Category: Center News

Apply Now for a 2019-2020 Boston Medical Library Fellowship!

By , February 19, 2019

Since 2003, the Boston Medical Library (BML) in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine has sponsored annual fellowships supporting research in the history of medicine using Center for the History of Medicine collections. BML Fellowships in the History of Medicine at the Countway provide stipends of up to $5,000 to support travel, lodging, and incidental expenses for a flexible period between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Besides conducting research, the fellow will submit a report on the results of his/her residency and may be asked to present a seminar or lecture at the Countway Library.

Engraving of an apothecary in Das Buch der Cirurgia (Strassburg, 4 July 1497). Boston Medical Library Rare Books Collection (Ballard 233).

The collections of the Center for the History of Medicine enable researchers to contextualize, understand, and contribute to the history of human health care, scientific medical development, and public health; they eflect nearly every medical and public health discipline, including anatomy, anesthesiology, cardiology, dentistry, internal medicine, medical jurisprudence, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacy and pharmacology, psychiatry and psychology, and surgery, as well as variety of popular medicine topics and public health subjects such as industrial hygiene, nutrition, and tropical medicine. The Center serves as the institutional archives for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard School of Public Health, and is home to the Warren Anatomical Museum, which includes anatomical artifacts, pathological specimens, instruments, and other objects. Through the Center, researchers have the opportunity to use the rich historical resources of both the Harvard Medical Library and Boston Medical Library. For more information, visit

Fellowship proposals (no more than 5 pages) should describe the research project and demonstrate that the Countway Library has resources central to the research topic.

Applications should include:

  • CV
  • Length of visit
  • Proposed budget and budget breakdown (travel, lodging, incidentals)
  • Two letters of recommendation are also required

Application deadline is Friday, March 29th.

Electronic submissions of materials may be sent to:

Boston Medical Library Fellowships
Center for the History of Medicine
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
10 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115.

Please see our website for more information and details about previous research recipients. Awards will be announced in early May.

Center Receives S.T. Lee Innovation Grant

By , July 10, 2018

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that it has received S.T. Lee Innovation Grant funding for its 2018 proposal, “Beyond the Beyond Box.” The application was one of nineteen proposals to bring together Harvard faculty members and library staff; of the nineteen, only six projects were funded. Dominic Hall, Curator, Warren Anatomical Museum, will be spearheading the initiative in partnership with Professor Anne Harrington, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science.

Plaster head cast made of Phineas Gage by Henry Jacob Bigelow at Harvard Medical School in 1850 to substantiate the specifics of Gage’s neurotrauma

“Beyond the Bone Box” was inspired by Harvard Medical School’s retired bone box program, which enabled medical students to borrow sets of human bones for home study, and developed in partnership with Harvard faculty, curators, archivists, and librarians, this project will develop three circulating resources that contain 3D-printed copies of Warren Anatomical Museum specimens highly contextualized by surrogates of special collections materials. Through this project, the Center seeks to democratize access to unique and sensitive collections through quality fungible surrogates and engender new forms of engagement with Harvard’s special collections across its library system.

The first circulating resource will be a teaching kit built around the case of Phineas Gage, the 19th century railroad foreman whose prefrontal cortex injury has been used to academically and popularly illustrate post-traumatic social disinhibition for the last 150 years.

Project work will begin in September. For the complete list of Lee Innovation Grant award recipients, click here.

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.

Nutshell Studies Loaned to Renwick Gallery for Exhibition

By , October 13, 2017
Frances Glessner Lee and Alan R. Moritz working with furnishings for the Nutshell Studies, 1948. Records of the Department of Legal Medicine, Harvard Medical Library

Frances Glessner Lee and Alan R. Moritz working with furnishings for the Nutshell Studies, 1948. Records of the Department of Legal Medicine, Harvard Medical Library

In 1946, Frances Glessner Lee donated the first ten models of what have become known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death to Harvard Medical School’s Department of Legal Medicine. She followed that gift with seven more models in 1948, eventually giving a total of eighteen Nutshells to the Medical School. The Nutshells, intricate dioramas depicting mysterious homicides, suicides, and natural deaths, were built by Lee to serve as teaching tools for the Harvard Associates in Police Science seminars that she hosted each year. In 1967, the Department of Legal Medicine closed, and Harvard loaned the Nutshell Studies to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Baltimore, Maryland, where Department of Legal Medicine alumnus Russell Fisher was the medical examiner. Fisher moved the Harvard Associates in Police Science seminars to Baltimore and kept the teaching mission of the Nutshells alive.

For the first time since being loaned to Baltimore, the eighteen Harvard Nutshells will be on display for the public. They are being hosted by the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery for their exhibition Murder is Her Hobby. In addition to the Harvard Nutshells, the exhibition will also display a nineteenth Glessner Lee Nutshell from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, courtesy of the Bethlehem Heritage Society. The exhibition will run from October 20, 2017 to January 28, 2018. More information regarding Murder is Her Hobby can be found on the Renwick Gallery website, in the Washington Post, and in HMS news.

More information about the Department for Legal Medicine can be found in Corpus Delicti: The Doctor as the Detective, a physical and digital exhibit curated by Center for the History of Medicine Public Service Librarian Jack Eckert.

BWH Unlocks Historic Hospital Reports, 1875–1979

By , June 30, 2016

"1933. Boston, Mass. P.B.B.H. Dr. Cushing at the desk in the south office room." Harvey Cushing at his desk in his post-retirement office. Photographer: Richard Upjohn LightDid you know that Brigham and Women’s Hospital was created by the merger last century of four famous Boston institutions? The legacy of these four, whose combined history dates back to 1832, is reflected in the name—Brigham, for the Peter Bent Brigham and the Robert B. Brigham Hospitals—and Women’s for two women’s hospitals, the Boston Lying-in and the Free Hospital for Women (collectively known since 1966 as the Boston Hospital for Women).

The BWH Medical Library and Archives has sponsored the digitization and posted online complete runs of the annual reports for two of these venerable ancestors, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, (1913–1979) and the Free Hospital for Women, (1875–1965) which represent some of the richest resources available, not only for information on BWH history, but also on the evolution of medicine as practiced at hospitals. (The reports for the Boston Lying-in Hospital, 1875–1966, will be available online later this year.)

Gone Fishing

If you can’t imagine yourself reading any annual report if you didn’t have to, you might change your mind for these. The presentation of information about the financial and professional activities of organizations in the 19th and 20th centuries was very different from that which we are familiar with in the 21st. Not the same thing at all. Since modern company reports also serve a marketing and publicity function, the resulting publication can sometimes have the flavor of a hyperbole sandwich with a dry statistical filling. Presented with a graphically sophisticated brand identity and an abridged writing style, modern annual reports are designed for an Internet-connected world which reflects the probability of reaching, not only its board of trustees and investors, but also a largely unknowable, skim-and-click audience.

A 20th century version, however, could include anything from a monologue on the dangers of complacency in the post-war hospital to a friendly story about a doctor’s fishing trip to Newfoundland.

46th Annual Report of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, 1959. Cover.At the old Peter Bent Brigham Hospital these yearly communications were written in narrative style and reflected the unscrubbed musings of the department head tasked with making the report. Along with the expected statistics on admissions and treatments, notes on staff, department activity highlights, research objectives planned and met, and publications, the hospital department heads, having a reasonable expectation of a limited audience for their words, often included anecdotes, editorial commentary on hospital policy, the history of their field, or the advancements in medical science as they were realized.

You can follow the footprints of many steps in the march towards modern medicine in these reports. The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital was in the vanguard of successful experimentation in heart surgery, the rise of neurosurgery as a specialty, the development of the “iron lung,” kidney dialysis, organ transplantation, antibiotics, and the professionalization of nursing. The Free Hospital for Women produced some of the most important advancements in medical science related to women’s health. You can also learn the effects on the staffs and the practice of medicine due to crises—local and global—such as epidemics, disasters, and war. For those of us interested in the lineage of the big and small ideas that became professional doctrine, a trip through the old-style hospital reports will be illuminating.

For example: One of PBBH’s most famous alums, neurosurgeon, Dr. Harvey Cushing, applied his graphomania (archivist’s diagnosis) to his surgeon-in-chief reports up until his retirement in 1931. Dr. C recorded the evolving organization of the new hospital’s surgery division. He spent 9 pages of his 1920 report discussing the success of the Brigham’s implementation of the new “residential system” introduced to American teaching hospitals by Dr. William Osler at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1890s, and the Brigham’s own novel adaptation to the Hopkins model—the “full-time service” idea. This idea allowed chiefs-of-service, assistant physicians and surgeons to have offices at the hospital in order to devote their undivided attention to it, rather than having more than one place of business. Imagine that.

Barrel of Apples

The Free Hospital for Women Annual Reports carry us back even further, to a time—flip-flopped from our 21st century experience—when hospitals were created by those whose higher social class expected at-home medical care, for those so poor their only option was to be treated at a hospital. In 1875, the Free Hospital for Women (and it really was free!) was opened with 5 beds “for poor women affected with diseases peculiar to their sex or in need of surgical aid” by a volunteer triumvirate of socially conscious medical men, church men, and well-to-do ladies.

The earliest FHW annual reports reveal just how dependent health care was on the “kindness of strangers” in the 19th century. Sponsor a bed for $150 (about $3300 in today’s money) and you got a seat on the governing board plus the option to decide who could be admitted as a patient to that bed. A substantial donation to the hospital got you your name listed in the annual report, similar to our contemporary custom, however, the definition of “substantial” has certainly evolved over the past century. The 1876 donor list reports contributions such as a “demijohn of whiskey”, “a barrel of apples,” “one ton of coal,” “a hair mattress,” — the lists are charmingly detailed. Donation reports of this nature were included in FHW annual reports through the 1930s.

Free Hospital for Women, Fearing Lab, Olive and George Van Siclen Smith, circa 1934.Filling a desperately needed niche, the Free Hospital for Women saw the rapid growth of the size of its physical plant along with its role in women’s health research. Its yearly reports offer the curious a chance to devour a banquet of data on the genesis and progression of ideas in women’s health. Just to mention a few, the FHW led in the adoption of antisepsis techniques in hospitals, opened the earliest cancer wards, achieved in-vitro fertilization, and created the birth control pill. Not bad for a place that started with 5 beds and a barrel of apples.

These type of narrative yearly reports ended at the Brigham in the early 1980s, soon after its four parent hospitals moved in together under one roof. The pace and complexity of such a large institution likely made continuing the more personal style of reports impossible.

The reports are freely available and searchable online via the above links or through the Harvard Hollis Library catalog. Permalinks:

Free Hospital for Women Annual Reports

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Annual Reports



Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives Collections—Spotlight

By , May 28, 2016

Remembering Brigham’s women volunteers of World War I via a storied artifactBrigham and Women's Hospital Archives, BWH c3, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records. Volunteer workers in the Home Work Department of the New England Surgical Dressings Committee workrooms at 238 Beacon St. (Residence of Mrs. L. Carteret Fenno). Left to right: Miss Elizabeth Train, Mrs. Hatherly Foster, Jr., Mrs. Charles Rowley. [Photo is stamped with date "MAR 17 1918". Photo purchased for BWH archives from Historic Images, Memphis Tennessee, via eBay.]

“An organization called the Surgical Dressings Committee has started work in the Zander Ward of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. The office, workroom, storage and packing rooms are all in the ward. Here fifty different surgical dressings are prepared for the small French hospitals. There are over 300 volunteers from Greater Boston who work in groups for several hours each day under the supervision of trained nurses, the work being inspected by the hospital surgeons. After sterilization, the dressings are packed for transportation in hermetically sealed tins. These are placed in wooden boxes, of a size and shape to be easily handled.”

This American Journal of Nursing article published in December of 1915 announced the start of an organization whose work became so important to saving the lives of wounded soldiers that Dr. Harvey Cushing, 1st Surgeon-in-Chief of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and leader of Base Hospital #5, the Harvard military hospital unit serving in France during WWI, Surgical Dressings Plaque3awas moved to create a memorial tablet for it with the intention of permanently embedding it in the walls of his hospital. The 3 foot tall plaque—gold engraved letters in bronze mounted on stone—was installed just outside the Zander Ward and dedicated in a formal ceremony on May 25th 1923. It was removed and placed in storage at an unknown point years later, probably during one of the hospital’s many remodeling projects. Currently the plaque is cared for at the Center for the History of Medicine in the Countway Library as one of the treasures of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives Collections. The engraved text reads:

“To commemorate the pioneer work of the Surgical Dressings Committee. Through their labors, which centered in this building October 1915 to June 1918, eighteen million dressings made by six thousand women throughout New England were assembled, sterilized, sealed in tins, and shipped to Europe for the wounded of the allied armies.”

The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in July of 1923 reprinted “The Boston Tins,” Cushing’s address at the unveiling of the plaque. In it he described the two approaches necessary for one to convalesce from the devastation of war: forgetfulness—and remembrance.

“…to dwell upon such bright episodes as glow from the background of our otherwise somber recollections—the times and occasions when people did sane, wholehearted and unselfish things in behalf of a stricken world. Many of these things were done by women.”

We know much about the things done by the women of the Surgical Dressings Committee and of Cushing’s efforts to memorialize them, A letter book, bound, containing documentation about the WWI Surgical Dressings Committee and a tablet erected in its honor.from the letters, receipts, and recollections assembled and bound in a scrapbook by Dr. Cushing himself. In 1972, someone doing a closet cleaning in a hospital conference room found and discarded the dusty volume.  Luckily, an observant surgical resident, recognizing its historic value, rescued it from the trash. He recently donated the scrapbook back to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital for the Archives.

The 100th anniversary of the “Great War” seems an opportune time to be reminded, thanks to the plaque and the scrapbook, that the name, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, reflects a legacy, not only of caring for women patients, but also for the historic service of its women staff and volunteers.

Staff Finds: Growth and Development Charts

By , March 31, 2016
Infant girls anthropometric growth chart, created with data from the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development.

Infant girls anthropometric growth chart, created with data from the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine recently found a variety of child growth and development charts while processing the records of the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development (also known as the Growth Study).  Many were created using data from the Harvard Growth Study, but the collection also contains charts that were likely developed by other organizations, collected as reference in the course of research.

The Growth Study was founded in 1930 by Harold Coe Stuart in the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Maternal and Child Health, and included an initial study (birth through maturity) and multiple follow-up studies through the late 1980s.  Over 300 subjects were enrolled between 1930 and 1939, and of those 134 were followed through to maturity (18 years).  The study monitored a number of aspects of health and development; however, a major focus of the original study was the tracking of physical growth and development through anthropometric measurements, x-rays, and progressive somatotype photographs.  This data was then used to make standardized growth charts for distribution to physicians and researchers.  Subjects were primarily of North European ancestry and from the Boston area; while this allowed for a controlled study, it may have also limited the charts’ applicability to a wider population.

Stuart’s original male and female curves were distributed by Mead Johnson International, and charted weight, length, and head circumference for infants, and height and weight for children through age 12.  These charts were later translated into French for distribution in Canada, and potentially into other languages.  A letter by William M. Schmidt references a later percentile chart that was developed in the 1960s, covering birth through 18 years, although examples have not yet been found in the collection.  According to an article by de Onis and Yip, Stuart’s charts later became an international standard of reference when in 1966, the World Health Organization widely distributed a version with combined male and female data.

An earlier chart can be found in the collection that was developed in collaboration with the University of Iowa, in which Harvard data is displayed for years 0 through 5, and Iowa data is displayed for years 5 through 18.  The collection also contains: charts developed by the University of Iowa (covering years 4 through 18); Danish height and weight charts created through an unidentified study; and physical and social development charts (covering birth to 56 weeks), published by Ross Developmental Aids using data from an unidentified study.

Examples of the mentioned charts and related correspondence may be found below.

The records of the Harvard School of Public Health Longitudinal Studies of Child Health and Development are expected to be open to research in summer 2016.  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.

“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.”

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