Providing Remote Services and Support

By , March 24, 2020

The Center for the History of Medicine’s Holmes Hall reading room is currently closed due to COVID-19 precautions, but staff continue to provide remote support. Please contact chm@hms.harvard.edu for more information.

Incunabula volume, 1496

Conciliator differentiarum philosophorum et medicorum, 1496

Center staff provide the following services:

  • Schedule comprehensive consultations online (Zoom) or phone
  • Provide support for students, researchers and faculty during online office hours. (Please sign up in advance and a link will be provided.)
  • Assist in making arrangements for future visits and projects.

Online Resources:

Start your research remotely with the help of our collections’ online finding aids, and LibGuides. Other useful digital resources include:

  • OnView: the Center’s primary portal to digitized content and exhibits
  • Medical Heritage Library: online access to thousands of rare books, journals, pamphlets, and other items digitized as part of the Medical Heritage Library, Inc.’s consortium
  • Dataverse: Research data available from Center collections
  • Colonial North America: A Harvard Library project involving manuscript materials that relate to 17th- and 18th-century North America including items relating to science, medicine and health
  • Fredrick Stare papers: In collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, the professional collection of Fredrick Stare, founder of the Department of Nutrition at the now T.H. Chan School of Public health, is digitally available.
Warren Anatomical Museum Gallery

Warren Anatomical Museum Gallery

For even more open access resources provided through Harvard Library, please check this evolving list.

 

Follow us for further information and updates on Twitter and Instagram @HarvardHistMed

Now Accepting Applications for the 2020-2021 Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation Research Fellowship

By , March 24, 2020

The Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation Research Fellowship

Application deadline is May 31, 2020

Details

The Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation is pleased to provide one $5,000 grant to support travel, lodging, and incidental expenses for a flexible research period between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Foundation Fellowships are offered for research related to the history of women to be conducted at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Preference will be given to:

  • projects that engage specifically with the history of women physicians, other health workers, or medical scientists; proposals on the history of women’s health issues will also be considered
  • those who are using the Center’s Women in Medicine collections; however, research on the topic of women in medicine using other material from the Countway Library will be considered
  • applicants who live beyond commuting distance of the Countway; however, all are encouraged to apply, including graduate students

In return, the Foundation requests a one page report on the Fellow’s research experience, a copy of the final product (with the ability to post excerpts from the paper/project), and a photo and bio of the Fellow for web and newsletter announcements. The Fellow will also be asked to present a lecture at the Countway Library.

Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation logo

Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation logo

Application Requirements

Applicants should submit a proposal (no more than five pages) outlining the subject and objectives of the research project, length of residence, historical materials to be used, and a project budget (including travel, lodging, and research expenses), along with a curriculum vitae and two letters of recommendations by May 31, 2020. The fellowship proposal should demonstrate that the Countway Library has resources central to the research topic.

Applications and supporting documentation should be emailed to the Center for History of Medicine via chm@hms.harvard.edu. Please include “Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation Research Fellowship” in the subject line. Questions may be directed to chm@hms.harvard.edu or (617) 432-7702.

 

Partnering Organizations

The Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation, formerly the Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine, was founded with the strong belief that understanding our history plays a powerful role in shaping our future. The resolute stand women took to establish their place in these fields propels our vision forward. We serve as stewards to the stories from the past, and take pride in sharing them with the women of today. Our mission is to preserve and promote the history of women in medicine and the medical sciences, and we look forward to connecting you to our collective legacy that will empower our future.

The Archives for Diversity and Inclusion, formerly the Archives for Women in Medicine, is a program of the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The program’s goal is to ensure the Center’s collections reflect the diversity of the Harvard Medical School community by acquiring the research, teaching, and professional records of underrepresented faculty, including women. Learn more about collections open to research on our Women in Medicine Collections page.

Established in 1960 as a result of an alliance between the Boston Medical Library and the Harvard Medical Library, the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is the largest academic medical library in the United States. The Countway Library maintains a collection of approximately 700,000 volumes. The Center for the History of Medicine’s collection of archives and manuscripts, numbering between 15-20 million items, is the largest collection of its kind in the United States. Collections include the personal and professional records of physicians from the medieval and Renaissance periods through the twentieth century, including the professional papers of many renowned Harvard faculty members as well as physicians and scientists from New England and around the country.

The 2019-2020 Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine Research Fellow is Heather Munro Prescott, Ph.D. Previous fellows include Carla Bittel, Maria Daxenbichler, Jordan Katz, Kate Grauvogel, Louella McCarthy, Rebecca Kluchin, Ciara Breathnach, Carrie Adkins, and Hilary Aquino.

 

The BackBlog: Color Perception and Cards of Wool

By , March 19, 2020

This object came up in one of the first boxes we took off the shelf for our backlog project, while a group of Center staff was still trying to figure out exactly what our sorting process was going to be like. When we first opened the box and saw all of the yarncovered cards we were confusedThis looked more like a crafting set than a medical device. We were even a bit concerned that this box might have been donated to the museum in order to display a set of toxic dyes. But when we saw the name “B. Joy Jeffries” on the stationary in the box, we knew that it must be some sort of color blindness test. 

Photograph of a wooden box containing 24 wooden cards. Each card is wrapped in a different color of yarn with varying striped patterns.

Donders’ test for color blindness. From the Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (WAM 22251)

Benjamin Joy (B. Joy) Jeffries (1833-1915) was a 19th century ophthalmologist. His work focused primarily on the causes and identification of color blindness. He even wrote a book titled: Color Blindness: Its Dangers and Its Detection. His writing on the subject is extensive and passionate. At the time that Jeffries was writing, color blindness was not commonly identified. It was a seriouhazard for railroad workers and people in similar occupations. A misinterpreted signal due to not seeing the right colors could result in a dangerous or even deadly situation. Jeffries’ work on the subject and advocacy for testing resulted in a much deeper understanding of color blindness and a safer railroad system. 

Identifying this particular test, however, was a bit of a challenge. It was labeled as “Holmgren’s Worsteds” in our accession record and on a label accompanying the objectHolmgren’s method of identification was Jeffries’ preferred method, and he wrote about it extensively. But while that test uses the same type of yarn, it involves matching small yarn bundles of the same color. Jeffries’ description made it clear that the object we found was not Holmgren’s test. 

Photograph of a piece of stationery with handwritten notes describing Donders' test for colorblindness. B. Joy Jeffries' name is imprinted at the top of the paper.

Description of test written on B. Joy Jeffries’ stationery, found with WAM 22251

Based on the methods listed in Jeffries’ book, this is most likely Donders’ test. This test was developed in 1879 by the ophthalmologist Franciscus Cornelis (F. C.) Donders (1818-1889). Jeffries describes Donders’ test as being made up of a set of wooden cards with different colors of wool wrapped around them. On some of the cards, a second color—one that a person who was color blind would not be able to differentiate from the firstwas wrapped over the first, and the subjects were asked to identify which cards had multiple colors. Like Holmgren’s test, Donders’ test involved a fairly simple procedure that wouldn’t have needed the complicated equipment like colored lights and spinning disks that some other methods required.  

Although he preferred Holmgren’s method, it is not surprising to find another type of testing amongst Jeffries’ collection. It is clear from his book that Jeffries tried every method for testing colorblindness that was available to him. We do have a few other color blindness tests in the museum, but as far as we know, this is the only one that belonged to B. Joy Jeffries. This simple wooden box with different colors of yarn—an object that I had originally thought looked like crafting supplies—turned out to be a fundamental piece in the history of color blindness research.

Center Reading Room Closed Until Further Notice

By , March 16, 2020

Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), starting Tuesday, March 17 and until further notice, the Center reading room is CLOSED to all researchers. We are able to provide limited online reference service.

Please contact us to schedule a remote consultation or ask a reference question at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

 

 

The BackBlog: Dr. Lloyd T. Brown’s Orthopedic Braces

By , February 25, 2020

 

In the early stages of the sorting process for this project, while we were still creating guidelines, I found a child’s leg brace in a box of miscellaneous items. The brace started with a hard shoe at the bottom connected to metal splints, which led up to a leather-covered metal band that went around the waist. The tag attached to the brace stated that it was made for a four of five-year-old child to keep the toes from pointing inwards. Later on, I found five other braces from the series in another box. Some braces were for daytime and some were to wear overnight. The smallest ones were for an infant, and the largest was for an eighteen-year-old.

Photo of a child's orthopedic brace with a shoe and attachments at the hip and knee

Orthopedic brace for a 4-5 year old. The metal post and waistband help to prevent internal rotation of the foot. Circa 1885. From the Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (WAM 13255.006A)

Luckily, each brace had a tag with a description, object number, and accession number. This gave me more information to start with than most objects in the backlog did. I was quickly able to find out that Lloyd T. Brown donated this series of braces to the museum in 1943. Based on my initial reading of the accession record, I was under the impression that Brown was the physician who had created the braces for a child. This made sense, as Brown was an orthopedic surgeon. However, the dates didn’t line up, as the earliest braces were made in 1880—the same year that Brown was born. With a bit more research it became clear that Brown was not the physician attached to these objects, but the patient.Lloyd T. Brown was born with a club foot. He was seen by the orthopedic surgeon Edward Hickling Bradford. At the time, Bradford was working at Children’s Hospital and had recently joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Bradford was well-known in his field. He co-authored “Orthopedic Surgery” in 1890, which was considered the standard text on orthopedics for many years. He was influential in founding the American Orthopedic Association and was the co-founder of the first school in the United States for children with physical disabilities.

Bradford created the orthopedic braces that I found in the backlog and used them as the primary treatment for Brown during his early childhood. However, this was not enough. Brown received tendon surgery, which helped for some time, and then, at the age of eighteen, a surgery to remove a small amount of bone in his foot. Bradford made one more brace for him post-surgery, and while Brown still had difficulties with his foot throughout his life, this was the last brace that he ever needed.

Brown was so inspired by this experience that he followed in Bradford’s footsteps. Like Bradford, Brown attended Harvard Medical School, where he eventually joined the faculty. He worked at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Children’s Hospital, where he specialized in chronic diseases and orthopedic surgery. During his career, Brown had many patients who were children with disabilities similar to his own. Brown wrote about and discussed his own treatment and felt that it put him in a unique position as a doctor, because he could speak to the results of the treatments later in life.

These orthopedic braces show that medical treatment can have an impact on much more than just physical health. They tell the story of a patient who became a doctor. Lloyd T. Brown chose to donate his childhood braces to the museum, suggesting that he wanted that story to be told. And now that we have rediscovered them, we can tell that story once again.

The BackBlog: The Origins of the Polygraph

By , February 18, 2020

Today, most of us are familiar with the polygraph machine, or, as it is commonly called, the “lie detector”. While some people have encountered the device in real life, most of us have learned about it through pop culture. We’ve seen people strapped to them in every procedural show. If a murder suspect fails a polygraph test or refuses to take one, it’s often considered “proof”—if not admissible evidence—that they are the killer. And of course, they’re a stable of daytime television shows that focus on cheating partners and paternity tests.

Because of this, I was surprised to find a polygraph machine in one of the boxes in our backlog. This machine was given to the museum by George Cheever Shattuck (1879-1972) in 1929. Shattuck was a prominent Boston physician, best known for his work in the field of tropical medicine. Why would a physician have a polygraph machine?

Photograph of a Mackenzie Polygraph. The case containing the object is open to show the parts of the object, which are not assembled.

George C. Shattuck’s Mackenzie Polygraph, 1906-1929. From the Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (WAM 22202)

Although the polygraph is known colloquially as a lie detector, that isn’t exactly what it does. The machine detects changes in bodily function that indicate stress, which could be a result of lying. This includes functions like breathing, heart rate, and perspiration—all of which are also important baseline health measurements. With this in mind, it makes sense that the original polygraph machine had nothing to do with lies and criminal investigation: it was actually a medical device.

At the turn of the century, Dr. James Mackenzie (1853-1925) developed the first ink-writing polygraph to track a patient’s irregular heartbeat. While simpler than the polygraph that most of us are familiar with today, this device works in much the same way. It features two rubber tambours, one of which was attached to a vein in the neck and the other to the wrist. These tambours would move with the patient’s pulse, and the waves of this movement would be sent down rubber tubing to two recording arms with needles. Then, the needles would record the pulse as a continuous ink-line on paper. The doctor could simply look at the paper to determine the pattern of a patient’s heartbeat.

At the time that he introduced the machine, there wasn’t an effective way for physicians to track the pattern of a patient’s heartbeat. It was replaced by the electrocardiogram machine (or EKG) shortly after, making the Mackenzie polygraph a short but important segment of the history of cardiology. Mackenzie probably never imagined what his machine would eventually become known for, but nevertheless, his legacy continues to this day.

The BackBlog: The Mystery of the Babcock Tester

By , February 11, 2020

I found this device in a box labeled “Misc. Med Equip / Early Autoclave? / + other un-Id’d stuff”. None of the labels on the box seemed quite right for this instrument. It didn’t look exactly like anything I had come across before. Luckily, the name of the object was right on the side, so it didn’t take too long to figure out what it was. The reason I couldn’t place it was that it wasn’t a medical device at all. It was an agricultural device.

Photo of a babcock tester, with a hand-crank and two centrifuge tubes

Hand-cranked Babcock tester, 1890-1940. From the Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (LEAN0931)

The Babcock Tester was developed in 1890 by Stephen Babcock to detect fat content in milk. The test was simple: place graduated vials of the milk you are testing into a centrifuge like this one and spin them until the milk is separated. Once the milk has separated, you can see the amount of fat that is present in the sample. This tester is a hand-crank model designed for a tabletop, but other iterations included covered centrifuges and table clamps. Sometimes, sulfuric acid was used to remove proteins and other milk components, leaving just the fat.

For the most part, the Babcock test was used by farmers to check the quality of their milk. Sometimes, it was also used to make sure that dairy farmers weren’t diluting their product to stretch the amount of milk they had. The test became incredibly popular and was the primary method for testing milk fat for decades. Not only was it easy and effective, but Babcock refused to patent the device. That made it accessible and affordable as well.

So, if this is an agricultural device, how did the Babcock tester end up in a medical museum? The answer is, we’re not sure. We don’t have any background information on who donated the object or what it was used for.

There are several reasons this Babcock tester could have been collected. It could have been part of a public health initiative regarding nutrition from milk. There might have been a particular physician who was interested in this aspect of nutrition. It’s also possible that someone used this device as a centrifuge for something other than its intended purpose, and it has nothing to do with milk. Hopefully, we will find more information about this device someday, and we will learn how it ended up here. For now, we can only speculate, and the Babcock tester remains one of the mysteries of the backlog.

Staff Finds: Fetal alcohol syndrome education materials

By , February 5, 2020
Covers of pamphlets for expecting parents and "Non-Alcoholic Beverage Recipes" booklet.

Covers of pamphlets for expecting parents and “Non-Alcoholic Beverage Recipes” booklet.

Center staff are currently processing the papers of David Dickinson Potter (1930-2019), who was a founding faculty member in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of the Native American High School Summer Program (now named in honor of Potter and his colleague as the Ed Furshpan and David Potter Native American High School Program). The program began as a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and students, teachers, and community members from Native American homelands, and remains a collaborative program today. Potter hosted groups of Hopi, Lakota, Sioux, Wampanoag, Native Hawaiians, and other Native Americans at Harvard each summer, and he worked with the teachers to develop educational curricula that carefully considered the social factors influencing teenagers who lived on Native homelands. The programs often focused on health issues that impacted the students’ communities, such as addiction and fetal alcohol syndrome. Potter’s voluminous files of articles on the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain attest to his research on neurobiology’s relevance to Native American health. His collection also includes posters, brochures, a word search, a bumper sticker, handwritten notes, and other educational materials about fetal alcohol syndrome from the 1990s.

Pages from "Non-Alcoholic Beverage Recipes" showing recipes for "Berry Blush," "Party Punch," and Water.

Pages from “Non-Alcoholic Beverage Recipes” showing recipes for “Berry Blush,” “Party Punch,” and Water.

This hand-drawn booklet of “Non-Alcoholic Beverage Recipes” was distributed by the Nutrition and Dietetics Training Program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The booklet contains recipes for non-alcoholic cocktails, such as “Honey Nog” and “Party Punch.” The recipe collection,  informational pamphlets, and bumper sticker, are examples of public health outreach materials aimed at educating Native American communities (or the general population), about the effects of alcohol, particularly on developing fetuses. Most items in Potter’s collection were produced by federal or non-profit organizations, but some items were created by Native American organizations. It was Potter’s close work with Native teachers that led to the creation of in-depth high school education resources that combined neurobiology with the students’ own experiences.

Blue bumper sticker with white text reading "A few drinks can last a lifetime. If you are pregnant...don't drink!"

Bumper sticker created by the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

In addition to academic work related to neurobiology and health topics, the Native American High School Summer Programs typically included local outings in Boston, and visits to Potter’s homes in Cambridge, Massachusetts for blueberry pancakes and Woods Hole, Massachusetts for fishing. Potter mentored many students from the program long after their visits to Harvard, supporting them as they pursued higher education.

The finding aid for the Potter collection is forthcoming. Some materials may be restricted. Please contact Public Services staff with any questions.

The BackBlog: The Order of the Bifurcated Needle

By , February 4, 2020

As I was going through one of the boxes in our backlog, I found a small blue box. When I opened it up, there was a lapel pin inside. The pin was in the shape of a circle, with one end that went into the back of the pin and one end that was split like a snake’s tongue. There was also a small piece of paper inside with the words “Order of the Bifurcated Needle” in tiny, neat handwriting. I had a feeling that this Order was different than the Order of Saint Michael or the Knights Templar, and I was curious to learn more about it. What I discovered made this tiny object one of the most exciting things that I have found throughout this project.

Photo of a lapel pin in a blue box. The pin is made from a bifurcated needle that has been twisted into a circle.

Lapel pin from the Order of the Bifurcated Needle, 1976. From the Warren Anatomical Museum in the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (LEAN1158)

In 1966, Donald Ainslie (D.A.) Henderson (1928-2016) became the commanding general of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) smallpox eradication program. Ten years later, he saw that the end of this project was in sight and created something unlike any other honorary organization: The Order of the Bifurcated Needle.

Smallpox was a viral disease that caused a skin rash, resulting in permanent scarring and sometimes loss of vision. The disease had a mortality rate of 30%, with a higher rate amongst infants. Edward Jenner developed a vaccine to protect against smallpox in 1798. The vaccination was given using a bifurcated needle: a short metal rod with a flat, pronged head designed to hold a single dose of the vaccine. As vaccination rates increased amongst developed countries, the disease rate lowered dramatically, but smallpox still proliferated in areas where the vaccine was not easily available. Because of this, WHO determined that smallpox was a good candidate for eradication. They began a campaign for eradication in 1959 but did not see much success until 1966, at which point more funds were allocated to the project and D.A. Henderson became its leader.

At the time that Henderson took on the project, smallpox was endemic in 33 countries. There were an estimated 15 million cases of smallpox every year, with only about 5% reported to health officials. Henderson believed that in order to eradicate the disease, they had to focus on the number of individuals contracting the disease rather than the number of vaccines given. This led him to coin the phrase “Target Zero”, because the goal of the campaign was to see zero cases of smallpox.
After ten years of hard work, Henderson could see that the end was close. He wanted to do something to commemorate the dedication and determination of everyone involved in the eradication process. Together, he and his daughter came up with the idea of the Order of the Bifurcated Needle: an honorary organization whose symbol would be a bifurcated needle twisted into a circle to represent “Target Zero”. Henderson’s daughter, Leigh Henderson, created 700 lapel pins out of the needles, and these pins—along with admittance to the Order—were awarded at the 1976 WHO conference in Geneva. While the order itself may have been a joke, the recognition was sincere. Today, people who were involved in the project still list “Order of the Bifurcated Needle” under their honors.

The last known case of smallpox was reported in 1977, and the WHO declared the disease eradicated in 1980.

Right now, we are not sure who donated this pin to the museum. There was no other information with the box. We are hoping that we can find the answer somewhere in our records.

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