In The Bag

Doctor’s bags have been used for centuries to transport medical equipment, medicine, and supplies on home visits and across hospital wards alike.

Used primarily by physicians, but also by nurses and other professional medical staff, they were traditionally made of leather with a top handle opening into two sections, like the Gladstone bag. Cases, as opposed to bags, were also commonly used.

Doctor’s Gladstone bag. Date unknown.
Case belonging to Dr. Barton Venner, ca 1940’s – 1950’s.

Larger cases included a sometimes complicated combination of drawers, compartments, and pockets, and often extended so that the doctor could view the entire contents of his or her case at once.

The drawers of Dr. J. O. Corbin Jr’s doctor’s case, 1962.
Dr. Norman Wicks’ extendable case. Ca 1950.

More modern doctor’s bags were made of fabrics like canvas and were lighter to carry. They had multiple pockets for separation of instruments and closed with zippers or buckles, allowing for quick access. Bags for specialised purposes, such as Obstetrics or First Aid, were designed.

Dr. Mary Walker’s Obstetrics equipment bag, ca 1950’s.

Written by Jasmin Clark, CALHN Health Museum.