternal & Infant Health. 1960;7(2):18-13, 1960.
16 Apgar V. Continuous spinal anesthesia. Anesthesiology. September, 1942;3(5):522-529, September, 1942.
17 Reprints D-F, 1939-1973.
17 Apgar V, Holaday DA, James LS, Weisbrot IM, Berrien C. Evaluation of the newborn infant-second report. JAMA. December 13, 1958;168:1985-1988, December 13, 1958.
17 Apgar V. Evaluation of the newborn. In: Obstetrical Anesthesia: The Mother and the Newborn. New York, NY: Pfizer Laboratories Division, 1973, 1973.
17 Apgar V. Experience with Pontocain spinal anesthesia. Anesthesia & Analgesia. September-October, 1939;18(5):241-245, September-October, 1939.
17 Apgar V. Five-minute diagnosis of hidden congenital anomalies. Consultant. June, 1962, June, 1962.
17 Apgar VG, James LS. Further observations on the newborn scoring system. Am J Diseases of Children. October, 1962;104(4):419-428, October, 1962.
18 Reprints G-K, 1960-1972.
18 Mellin G, Apgar V. Hazards to the continuum of genetic potential. Alaska Medicine. September, 1963; 5:61-67, September, 1963.
18 Apgar V. Human congenital anomalies. Am J Diseases of Children. February, 1961;101(2):249-254, February, 1961.
18 Apgar V. Human congenital anomalies, 1968. Sixth Baxter-Travenol Lecture of the International Anesthesia Research Society. Anesthesia & Analgesia. July-August, 1968;47(4):325-329, July-August, 1968.
18 Moya F, Apgar V, James LS, Berrien C. Hydramnios and congenital anomalies. JAMA. August 6, 1960;173(14):1553-1556, August 6, 1960.
18 Andrews BF, Apgar V, Chez RA, Freeman MG, Gluck L, Queenan JT, Warrick L. Identifying high-risk pregnancy in time. Patient Care. September 30, 1972;2(16):19-50, September 30, 1972.
18 James LS, Apgar V, Moya F, Kvisselgaard N, Burnard ED, Brady J, Tuchman W, Crawford JS, Holaday DA. Intragastric oxygen: experimental observations in newborn puppies. Acta Pediatrica. May, 1963;52(3):241-244, May, 1963.
19 Reprints L-O, 1942-1975.
19 Andrews BF, Apgar V, Carrington ER, Chez RA, Finster M, Freeman MG, Gluck L, Kubarych S, Queenan JT, Warrick L. Lowering the risks in obstetrical emergencies. Patient Care. March 15, 1973;7(6):96-141, March 15, 1973.
19 Rochberg S, Apgar V. Metabolic effects of the anesthetic agents. Am J Surgery. August, 1942;New Series 57(2):336-345, August, 1942.
19 Apgar V. Method of evaluation of newborn. Current Medical Digest. December, 1953:71-75, December, 1953.
19 Apgar V, Girdany BR, McIntosh R, Taylor HC, Jr. Neonatal anoxia I: A study of the relation of oxygenation at birth to intellectual development. Pediatrics. June, 1955;15(6):653-662, June, 1955.
19 Apgar V. New and useful facts about mongolism. Consultant. November-December 1963:41-44, November-December, 1963.
19 Andrews BF, Apgar V, Chez RA, Freeman MG, Gluck L, Kubarych S, Queenan JT, Warrick L. New management concepts in high-risk pregnancy. Patient Care. June 1, 1973;7(11):20-49, June 1, 1973.
19 Raafat M, James BB, Apgar V, Borgaonkar DS. A new approach to prenatal diagnosis using trophoblast cells in maternal blood. New Chromosomal and Malformation Syndromes. 1975;11(5):295-302, 1975.
19 Apgar V. The newborn (Apgar) scoring system: Reflections and advice. Pediatric Clinics of North America. August, 1966;13(3):645-650, August, 1966.
20 “Notes on Anesthesia. Prepared for the Medical Students, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University.”.
[NB: Copy transferred from Paul M. Wood, M.D. Collection]
21 Reprints P, 1944-1974.
21 Schach FE. Apgar V. Perinatal asphyxia and psychologic signs of brain damage in childhood. Pediatrics. December, 1959;24:(6):1016-1025, December, 1959.
21 Apgar V, Chez RA, Cochlan SQ, Conrad L, Fish SA, Greenberg BL, Kaplan NA, Krugman S, Mellin GW, Nyhan WL. Prenatal care: which drugs for the pregnant patient? Patient Care. March 1, 1974;8(5):54-66, March 1, 1974.
21 Apgar V. Perinatal problems and the central nervous system. In: Washington, D.C.: The Child with Central Nervous System Deficit. U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1965, 1965.
21 Apgar V. Perinatal sequellae of drugs and anesthetic agents. Harper Hospital Bulletin. May-June, 1966;24(3):135-140, May-June, 1966.
21 Andrews BF, Apgar V, Chez RA, Finster M, Freeman MG, Gagliardi J, Gluck L, James LS, Queenan JT, Warrick L. Priority for the newborn. Patient Care. July, 1974:72-152, July, 1974.
21 Apgar V. Prospectives studies in human teratogenesis. Journées d’enseignment post-universitaires d’anesthésiologie et de réanimation. 1972, 1972.
21 Apgar V. Principles of anesthesia in plastic surgery. Surgical Clinics of North America. April, 1944:474- 479, April, 1944.
21 Apgar V. A proposal for a new method of evaluation of the newborn infant. Anesthesia and Analgesia. July-August, 1953;32(4):260-267, July-August, 1953.
22 Reprints Q-Z, 1938-1974.
22 Apgar V. Recent advances in anesthesia. Medical Woman’s Journal. March, 1940, March, 1940.
22 Apgar V. Recent advances in anesthesia in general practice. Medical Clinics of North America. May, 1940:24(3):613-620, May, 1940.
22 Andrews BF, Apgar V, Chez RA, Finster M, Freeman MG, Gluck L, Queenan JT, Warrick L. Reducing the risks of OB anesthesia. Patient Care. April 1, 1974;8(7):154-174, April 1, 1974.
22 Apgar V. Resuscitation of the newborn. Consultant. January, 1962, January, 1962.
22 Humphreys GH, Moore RL,. Maier HC, Apgar V. Studies of the cardiac output of anesthetized dogs during continuous and intermittent inflation of the lungs. Journal of Thoracic Surgery. April, 1938;7(4):438-451, April, 1938.
22 Apgar V, Kreiselman J. Studies on resuscitation: an experimental evaluation of the Bloxsom air lock. Am J Obstetrics and Gynecology. January, 1953;65(1):45-52, January, 1953.
22 Apgar V. The treatment of untoward effects from nitrogen. Anesthesiology. May, 1942;3(3):265-271, May, 1942.
22 Apgar V. Trends in research in congenital anomalies in North America. Congenital Anomalies. 1965;5(4):222-225, 1965.


Memorabilia Series, 1984, undated.
2 Bound volume: Days To Remember: A Perennial Calendar Dedicated to the Life and Times of Virginia Apgar..
Produced by Columbia University Health Sciences.
Lapel pin featuring the Apgar postage stamp.
Made for Selma H. Calmes, M.D. by a manufacturer in Vermont.
Oversize Manuscript Box Pan American Medical Association membership certificate, 1984.