Category: Collections

Charles Wild Papers Open to Research

By , February 11, 2019

Staff at the Center for the History of Medicine are pleased to announce that the Charles Wild papers, 1800-1890 (inclusive), 1830-1870 (bulk) are now open to researchers.

Charles Wild was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in January 1795 to Abraham Wild (1762-1820) and Susannah (Pitman) Wild (1764-1808). Charles Wild received all of his degrees from Harvard University: his bachelor’s degree in 1814, his master’s in 1817, and his M.D. in 1818.

Charles practiced as a homeopathic physician and was one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Homeopathic Medical Society in 1856. He was also a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Charles married Mary Joanna Rhodes (1799-1883) in 1819; the couple had at least six children: Susan, Laura, Mary, Charles, Edward, and Walter. Charles Wild died in May 1864 in North Providence, Rhode Island.

The Charles Wild papers consist of records created and collected by Charles Wild during the course of his work as a homeopathic physician in the towns of Brookline and Boston, Massachusetts, during the first half of the nineteenth century. At least one of Wild’s sons, Edward, practiced with his father and some of his records are included; the younger Charles may also be represented here. Records include financial records relating either to Wild’s medical practice or to household and personal expenses, including animal feed, groceries, lumber, stationery, paint, and clothing.  Also included are small notebooks, some clearly home-made, used by Charles Wild and his son Edward during their daily practice as homeopathic physicians in Brookline and Boston, Massachusetts. The bulk of the notebooks contain notes on patient visits and prescriptions; a smaller number document personal expenses such as meals and lodging.

Rose E. Frisch Papers Open to Research

By , February 4, 2019

~This post was co-written by Faith Plazarin, processing intern, and Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, processing assistant.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the Rose E. Frisch papers, 1921-2014 (inclusive), are open to research.

Rose E. Frisch (1918-2015) was born in the Bronx in New York. She graduated with her B.A. in 1939 from Smith College, which was partly financed by the Leopold Schepp Foundation, an organization founded by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Leopold Schepp for students in need of financial assistance. Frisch graduated with her M.A. from Columbia in 1940 in Zoology, and finally her Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin in 1943.

Rose worked on the Manhattan Project beginning in 1943. She was a computer doing calculations under Kitty Oppenheimer. After the bomb dropped, she left Los Alamos and returned to Boston to work in academia, where Frisch shifted her research focus from animals and reproduction to women’s reproduction. Her area of specialization was the relationship between fat content and female fertility as well as the links between fat content and breast cancer.  Her subjects were usually athletes, including ballerinas, runners, and swimmers, or those with lower fat content, such as women in underdeveloped areas of the world or women who suffered from anorexia nervosa. Frisch was one of the few women in her field of reproductive medicine. She laid the groundwork for the discovery of leptin, a protein hormone involved in the processes she researched. While leptin was not discovered until 1997, in the 1960s Dr. Gordon C. Kennedy of Cambridge University conducted initial experiments relating to a lipostat in rats.  Leptin was later to be discovered and connected to the lipostat’s function. Frisch was involved in confirming the results of Dr. Kennedy’s experiments and were linked to leptin and its connections to fertility over 30 years later. Frisch spent almost her entire academic career at Harvard University, where she taught as an Associate professor of Population Sciences and a worked as a researcher of the Center for Population Studies until she was granted emerita status in 1992.

She was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the John Simon Memorial Guggenheim Foundation. Most of Frisch’s body of published works consists of articles in larger books, journals, or other serial works. However, she was also the lead editor on the scientific volume Adipose Tissue and Reproduction in 1990. Frisch published outside of academia as well. She published a children’s book called Plants that Feed the World in 1966, and a book about her life’s work for a non-academic audience, called Female Fertility and the Body Fat Connection, was published in 2002.  These publications are referenced throughout the collection.

The papers in this collection consist primarily of professional records created and collected by Rose Epstein Frisch during the course of her work as a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health in the Department of Population and Development Studies in Boston, Massachusetts.  The professional papers consist largely of research and reference materials, reprints, publications, and writings. Also included here, are some of her personal records involving her life outside of Harvard, primarily personal correspondence and photographs.

For more information about Rose Frisch, see this article from Schepp Connections Vol. 1 No. 17 2015 (p. 6).

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

#ColorOurCollections 2019

By , January 31, 2019


From February 4th through 8th, cultural institutions from around the world are sharing coloring pages on social media with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

This year, our coloring book includes new and favorite images, anatomical drawings and prints, medical teaching resources, biodiversity, bookplates, and more!

We’re sharing our coloring pages here and on Twitter and Instagram (@HarvardHistMed).

Click here to download our entire 2019 coloring book.

Be sure to share your work using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections and we’ll retweet our favorites!

Continue reading '#ColorOurCollections 2019'»

Staff Finds: The Photography of Mark Rosenberg

By , January 17, 2019

Vietnam War Protestors

While processing the papers of Mark Rosenberg, center staff came across records related to Rosenberg’s activities as a photographer. As a undergraduate at Harvard, Rosenberg was a photographer for the Harvard Crimson and later on his work appeared in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin and the Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin. He accompanied anthropologist and Harvard University faculty member Evon Vogt to Mexico as a photographer as part of the Harvard Chiapas Project. From 1978 to 1980, he was a Tutor in Photography at Radcliffe College.

Starting in 1976, Rosenberg worked on a project to document the human side of injury and illness, as contrasted with the coldness and sterility of medical technology. In his book, Patients: the Experience of Illness (1980), he combined photographs and interviews to show the effects of illness on the lives of six people with different diseases. In an interview after the publication of Patients, Rosenberg discussed the intersection of medicine and photography:

Pictures of sick people are conspicuous by their absence and the segregation of the seriously ill into hospitals and nursing homes ensures that most of us will never see ‘the real thing’. An unfortunate consequence of keeping illness under wraps is that we might come to think that sick people are too horrifying to look at. And if we can’t look at them, we certainly can’t talk to them. In the end, we may leave patients unable to talk about their illnesses with family or friends just when they are most in need of support.

A selection of Rosenberg’s photographs from the collection can be seen below.

Rosenberg (B.A., 1967, Harvard College; M.D., 1972, Harvard Medical School) was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Task Force for Global Health (1999-2016) and worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (1980-1999), helping to establish the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and serving as the first Director (1994-1999).

The processing of the Rosenberg papers is nearing completion and the finding aid will be available soon. For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

James Jackson’s Memoir of James Jackson, Jr.

By , January 16, 2019
First page of James Jackson's 1835 biography of his son, James Jackson, Jr.

First page of James Jackson’s 1835 biography of his son, James Jackson, Jr.

Center staff are currently working on a new finding aid for the James Jackson papers; Jackson was born October 3, 1777 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Jonathan Jackson (1743-1810) and Hannah Tracy Jackson. Before beginning his medical career, he worked as a clerk for his father who continued to work in the state government after he had been a representative of Massachusetts at the Continental Congress. Jackson taught school at Leicester Academy for a year in 1797. He received all of his degrees from Harvard University: his A.B in 1796 and M.D. in 1809. After establishing his own general practice, and while working at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Jackson was named the first professor of clinical medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic (1812-1836) and dean of the Medical School (1820-1821).

After earning his A.B. from Harvard in 1796, James Jackson first studied medicine in Salem under physician Edward Augustus Holyoke (1728-1829). Before completing his M.D., he moved to London and took a job as a surgeon’s dresser at St. Thomas’s Hospital; during his time in
London, Jackson paid particular attention to the emerging practice of vaccination. Jackson returned to Boston in 1800 and opened his own medical practice, which he continued until 1866. He developed expertise in vaccination and became one of the earliest people in America
to investigate the practice experimentally. In 1802, before finishing medical school, he was appointed physician to the Boston Dispensary. In 1803, he became a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and in 1810 he helped to reorganize the Massachusetts Medical Society and to relocate Harvard Medical School from Cambridge to Boston. In 1810, Jackson began the process of founding Massachusetts General Hospital and Somerville Asylum with John Collins Warren. Jackson was the first physician of Massachusetts General Hospital and practiced there from 1817-1837.

Jackson had an extensive publishing career and Center staff were pleased to find that many of his titles had been digitized and were freely available in the Medical Heritage Library, including Jackson’s 1835 memoir of his son, A memoir of James Jackson, Jr., M.D. : with extracts from his letters to his father, and medical cases collected by him. James Jackson, Jr. had been studying medicine in Paris and returned to Boston to enter medical practice with his fater. Unfortunately, Jackson fell ill almost immediately upon his return to the United States and died before he could open his practice.

The memoir includes extracts from Jackson, Jr.’s letters home from Europe as well as lengthy “footnotes” added by Jackson and case notes from Jackson, Jr.’s study. The “footnotes” are almost conversational in nature, opening with something like an open letter to Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis, his son’s teacher in France, about why Jackson, Jr. had not taken some health advice Louis had given him.

Staff Finds: Netter’s Clinical Symposia Illustrations and Other Publications and Pamphlets

By , May 10, 2017
Clinical Symposia 21, no. 1 (January-March 1969). Topics: “The Surgical Treatment of Myocardial Ischemia” and “Surgical Treatment of Cardiac Valvular Disease.” H MS c477

Clinical Symposia 21, no. 1 (January-March 1969). Topics: “The Surgical Treatment of Myocardial Ischemia” and “Surgical Treatment of Cardiac Valvular Disease.” H MS c477. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

While processing the papers of Marie C. McCormick (born 1946), Center staff found a collection of interesting pamphlets and publications on a range of topics. McCormick collected these materials as reference in her professional and research activities. Among those best represented in the collection are issues of the journal Clinical Symposia. The journal was published from 1948 to 1999 by Ciba Pharmaceutical Products, Inc. More than 250 issues of Clinical Symposia were illustrated by Frank Netter, M.D.; many of those illustrations were compiled into the 13 volume The CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations (1953). Even after he retired in the early 1970s, Netter continued to produce illustrations at the astonishing rate of a new image every several days. In 1989, two years before he passed away at the age of 85, Netter published the Atlas of Human Anatomy, which was widely adopted at American medical schools and across the world. In all, Netter painted more than 4,000 medical illustrations during his lifetime (Hansen, 482-483).

Other publications collected by McCormick demonstrate the types of health and parenting advice that were distributed to parents in the late 20th century. They include a 1984 booklet entitled “Childhood Vaccination: Current Controversies,” a 1979 pamphlet entitled “What Parents Should Know about Shoes, Twisted or Bent Legs, and Flatfeet in Children,” which has easy-to-understand diagrams, and an undated booklet entitled “What Are the Facts about Genetic Disease?” which includes charts explaining how dominant, X-linked, and recessive inheritance works.

Also of interest is the graphic design on the covers of pamphlets. “Regional Emergency Medical Communications Systems” (1978) draws the eye with an interesting stylization of a warning light, “The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” (1976) implies a harrowing situation, and “Cleaning Products and Their Accidental Exposure” (1989) subtly connects women with housework through dress-like bottle designs.

These examples and more can be found in the Marie C. McCormick papers, 1956-2016 (inclusive), 1968-2009 (bulk), which are expected to be open to research in spring of 2017. For information regarding access to this collection, please contact Public Services staff. Processing of the collection is part of the Bridging the Research Data Divide project, funded by a Hidden Collections grant administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). For more information on the project, please contact the project’s Principal Investigator, Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Deputy Director of the Center for the History of Medicine.


John T. Hansen. “Frank H. Netter, M.D. (1906-1991): The Artist and His Legacy.” Clinical Anatomy 19 (2006): 481-486.

Documenting and preserving the Warren Anatomical Museum’s medical wet specimen collection

By , November 9, 2016


Specimens on display for Anatomy Day, 2016.

Specimens on display for Anatomy Day, 2016.

From roughly the 1840’s through the 1940’s, the Warren Anatomical Museum (WAM) collected and acquired several hundred anatomical wet tissue specimens from medical institutions and from area physicians and academics. While these specimens were originally on display within the museum, the relocation of the WAM to a smaller venue prompted the move of these specimens into storage. In April of 2015, the Museum Collections Technician, Alex Denning, began the task of cataloguing and documenting these specimens. As is the nature with any biological material, the condition of many of the specimens has deteriorated over time, despite preservation efforts. Throughout the history of collecting and saving specimens, chemical preservatives, such as ethanol (or other alcohols and ‘spirits’), formalin and formaldehyde, and various other chemical combinations, have been used to fix (render inert and stable) and preserve anatomical tissues. There is great variability in the current conditions of these specimens and they vary in subject matter from gross anatomical dissection specimens used in teaching, to pathological specimens retained for educational purposes due to their rarity.

Clavicle with sarcoma.

The task of moving over 800 specimens from museum storage to a laboratory space presented a number of logistical challenges. Due to the nature of the specimens, being housed in a variety of potentially unknown chemical preservatives, relocation of hundreds of medical specimens proves difficult and must be undertaken by special transport. Specimens were properly secured into containers and transported in specialized vehicles to make the journey to the lab. The specimens are now being processed in batches, the first of which contains 300 specimens and is nearing completion.

Processing a historic specimen involves identification, photographing, data collection, cleaning, and repackaging. Each specimen corresponds to a museum number that (hopefully) has documentation on the origins of that particular specimen. Over time, many paper labels have been lost and few specimens have their museum number etched into the glass container or on a tag within the container. This makes identification difficult and many specimens will receive temporary ID numbers until they can be identified through the process of elimination. Within the wealth of information available at WAM and the Center for the History of Medicine (CHoM), often there will be donation or loan histories, and sometimes even patient and surgery information that help to provide context for a particular specimen.

The most important and time-consuming step for each specimen is the data collection. Condition notes are collected, which note the fluid levels and coloration, any deterioration of the specimen, and stability of the container and its seal.  Photo documentation is also a vital step in this process as it records the condition and appearance of a specimen in its found state, which also serves as important data for future processing of specimens. Once documentation is complete, the exterior of the specimen container is cleaned, small cracks are sealed or stabilized, and if possible, a fluid sample is collected for future identification. The specimens are then repacked safely and returned to their storage containers.


Dr. A. T. Hertig, Dept. of Pathology, HMS, using specimens to teach medical students.

Dr. A. T. Hertig, Dept. of Pathology, HMS, using specimens to teach medical students.

As soon as a specimen is fully documented, all data, photographs, and archival information are entered into the WAM database. Efforts are currently underway to make this information available to researchers and the medical community in the future. The project has sought the help of a number of anatomists, pathologists, and medical historians to assess the potential of each specimen for teaching and research purposes. The goal of this project is not just to document and conserve existing specimens, but it is also the hope of the WAM to eventually open specimens up to researchers and scholars upon the project’s completion.


“The Advent of Anesthesia”

By , March 16, 2016

Administration of ether anesthesia

Administration of ether anesthesia [#0003819]

After the February screening of the 1950 MGM film “Mystery Street,” our colleague Sarah Alger at the Paul S. Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation, alerted us to the existence of another medical history film–“The Advent of Anesthesia”, a 1933 silent short produced by the Mallinckrodt Chemical Company.  The film depicts the experiments of William T. G. Morton with ether anesthesia and recreates the first public demonstration of the operation on Gilbert Abbott on October 16, 1846.  The entire film is available on YouTube at: Advent of Anesthesia.

John Peabody Monks as William T. G. Morton [#0003821]

John Peabody Monks as William T. G. Morton [#0003821]

The most unusual dimension of the film is its use of the Ether Dome and other facilities at Massachusetts General Hospital and the casting of MGH staff and personnel, including John Peabody Monks as Morton, Somers Hayes Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott, and Edward D. Churchill as surgeon John Collins Warren.  “The Advent of Anesthesia” was first shown in the Ether Dome itself on May 31-June 2, 1933, before a one-reel version was sent for display at the Century of Progress International Exhibition in Chicago.  Of the film, Dr. Churchill noted that “the widespread interest in the film was evidenced by a brisk demand for tickets that made it necessary to give four or five performances on three successive days.  Members of the present hospital staff and personnel formed the cast and the Ether Dome was restored as far as possible to its appearance in 1846…. Painstaking efforts were made to establish the exact events and personages concerned in the discovery so that the film may be accredited with historical accuracy.”

Somers H. Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott

Somers H. Sturgis as Gilbert Abbott [#0003820]

In addition to copies of a Boston newspaper article about the film, Dr. Churchill kept a file of still photographs of the actors.  Shown here are Drs. Monks, holding a replica of the first inhaler, and Sturgis, with a tumor on the side of his neck.  These photographs along with a selection of others are preserved with the personal and professional papers of Edward D. Churchill [H MS c62], here in the Countway’s Center for the History of Medicine.

Warren Museum device pictured in Harvard Medicine magazine

By , March 1, 2015
Morrill Wyman "Airmeter", 1867-1903, Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (WAM 20155)

Morrill Wyman “Airmeter”, 1867-1903, Warren Anatomical Museum in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (WAM 20155)

An unusual device built by HMS alumnus Morrill Wyman (1812-1903)  is depicted in the  Winter 2015 edition of Harvard Medicine magazine. The device is an airmeter or anemometer, and it was designed by Wyman to register air flow and speed. The device has four paper fan blades set in an open metal circular frame. It has a wooden handle so it could be held up to air vents.

Wyman was a pioneer in recognizing the health consequences of poor ventilation in hospitals and public buildings. In 1846, he won the Boylston Medical prize for an essay on the subject, which he then expanded to a 400-page text entitled A Practical Treatise on Ventilation. Wyman published a paper on the health effects of various outlet cowls for chimneys for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences two years later. As befitted his expertise, he served on an inspection committee of army medical facilities during the American Civil War.

Dr. Wyman had a lifelong dedication to Cambridge Hospital (now Mount Auburn Hospital). He served as its president from 1874 to 1892, and was instrumental in the design of the hospital’s physical plant. His particular interest was a novel and elaborate heating and ventilation system. Venting to the outside was conducted through a main chimney linked to vents placed beneath each bed. It was reported that approximately 2,000 cubic feet of air was drawn from the hospital each hour by the system. Towards the end of his career, Wyman would stop by the hospital on his way home from seeing patients to check on the ventilation system. Accounts had him checking the vents with his airmeter just several weeks before his death at 90.

In addition to the airmeter, the Center for the History of Medicine has an architect’s drawing, circa 1903, of the proposed Harvard Medical School quad, which can be seen in the online version of the Harvard Medicine “Backstory.”

Panorama Theme by Themocracy