Gretchen Worden

Gretchen Worden

Shanghai Municipality, China
Death 2 Aug 2004 (aged 56–57)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Unknown
Memorial ID 21078758 · View Source
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Gretchen Worden was the director of the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, PA. Besides The Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, obituaries also appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, The New York Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), and The Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA).

The Philadelphia Inquirer; Wednesday, August 4, 2004, Section B Page 7:

"Gretchen Worden
56, director of the Mutter Museum, who transformed a collection of sublime anatomical medical oddities and history into a work of art that spoke for itself, died Monday of respiratory failure at Hahnemann University Hospital. Before Ms. Worden's arrival in 1975, the Mutter Museum was nothing more than an eccentric collection that very few people knew about and even fewer visited. Today, it is a true museum, drawing more than 60,000 visitors annually and enjoying a worldwide reputation. It has a successful gift shop and is the subject of one of the most unusual coffee-table books ever published. Ms. Worden brought energy and imagination to the staid museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Ms. Worden's understanding and enthusiasm for the pathological items - including Chief Justice John Marshall's bladder stones; a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland's mouth; and the shared liver of the famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng - enabled her to win friends for the museum. "She transformed the Mutter from a collection of bones into a work of art that spoke for itself," said Philadelphia-born comedian Teller. "It was still a serious academic venture, and to serious students it really told you a lot about the history of medicine. She welcomed other kinds of interest, though. For photographers and artists, it became about the beauty and horror of nature." Ms. Worden, who lived in the Art Museum area, did not find the specimens monstrous but thought of them as having their own special and important stories to tell, displaying them in ways that highlighted the tension between attraction and repulsion. She encouraged photographers and artists to consider the collection's innate beauty. The New York team of Gwen Akin and Allan Ludwig were among the first photographers to do so. Their photographs, and others, were displayed in a calendar she commissioned in 1992. The calendar sold its first run of 3,500 in a snap. The appeal of the calendars led to the publication of Ms. Worden's best-selling book, Mutter Museum. Science and art intersect in the 200-page work, holding the artistic photographs of such renowned photographers as Steven Katzman, Rosamond Purcell and William Wegman and historical photographs one would find in a medical text or a sideshow. Particularly striking are Katzman's snapshot of a skull showing the nerves and arteries along with dried dahlias and Wegman's portrait of a weimaraner with a model of a typhus-ridden foot and ankle. "In most museums you go to look at objects," she wrote in the book's preface. "In the Mutter Museum, sometimes the objects seem to be looking at you." Ms. Worden worked her way up in the museum - the only place she ever worked - first as curator in 1982 and finally as its director in 1988. She worked until a few weeks before her death. "It was the only job she ever wanted," recalls her cousin, Nina Tafel. Ms. Worden's fascination with the weird began when she was a little girl growing up in Media, where her family had settled after living in Shanghai, China, and Moncilieri, Italy. She started collecting conjoined objects such as M&Ms and dolls, and odd or suggestive food items, said her friend Janice Wilson Stridick. As a young woman, she started collecting cow creamers, and as an adult she amassed an international toilet-paper collection. She also collected model and stuffed rats. She graduated from Penncrest High School in 1965, earned a bachelor's degree in physical anthropology in 1970 from Temple University, and then set her eyes on working at the Mutter Museum. "She worked among the artifacts of death and had fun with it - it was perfect for her," said her friend Christine Ruggere, associate director of the Institute of History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. As the museum's reputation grew, so did hers. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris featured her story in his First Person television series; David Letterman invited her to be on his show three times; and NPR's Terry Gross interviewed her for a Fresh Air segment. Ms. Worden had her life exactly the way she wanted it, Stridick said. "Although Gretchen had many suitors over the years, she never married. She did not want to compromise her independence." Ms. Worden is survived by her sisters, Jen and Ethelwyn, and a brother, Dexter. A memorial service is to be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 S. 22d St. Memorial donations may be sent to the college to the preserve the Mutter Museum."

The New York Times, Sunday, August 8, 2004, Page 34:

"Gretchen Worden, 56, Museum Director
Gretchen Worden, who helped make the Mutter Museum of medical oddities a tourist destination, died here on Monday. She was 56.
She died after a brief illness, said Dr. Mark Hochberg, chief executive of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which operates the museum. The Mutter Museum was founded in 1849 as a teaching tool for medical students. Under Ms. Worden's watch as director, the downtown Philadelphia museum began attracting tourists interested in its macabre exhibits, which include malformed skeletons, a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland and a plaster cast of the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker. After Ms. Worden became director in 1988, attendance grew from a couple of hundred visitors annually to 60,000 visitors last year, Dr. Hochberg said. Ms. Worden, who graduated from Temple University in 1970, joined the Mutter Museum as a curatorial assistant in 1975. She is survived by two sisters, Ethelwyn Worden of Iceland and Jen Worden of Albuquerque; and a brother, Dexter Worden of Newark, Del."

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  • Created by: Donna Di Giacomo
  • Added: 22 Aug 2007
  • Find a Grave Memorial 21078758
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Gretchen Worden (1947–2 Aug 2004), Find a Grave Memorial no. 21078758, ; Maintained by Donna Di Giacomo (contributor 16208410) Unknown.