The Smithsonian's interest in the medical sciences dates back to the Toner Lecture series that was established by Joseph M. Toner in 1872. The Secretary of the Institution served on the board of trustees for the fund that supported the series, and the Smithsonian published the lectures, which took place between 1873 and 1890, in its Miscellaneous Collections.
The Smithsonian's collection documenting the history of the medical sciences began with the transfer of a large collection of materia medica from exhibitors at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. This collection was put under the care of the Section of Materia Medica, Department of Arts and Industries, in the United States National Museum in 1881. From 1881 to 1900, the United States Navy detailed a Navy surgeon to act as Honorary Curator of the section. These surgeons included James M. Flint, 1881-1884, 1887-1891, and 1895-1900; Henry G. Beyer, 1884-1887; John C. Boyd, 1891-1892; William S. Dixon, 1892-1893; C. H. White, 1893; C. U. Gravatt, 1893-1894; R. A. Marmion, 1894; and David McMurtrie, 1894-1895.
Following his retirement from the Navy in 1900, Flint volunteered to remain as Honorary Curator and held that position until 1912. In an 1897 reorganization of the United States National Museum, the section became the Division of Medicine, Department of Anthropology. Flint retired from the Division in 1912, and for the next five years it was supervised by Frederick L. Lewton, Curator of the Division of Textiles.
The Division of Medicine again had its own curator in 1917 when Joseph Donner was appointed Assistant Curator. He was succeeded in 1918 by Charles Whitebread, who served as Assistant Curator, 1918-1939, and Associate Curator, 1939-1948. Curators since 1948 have included George S. Thomas, Associate Curator, 1948-1952; George B. Griffenhagen, Associate Curator, 1952-1956, and Curator, 1956-1959; John B. Blake, Associate Curator, 1957-1959, and Curator, 1959-1961; Sami K. Hamarneh, Associate Curator, 1959-1963, and Curator, 1963-1972; and Audrey B. Davis, Assistant Curator, 1968-1970, and Associate Curator, 1970-1977. In 1939, the name of the Division was changed to the Division of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Engineering and Industries. With the establishment of the Museum of History and Technology in 1957, the Division became the Division of Medical Sciences, Department of Science and Technology.