Online Exhibits@Yale

Mildred Codding, medical illustrator

Mildred Codding illustrating in the pathological laboratory near Harvey Cushing's office

Photograph by Richard U. Light, courtesy of the Harvard Medical School Archives at the Countway Library of Medicine

Mildred Codding

Mildred Codding (1902-1991) was Harvey Cushing's medical illustrator from 1928 until his retirement from the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1932. A native of Somerville, Massachusetts, Codding graduated from Wellesley College in 1924 and earned a master's degree in zoology from Columbia University in 1926.

After just one year of post-graduate study as a medical illustrator at Johns Hopkins University, Codding was selected to begin part-time work with Dr. Cushing in Boston. In a later interview, Codding stated that Dr. Cushing, who was a talented illustrator in his own right and a highly particular man in general, "was not easy to illustrate for." Codding is shown here drawing in Cushing's pathology lab in 1932.

Illustration from "Tumors Arising From the Blood Vessels of the Brain"

Proof of illustration from Tumors Arising From the Blood-Vessels of the Brain (1928)

Mildred Codding trained as a medical illustrator at Johns Hopkins University under Dr. Max Brödel, the pioneer of the "carbon dust" technique commonly used in 20th century medical and scientific illustrations. The medical artist applies powdered graphite from grated pencils—the carbon dust—to the drawing using a dry brush in order to create shadows and textured areas. The artist creates highlights by removing the dust from the drawing with a sharp tool or hard eraser, or by adding white paint. The use of this technique results in a more detailed and realistic representation of living tissue, compared with traditional methods of illustration.

This illustration by Mildred Codding from Tumors Arising From the Blood-Vessels of the Brain (1928) by Dr. Cushing and Dr. Percival Bailey is a particularly vivid example of the carbon dust technique. Dr. Cushing preferred a less realistic style of illustration that used fine lines rather than carbon dust to create shading and texture, and he would often ask Codding to redo her illustrations according to this preference.

Tea-time at the Harvard Laboratory of Surgical Research

Photograph by Richard U. Light, courtesy of the Harvard Medical School Archives at the Countway Library of Medicine

Tea-time at the Harvard Laboratory of Surgical Research

Mildred Codding, second from right, is shown here having tea with other members of the Harvard Lab of Surgical Research in 1931 or 1932. 

Sketch from "Intracranial Tumors" (1932) Proof from "Intracranial Tumors" (1932)

Work in progress

This sketch (above) and proof (below) reveal a portion of the process by which Mildred Codding and Dr. Cushing worked together to prepare illustrations for publication.

Subtle changes can be identified between the drafts, and a note in pencil by Dr. Cushing in the margins of the sketch reads: "too big a nose." The original, larger nose and brow, which Codding erased and redrew, are still faintly visible on the sketch to the left.

This illustration appeared as Figure 63 in Dr. Cushing’s book Intracranial Tumors: Notes upon a Series of Two Thousand Verified Cases with Surgical-Mortality Percentages Pertaining Thereto (1932).

Proof from "Meningiomas" (1938)

Proof from Meningiomas (1938)

Mildred Codding's operative drawings and anatomical diagrams can be found on nearly every page of Dr. Cushing and Dr. Eisenhardt's 1938 retrospective book Meningiomas: Their Classification, Regional Behavior, Life History, and Surgical End Results.

Because many of the surgeries described in Meningiomas took place before Codding's tenure as Dr. Cushing's illustrator began in 1928, Codding had to illustrate procedures for which she was not actually present. To do this, she used photographs from the surgeries as well as Dr. Cushing's own postoperative sketches, drawn on hospital letterhead, as references. A proof of a Mildred Codding illustration from Meningiomas is shown here.

The medical artist, Mildred Codding, at work during an operation at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, circa 1950s

Photograph by Russell B. Harding, courtesy of the Brigham and Women's Hospital Archives

Medical illustrator Mildred Codding during an operation at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, ca. 1950s

After Dr. Cushing's move to Yale University in 1933, Mildred Codding stayed on at the Brigham Hospital in Boston, where she performed operative photography for Dr. John Homans and Dr. David Cheever.

Codding did not consider photography to be her forte, however, and she resumed drawing with Dr. Elliott Cutler and Dr. Robert Zollinger in the mid 1930s, providing the illustrations for their Atlas of Surgical Operations (1939). Her next major work was the Atlas of Pelvic Operations (1953) by Dr. Langdon Parsons and Dr. Howard Ulfelder of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The above photograph from the 1950s shows Codding in action at the Brigham Hospital, observing and sketching an operation.

Illustration from Zollinger's Atlas of Surgical Operations, 8e

Immortality in print

Mildred Codding left the Brigham in 1968. Even after her retirement, she spent 12 years working with Dr. John Shillito on his Atlas of Pediatric Neurosurgical Operations, which was published in 1981. In her later years, Codding retired to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where she enjoyed making watercolor paintings of the landscapes and scenery around her home. She died on August 3, 1991 in Eastham, Massachusetts.

Today, Zollinger's Atlas of Surgical Operations, as it is now known, is in its 10th edition, and the step-by-step atlas is still considered a staple of surgical education. Although Codding's work has been joined by that of other artists, her illustrations, including the one shown here, still grace the pages of this gold-standard reference.

Mildred Codding, medical illustrator