Getting The Word Out

By , March 25, 2015
Crime scene interior from the Department of Legal Medicine records.

Crime scene interior from the Department of Legal Medicine records.

Center for the History of Medicine processing staff were recently invited to address a meeting of the History of Medicine Working Group. The Group is an inter-disciplinary, graduate student-led group for the presentation and discussion of work in the history of medicine.

I was pleased to present four collections that I have worked on over the past year: the E.E. Southard (1876-1920) papers, the Abraham Myerson (1881-1948) papers and family research records, Harvard Medical School Department of Legal Medicine (1937-1967) records, and the L. Vernon Briggs (1863-1941) papers.

The Southard collection (GA 81) reflects the late-career work of E.E. Southard, a neuropathologist and pathologist for the state of Massachusetts. Southard was the administrator for the first psychopathic department at the Boston State Hospital and worked with Myrtelle Canavan and Mary Jarrett to create the field of psychiatric social work. He was chief pathologist for the state asylum system, including the Boston and Danvers hospitals. Southard was deeply interested in the relationship between psychiatric illness and organic abnormality; the collection reflects his plans for a book on brain pathology.

The Myerson papers (H MS c425) include a variety of materials, primarily manuscript drafts, reprints, publication reviews, publications, fiction, psychological evaluation notes as well as a bound set of Myerson’s collected writings. Myerson was a professor of psychiatry at Tufts Medical School and Harvard Medical School and held positions at the Boston and Taunton State Hospitals. Topics in the collection include mental hygiene, use of electro-shock therapy, and the giving of psychological expert testimony with particular reference to the Sacco-Vanzetti and Millen-Faber trials. Myerson also supported the use of therapeutic electro-shock treatment and was involved in the early drug trials of Benzedrine.

The Department of Legal Medicine records (M-DE06) reflect the foundation, growth, and final dissolution of the Department between 1937 and 1967. The Department was founded to educate medical students in forensic pathology. As well as providing regular graduate instruction, the Department also provided courses for policemen involved in murder investigations and law students interested in criminal law. The bulk of the collection is made up of autopsy case records: photographs, artifacts from a body or a crime scene, autopsy, correspondence, notes on the autopsy  or other analytic procedures, and newspaper clippings.  Other records include departmental correspondence, class syllabi, symposia programs, photographs, and planning documents; and records reflecting the involvement of the Department and its faculty in the nation-wide development of forensic pathology as a medical specialty and the role of the medical examiner.

The fourth collection, the L. Vernon Briggs papers (H MS c162), is still undergoing processing, but should be available to researchers before the end of the year. Briggs was a psychiatrist and medical reformer. He was primarily interested in the reform of the treatment of the mentally ill, particularly through the asylum system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He agitated for reform of the state oversight bodies responsible for asylums and for changes in the laws governing committal and patient treatment. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, reprints, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings, and blueprints, as well as published material such as books and journals.

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