Noël Poynter (1908-1979)
Dr. Noël Poynter, past president of BSHM, was Director of the Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine from 1964 to 1973. He made a number of important contributions to the study of the history of medicine and his influence was felt throughout the world.
Appointed assistant librarian at the Wellcome Museum and Library in 1930, he worked with Sir Henry Wellcome on the classification and display of the Wellcome Collection, going on to compile catalogues of the contents of the Library. Later as Director he was able to consolidate this early work, further improving the Collection and the Library.
Poynter devoted much time and energy to societies devoted to the study of the history of medicine. He was a prime mover in the founding of the Faculty of the History of Medicine of the Society of Apothecaries in 1958.
He was an active member of the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Médecine, contributing to its reorganisation. He went on to become Secretary-General and then President of the International Academy of the History of Medicine. His links with American historians led to his appointment to the editorial board of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences.
His term as President of the British Society of the History of Medicine, included the organising of the BSHM Congress in London in 1972.
Poynter was a prolific author, a regular contributor to journals and author of a series of books, many of which dealt with medicine in Tudor and Stuart times. These included The Selected Writings of William Clowes (1544-1608), A Seventeenth Century Doctor and His Patients: John Symcott, William Harvey: Lectures on the Whole of Anatomy.
In 1961 he published A Short History of Medicine, a brief account of the evolution of
medicine aimed at a younger readership, while Medicine and Man (1971) addressed social aspects of the history of medicine.
One of his greatest literary legacies was the journal Medical History which he founded and then edited from 1957 until 1973.
In the biennial Poynter Lecture the BSHM commemorates Noël Poynter’s many and varied contributions to the study of the history of medicine.