New Acquisitions: Thomas J. Smith Papers

By , September 16, 2019

Image courtesy of Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the acquisition of the personal and professional papers of Dr. Thomas Jay Smith, Professor of Industrial Hygiene Emeritus at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, formerly known as the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Dr. Smith was Professor of Environmental Health at HSPH from 1977 to 1985 and 1993 to 2012; he directed the Industrial Hygiene Program at HSPH from 1993 to 2011. He also taught at University of Massachusetts Medical School from 1980 to 1985 and directed their Division of Environmental Health from 1989 to 1993. Dr. Smith’s research focuses on how to best characterize environmental exposures for studies of health effects. He collaborated with epidemiologists and toxicologists to analyze exposures to several agents, including sulfur dioxide, silicon carbide dust, gasoline vapors, glass and mineral fibers, arsenic, and diesel exhaust.

The Thomas Jay Smith papers, 1972-2017 (inclusive), which are not yet available for research, consist of notebooks, project files, reports, research, conference records, lectures, and manuscripts related to occupational health.

For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

New Acquisitions: Nancy M. Kane Papers

By , September 9, 2019

Image courtesy of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the acquisition of the personal and professional papers of Dr. Nancy M. Kane, who recently retired from her role as a Professor of Management in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Kane has won numerous teaching awards, and supports case writing and advocates for teaching via the case method. She also directs the Master in Health Care Management Program, an executive leadership program created for mid-career physicians leading healthcare organizations, and teaches in Executive and Masters Degree programs in the areas of health care financial accounting and analysis, payment systems, and competitive strategy. Her research interests have included measuring hospital financial performance, quantifying community benefits and the value of tax exemption, the competitive structure and performance of hospital and insurance industries, nonprofit hospital governance, and the viability of safety-net providers.

The Nancy M. Kane papers, 1970-2018 (inclusive), which are not yet available for research, consist of teaching records, course records, case records, research in hospital finances and financial transparency, records relating to charity care and tax exemptions, US and state health reform records, health care regulation records, Safety Net records, and departmental administrative files.

For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

Dr. Eleanor Mason and Early Research on Basal Metabolic Rate of Indian Women

By , March 5, 2019

Portrait of Eleanor Dewey Mason, circa 1956. Image courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day, it has been a pleasure to research and highlight Dr. Eleanor Mason, a student and visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, now known as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Eleanor Dewey Mason was born in Tura, Assam, India in 1898 to American Baptist missionary parents. After graduating from Newton High School, she earned her BA from Mt. Holyoke College (1919) and an MA from Wellesley College (1921). Her early interest was in zoology as well as missionary work, and after spending a year as a research assistant in genetics with the Carnegie Institute in New York City, she took advantage of an opportunity to become a zoology lecturer in India at Madras University.

On her first furlough from Madras, she came to Boston to pursue an MA (1928) from Radcliffe College. Later, she returned to Radcliffe and earned her PhD (1934). These degrees from Radcliffe involved vital statistic courses taken at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), as well as courses taken at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

It is important to note that at this particular time, women took courses but could not receive degrees from HSPH or HMS. While the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (1913-1921) credentialed women on the same basis as men (with certificates in public health), this practice ended in 1921 with the withdrawal of MIT and an establishment of a Harvard degree-granting school of public health. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to see Dr. Mason listed in the 1927 HSPH course catalog as a vital statistics student, even though she is not considered a graduate of the program.

The time Dr. Mason spent at Harvard was seminal to her professional career. Her early interest in studying systemic zoology expanded to an interest in human physiology or, more specifically, how race and climate influenced metabolism. Dr. Mason also met Dr. F.G. Benedict, Director of the Carnegie Nutrition Laboratory, while studying at Harvard. Dr. Benedict had recently become interested in the possibility of racial differences in metabolism, and his lab provided Dr. Mason with financing and equipment for her research project. With this backing secured, Dr. Mason returned to Madras to resume teaching at the Women’s Christian College and complete her thesis–the first to establish basal metabolic norms for Indian women. This research was exceptional for its time, as Dr. Mason focused on non-traditional subjects. Two copies of Dr. Mason’s 1934 thesis, The metabolism of women in South India, with a note on the vital capacity of the lungs in South Indian women, are available at Harvard from the Center for the History of Medicine and the Harvard University Archives

In 1934 and 1940, Dr. Mason published on the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women in comparison to British and American women who travel from temperate to tropical climates. Her Western research subjects were colleagues who had also come to Madras to teach at the Women’s Christian College. Some of the women experienced a 10% drop in their metabolism as a result of the tropical climate, while others experienced no change at all. Dr. Mason’s results did show consistently that weight decreased and pulse rates fell in warmer climates, and that the basal metabolic rate of South Indian women was decidedly lower than that of British and American women.

In 1942, her research focused more on nutrition in rat models, with the intention of demonstrating the inadequacies of the rice diet common among the poor in South India. A 1945 paper examined the supplementary effects of casein, calcium lactate and butter, singularly or combined, on the growth of young rats. Casein and calcium lactate were found to have a highly significant effect in promoting growth, while butter affected both growth and general condition adversely. Casein, when added to butter, counteracted the negative effect of butter and converted it into a positive effect (Mason 1945). In a 1946 paper, she and her team experimented further with ragi (a cereal crop also known as Eleusine coracana, or “finger millet”) and found that, when substituted for rice, it had a marked stimulating effect on growth directly proportional to the amount given.

In addition to her physiological research in basal metabolism, and after years of teaching, in 1948 Dr. Mason became the third principal of the Women’s Christian College. In this role, she pioneered a home science courses for the students. In 1951, Mt. Holyoke College awarded her a honorary doctorate of science. In 1956, Dr. Mason retired from her role at Women’s Christian College and was invited by the University of Bombay to continue her research in the laboratory of Dr. A. Sreenivasan in the Department of Chemical Technology.

She moved into the Missionary Settlement for University Women, an interdenominational hostel comprised of fifty-eight British and Indian colleagues. Dr. Mason’s laboratory was modest: a room with two beds and measuring equipment, and connected to her own bedroom. Research subjects would be asked to fast for twelve hours. Once they arrived at the lab, they were instructed to lie quietly on one of the research beds and breathe into a spirometer for three eight-minute stretches while Dr. Mason and her assistant Mary Jacob, from Travancore, measured pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. After a day’s work, Dr. Mason would spend her evenings at the missionary leading prayers with the other hostel residents. She stayed in the settlement until 1964, then spent several years as a member of the ecumenical Farncombe Community in England before returning permanently to the United States in 1970.

It is clear from newspaper articles and from personal accounts that Dr. Mason returned to Boston to continue her involvement at the Harvard School of Public Health, likely as a researcher but also potentially as an educator. The Radcliffe Quarterly confirms that Dr. Mason was a visiting scientist at HSPH from 1963-1964. Contemporary faculty such as Joseph Brain and James Butler reflect fondly on their brief overlap with her at the school, including her involvement with physiology research and teaching, now considered part of the Department of Environmental Health.

In addition to her career at Harvard, Dr. Mason was a member of the tertiary Anglican Franciscan group, Christa Prema Seva Sangha, of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. In later life, she served as a communicant and a parish receptionist for the Church of the Advent. She was also part of Windham House, the Graduate Training Center for Women of the Episcopal Church, which was a center for women studying theology and other disciplines.

Dr. Mason passed away in 1995 at the age of 97. Her body was donated to Harvard Medical School before being buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

Although the Center for the History of Medicine does not hold any unpublished records from Dr. Mason besides her thesis, records of her professional career can be found scattered across multiple repositories, including:

I wish to thank Jim Butler, Senior Lecturer on Physiology, for sharing stories and resources about Dr. Eleanor Mason, and for connecting me to the archives at the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, whose secondary source materials served as the backbone of this post. Dr. Mason was a colleague as well as a dear friend of his family, and without his persistence her story likely would have remained dormant in the archives. I also would like to thank Dr. Joe Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, and Yechaan (Eric) Joo, a graduate student at the Harvard Chan School, for their research on Dr. Mason’s publications and her connection to the Department of Environmental Health.

For a complete list of Dr. Mason’s publications, please visit the History of Public Health at Harvard LibGuide.

Harvard Six Cities Study Oral History Project Receives Funding

By , March 1, 2019

Doug Dockery collecting outdoor air samples for the Harvard Six Cities Study. Image courtesy of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Heather Mumford, Archivist for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has received funding from the Dean’s Office and the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard Chan School to immediately begin a Harvard Six Cities Study Oral History Project. In the coming months, Mumford will work closely with those closest to the study, such as Douglas Dockery, Frank Speizer, Francine Laden, John Spengler, and Petros Koutrakis, to identify key topics and narratives for inclusion in the project. The resulting oral history interviews will be recorded, transcribed, and preserved for posterity at the Center for the History of Medicine.

For more information about the project, please contact Heather Mumford.

Center Acquires Midcentury Funding Appeals to Arab Countries

By , January 28, 2019

The Center for the History of Medicine recently acquired donor prospect records of the Office for External Relations at the Harvard School of Public Health, now known as the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Six booklets appealing to Arab companies and governments for funding new buildings at the Harvard School of Public Health, 1966. Image courtesy of Caroline Littlewood.

These donor prospect records document the school’s appeal to secure funding for research, including a 1966 appeal to Arab companies and governments. Among research files and correspondence are six spiral bound booklets. Five booklets address shaikhs of Persian Gulf states; a sixth addresses the government of Libya.

The contents of each book are near-identical. They request funds to complete construction on the new Health Sciences Laboratories in service of the fight against trachoma, bilharzia, and other infectious diseases that afflict populations in those countries.

Each contains an appeal from Dean John C. Snyder and a written presentation, complete with photographs pasted to the page and architectural drawings. The presentation is repeated in two mirrored halves: one in English, one in Arabic.

These booklets and other collection materials are now open to researchers. For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

An illustration of a prospective new HSPH research building on Huntington avenue, which seems to eliminate the presence of the MBTA Green Line. Photo courtesy of Caroline Littlewood.

The Health Sciences Laboratories, which would be built after receiving adequate funding, would be used to research and prevent trachoma, bilharzia, and other infectious diseases. Photo courtesy of Caroline Littlewood.

Center Acquires Records on the History of Computing at Harvard Chan

By , September 13, 2018

Pictured in Cambridge in 2004: Taso Markatos, then the Assistant Dean for Information Technology at Harvard School of Public Health. Staff Photo Justin Ide/Harvard University News Office

The Center for the History of Medicine recently acquired an archival collection from the Department of Information Technology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Specifically, the collection is comprised of executive administrative records from the office of Taso Markatos, former Chief for Information Technology at Harvard Chan, who retired in June 2018. Markatos led the department for 27 years, giving him the distinction of being the longest-running head of any school’s IT department at the University.

The executive administrative files of the Harvard Chan IT department reflect the span of Markatos’ tenure at the school, and date back to the earliest days of computing on the Longwood campus. They provide a unique history of computing and technology trends, service consolidation, system replacements, and rational. This collection also details Markatos’ involvement with various university-level committees, including the CIO Council, the Longwood Medical Area network executive committee, Harvard Green IT working group, Harvard Administrative Innovation Group, & etc.

Although currently closed to research, once opened these records will allow for an excellent case study on the evolution of information technology and management at Harvard. For more information about the collection, contact Public Services at chm@hms.harvard.edu.

Harvard School of Public Health Yearbooks Digitized

By , August 28, 2018

The Center for the History of Medicine, in collaboration with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Alumni Association, recently digitized the school’s yearbook collection, spanning most years between 1952-1971. This digital collection represents all of the copies currently held by the Center for the History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard University.

The digital copies are hosted on Internet Archive, and are discoverable in HOLLIS as well as the Alumni Association’s website.

Other digitized publiations, including a relatively complete collection of course catalogs dating back to the School’s founding in 1913, are listed on a History of Public Health at Harvard LibGuide, created and maintained by the Center.

Center Receives Harvard Six Cities Study Research Data

By , June 4, 2018

Between 1974 and 1977, Harvard Six Cities Study researchers recruited residents who then completed questionnaires about their medical and occupational history, and underwent lung function (spirometry) tests. In this 1961 photo, a spirometer is demonstrated at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Respiratory Health Effects of Respirable Particles and Sulfur Oxides, commonly called the Harvard Six Cities Study, followed the respiratory health and air pollution exposure of children and adults living in six US communities between 1975 and 1988 (Harriman, Tennessee; Portage, Wisconsin; St. Louis, Missouri; Steubenville, Ohio; Topeka, Kansas; and Watertown, Massachusetts). Techniques were advanced to understand indoor, outdoor, and personal exposure to particles, acid aerosol, acid gases, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, among other contaminants. Sponsors of the study included the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The results were stunning. Residents of Steubenville—the city with the dirtiest air among the six studied—were 26% more likely to die almost two years earlier than citizens of Portage, which boasted the cleanest air.  These results paved the way for the nation’s first-ever Clean Air Act regulations on particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter—rules that are now responsible for adding years to thousands of lives.

The historical narrative of the Six Cities Study has been relatively well-captured through numerous publications and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health documentation; however, the long-term custody and preservation of the research data itself had yet to be addressed.

In September 2016, archivists from the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library, met with faculty and researchers involved in the study to establish a plan, and in December 2016, custody of the data was transferred to the Center. Over the following six months, this large collection was rehoused, box listed, and cataloged. In addition to paper, Center staff discovered data in a variety of formats, including legacy media. Archivists also discovered photographs of researchers taking measurements in the field, background correspondence, and records relating to early precursor studies from one of the Harvard Six Cities Study’s early Principal Investigators, Benjamin Ferris.

Legacy media from the Harvard Six Cities Study being reviewed by archivists in June 2017.

In October 2017, after the physical transfer of the records had been completed, Center staff met again with faculty and researchers to better understand the types of data present in the collection and to determine how to facilitate future access. The group also discussed the various types of filters and media present in the collection to appraise their current research value.

Future collaborations are anticipated to help celebrate this significant study and its continued impact and relevance in today’s political climate.

The HOLLIS record relating to the Harvard Six Cities Study’s sponsored project administration records can be viewed here.The study’s original published findings (1993, NEJM) can be read online.

Rare Haitian Reports Donated and Digitized For Access

By , November 10, 2017

One of the four reports from the PISP Project, now digitized and available through the Internet Archive.

The Center for the History of Medicine was recently gifted two sets of the four-volume report, “Projet Intègre de Santé et de Population”, which was co-sponsored by the Division d’Hygiène Familiale of the Ministère de Santé Publique et de Population and the Harvard School of Public Health (now the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), and published in Port au Prince, Haiti between 1978 and 1982.

The reports follow three defined rural populations in Haiti (approximately 30,000 people) from 1974-1978, and include family census forms and vital sign data recorded by both resident home visitors and trained community health workers. The reports are often sought after for reference, although very few volumes exist and all have yet to be translated from the original French.

The first set of reports were donated to the Center by Dr. Gretchen Berggren as part of the Gretchen Glode and Warren L. Berggren Papers, 1967-2010 (inclusive). Gretchen and her late husband Warren launched groundbreaking community health programs in several countries in the developing world, most particularly in Haiti at the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles. Both have been affiliated with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Warren was an associate professor of tropical public health and population sciences from 1972 to 1981, and Gretchen was affiliated with the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies from 1974 to 1989.

A second set of the reports were later donated to the Center for the History of Medicine by Dr. Henry Perry (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health), in recognition of their connection to the Berggrens and the Harvard Chan community.

These four volumes are indeed rare. Prior to the Center’s receipt of the complete sets, only two of the four volumes were available at other institutions. Additionally, the Haitian printing press involved in their distribution had long ago been destroyed during an earthquake. After receiving the reports, the Center quickly cataloged them and financed their digitization, making them available electronically through the Internet Archive.

The reports can now be accessed through the following sources:

  1. Demographie et fecondite. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les éditions Fardin, [1978?]. (Link to digital version)
  2. Recherches sur la medecine traditonnelle : dans l’aire du projet integre de sante et de population du district sanitaire de Petit-Goave. [Haiti] : Departement de la santé publique et de la population, Division d’hygiène familiale, 1979. (Link to digital version)
  3. Enquete sur la nutriton et la sante. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les Ateliers Fardin, [1979?]. (Link to digital version)
  4. Administration et organisation d’un programme communautaire de sante? et de population en milieu rural. Port-au-Prince, Haiti : Les Ateliers Fardin, 1982. (Link to digital version)

 

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