Category: Public Health

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.

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.

Erich Lindemann Papers Open to Research

By , March 26, 2014
Erich Lindemann

Erich Lindemann, circa 1960-1969, Portrait Collection, From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the Erich Lindemann papers are now open to research.  Lindemann (1900-1974) was Chief of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, Medical Director of the Wellesley Human Relations Service, Massachusetts, and Distinguished Visiting Professor in Clinical and Social Psychiatry at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.

Lindemann is known for his preventive intervention work with crisis patients and subjects of loss and bereavement.  His work with burn victims of the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942 inspired his interest in the psychiatric and physiological effects of crisis, grief, and loss.  He later directed a study of the effects of loss and disruption on the displaced families of Boston’s West End redevelopment, the results of which later informed urban redevelopment projects across the country.  Lindemann is also recognized as a pioneer in the field of community mental health, advocating for collaboration between psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, social workers, clergymen, teachers, and other community social service providers in the preventive therapy of crisis victims.  As a part of these efforts, he established a community mental health training program for social service providers at Massachusetts General Hospital, helped found the nation’s first community mental health agency in 1948 (the Wellesley Human Relations Service), and chaired multiple professional and national committees related to community mental health and preventive psychiatry.

The papers are the product of Lindemann’s professional, research, teaching, and publishing activities throughout the course of his career.  The bulk of the collection contains administrative, research, and teaching records generated during his tenure at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, the Wellesley Human Relations Service,  and Massachusetts General Hospital.  The collection also contains: personal and professional correspondence; research data and administrative records of the West End Research Project; correspondence and records related to Lindemann’s service in professional organizations and committees; his writings and publications; and collected publications related to psychiatry and mental health.  Papers also include over 350 audio and audio-visual recordings of lectures by Lindemann and his colleagues, professional conferences, patient consultations, and meetings of the Wellesley Human Relations Service and of the West End Research project.

Processing of the collection was a part of the Private Practices, Public Health: Privacy Aware Processing to Maximize Access to Health Collections project, funded by a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through the Council on Library Resources (CLIR).  The project is a collaborative effort between the Center and the Chesney Medical Archives at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, on behalf of the Medical Heritage Library, to open public health collections previously closed to research, and to determine best practices for providing access to collections with protected health information and other types of restricted records.

For more information on Lindemann and his collection, please view the online finding aid.

Lost and Found, Pt. 2: Linda James’ Post-Harvard Career in Public Health

By , May 15, 2013

Linda James, 1914

Earlier this spring I introduced Linda James—the first woman to enroll and graduate with a Harvard Credential on the same basis as men  (Lost and Found, Pt. 1) . Our discovery of Linda’s path, post-Harvard, has come with its fair share of surprises, beginning with a career in immigrant public health before shifting to a difficult yet rewarding life in agriculture and education in the Midwest.

After receiving her C.P.H. from the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers (now known as the Harvard School of Public Health) in 1917, Linda spent the next four years in various positions in public health administration in Massachusetts and Minnesota. She was a health inspector for Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industry, and a research associate on the health of immigrants in industry for the Carnegie Americanization Study. During this time, Linda attended the Americanization Conference in Washington on May 12-15, 1919, which focused on a congressional bill that outlined a path to Americanization. She also conducted research and prepared materials and statistics on industrial medicine and immigrants for Michael Marks Davis’s publication, Immigrant Health and the Community (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1921).

Linda’s professional life shifted in 1922 when she married William A. Benitt, a young attorney from Goodhue, Minnesota. The couple made the collective decision to leave their urban communities and careers to become farmers. From 1929-1930 they both enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota and, after completing their masters’ degrees, purchased “Apple Acres”—a 200-acre farm in South Washington County, Minnesota. 1930 was a difficult year to begin farming, as it was the start of a decade marked by sagging crop prices and drought. In addition to this hardship, life on Apple Acres during its first decade was very primitive; there was no running water or electricity. Linda and William were also the sole workers on their farm, tending eight hundred apple trees and over one thousand laying hens.

In spite of these hardships, the Benitts were politically active within their community. During the same year of their

William and Linda Benitt with a Chinese guest on their farm (1931). Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

arrival on the farm, the couple joined their neighbors in demanding utilization of federal funds to build electric lines to farms. As a result of their efforts, electricity came to Washington County in 1938.

A year later in 1939, Linda was recruited by the educational staff of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (A.A.A.)—an agency created in 1933 by the New Deal. The A.A.A. originally aimed to increase farm income by controlling production, but eventually shifted to authorizing crop loans and offering crop insurance on wheat threatened by drought. Linda’s role was to educate town women on farming problems and promote community dialog. Although at first reluctant to leave her farm, Linda’s dedication to the political message of the A.A.A. and concern over the increase in tenant farming eventually won her over. For the next four years she traveled statewide to organize town meetings and lead discussions on farming issues, stopping only when the program lost congressional funding in 1943.

Returning to farm life in Washington County did not suppress Linda’s dedication to activism and education. In 1945, she began a social service program for young children focused on creating a sense of personal responsibility for community life in a democracy. Linda also became involved with the Upper Midwest Women’s History Center, a regional teacher-training center that helped educators integrate women’s curriculum into regular history classes. Additionally, both Linda and William were active in local war-related efforts; in addition to participating in local blackouts, the couple volunteered to be civilian airplane spotters. In 1946, Linda received the Virginia Skelley Achievement Award, which honors leadership and work ethics.

In 1958, at the age of 67, Linda and William sold Apple Acres and spent the next four years traveling both internationally (taking a freighter trip around the world, and separate excursions to Europe and the Middle East) as well as coast-to-coast nationally, living in a little house on a truck. In 1961 the couple moved to the Penney Farms Retirement Community in Clay County, Florida. Linda died in February 1983 at the age of 92; William died a year later in 1984.

A page of the University of Minnesota’s Class of 1914 yearbook, sent by UMN’s archivist, included a portrait of a young Linda.  She was described as “Suffragette, rather militant. We’d like to see you mad.” Linda was a strong woman with a passion for education and public service; her early beginnings as the first woman graduate with a certificate from Harvard University eventually led her to a long, fulfilling life and career as an academic, educator, agriculturalist, and activist.

Read Part 1: Lost and Found: the First Woman with a Harvard Credential.

Lost and Found: the First Woman with a Harvard Credential

By , April 17, 2013

Linda James, circa 1935. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

It is widely recognized that the Graduate School of Education, established in 1920, was the first Harvard graduate school to enroll women. Those initial graduates in 1921, more than thirty women earning Ed.M. degrees, are considered the first female Harvard University graduates. There were, of course, female graduates of Radcliffe College beginning in the 1890s, however they were registered at Radcliffe, not Harvard.

As the Harvard School for Public Health prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, interesting facts in public health history are coming to light. With regard to the enrollment of women, HSPH was a pioneer. In a November 1913 Administrative Board meeting, members voted to admit and credential women with a Certificate in Public Health (C.P.H.) at the Harvard-M.I.T. School for Health Officers (now known as the Harvard School of Public Health). Although this was a certificate program as opposed to a degree program, it was in fact the first program to admit and credential women on the same basis as men.

So who was Harvard’s first credentialed woman? In 1917, Linda Frances James was the first woman to graduate from the School for Health Officers. To learn more about her, we consulted a variety of sources including the Harvard University Archives, the 1917/18 HSPH catalog, the Minnesota Historical Society, and a definitive history, Founders: Harvard School of Public Health, wherein author Jean Alonzo Curran also acknowledges James as the “first woman student.”

From these sources we have learned that James was born in 1891 in Minnesota. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1914, and took a position as a science teacher at Monticello High School from 1914-1915 before enrolling in 1915 as a student at the Harvard-M.I.T. School for Health Officers.

While enrolled at the School for Health Officers, James also worked as a Medical Social Worker at Massachusetts General Hospital from 1916-17. She completed her C.P.H. in January 1917, and shortly after took a position as the Director of After-Care Division at the Harvard Infantile Paralysis Commission …after which point, her story becomes a bit cloudy.

We continue to pursue James’ story… more to come!

Read Part 2: Linda James’ Post-Harvard Career in Public Health.

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