Posts tagged: Harvard Medical School

Chester Pierce Honored in Campus Fitness Challenge

By , March 3, 2017
Image courtesy of ESPN's blog, The Undefeated.

Image courtesy of ESPN’s blog, The Undefeated.

Each year EcoOpportunity, Harvard’s Longwood Campus (HLC) Green Team, hosts “Take the Stairs”–a team-based campaign to encourage and support movement throughout the Harvard community. Hundreds of members of the Harvard community register to increase the quality and quantity of their daily movement, and to track this data with the ultimate goal of “climbing” the highest peaks around the world. This year, EcoOpportunity made a unique decision to map its challenge to a peak renowned not for its height, but rather for its connection to the Harvard community: Pierce Peak, named in honor of Dr. Chester Pierce.

Dr. Chester M. Pierce (1927-2016), Harvard College Class of 1948, Harvard Medical School Class of 1952, was emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and emeritus professor of education at the Harvard School of Education. He was the first African American full professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, and practiced in the Department of Psychiatry for over 25 years. Dr. Pierce was also the Past President of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Orthopsychiatric Association, and was the founding president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. In 1970, Dr. Pierce was the first to use the term “microaggression” to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. He served on 22 editorial boards, and published over 180 books, articles, and reviews.

Dr. Pierce dedicated much of his time to working with organizations that helped to promote human rights, conservation, and youth education. For example, he acted as a consultant for the Children’s Television Network, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Air Force, the US Arctic Research Commission, the Peace Corps, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Pierce Peak, (5,872.7 ft, or 1,790 m) is located in Antarctica two miles south of Sullivan Peaks at the northeastern edge of Mackin Table in the Patuxent Range, Pensacola Mountains (coordinates: 84°0’52”S 63°0’09″W). In 1968, the peak was named in honor of Dr. Pierce who, with Jay T. Shurley, studied the psychophysiology of men while asleep and awake–both before, during, and after two sojourns at the South Pole Station, during the winters of 1963 and 1966. The mountains surrounding Pierce Peak were also named in honor of Dr. Pierce’s team-members and co-authors, including Shurley Ridge, Brooks Nunatak, and Natani Nunatak.

Joan Ilacqua, Archivist for Women in Medicine at the Center for the History of Medicine, conducted an oral history with Dr. Pierce in 2015 as part of Equal Access: Oral Histories of Diversity and Inclusion at Harvard Medical School. Topics discussed included attending Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, specializing in psychiatry, Navy service, researching in Antarctica, and being the first President of the Black Psychiatrists of America. To listen, or to read a transcript of the interview, visit OnView.

Registration for Take the Stairs runs from March 1st through 15th, and is open to any Harvard affiliate with a HarvardKey. Visit the website to learn more.

HMS LXX: 70 Years of Women at Harvard Medical School

By , November 15, 2016


Excerpts from an oral history interview with Raquel E. Cohen, member of HMS’ first coeducational class compiled for HMS LXX

On October 21, 2016, Harvard Medical School celebrated over 70 years of women at Harvard Medical School. The event highlighted several milestones, including the 70th anniversary of Harvard Medical School’s first coeducational class, the appointment of the 250th woman as a full professor, the 20th anniversary of the Eleanor and Miles Shore 50th Anniversary Fellowship Program for Scholars in Medicine, which supports junior faculty, the funding of the Elizabeth D. Hay Professorship in Cell Biology, the 10th anniversary of the Archives for Women in Medicine, and over 40 years of the Joint Committee on the Status of Women.

The event featured a series of curated conversations with women in medicine, from medical students to international leaders in health, addressing issues of women’s leadership, challenges faced by women in medicine, and work done by women at the forefront of women’s health. The event was punctuated by a keynote conversation with Shirley Tilghman, President Emerita of Princeton University and member of The Harvard Corporation.

First class of women accepted to Harvard Medical School, 1945. (HMS, Classes and Reunions, 00100.057)

First class of women accepted to Harvard Medical School, 1945. (HMS, Classes and Reunions, 00100.057). Cohen is pictured in the top row, second to right.

The “Women’s View at HMS: Then and Now” panel featured a video excerpting highlights from Raquel Cohen’s 2006 oral history interview. Cohen, an internationally recognized expert in the field of intervention and assistance to survivors of disasters, earned her Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1942, and was a student in Harvard Medical School’s first coeducational class, graduating in 1949.

Although Dr. Cohen could not attend HMS LXX in person, highlights of her oral history, curated by Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine Joan Ilacqua, detail just a few moments of her fascinating life story. Dr. Cohen’s full oral history is available via Onview, and additional oral histories with women leaders in medicine and the medical sciences are available at:

To learn more about the Archives for Women in Medicine, visit:

Processing of the Luigi Gorini Papers has begun as part of the Maximizing Microbiology Project

By , February 18, 2016

Luigi Gorini was a microbiologist known for his research in the physiology of proteolysis, bacterial and gene expression regulation, bacterial ribosomes, and the influence of ribosomal mutations, as well as for his anti-fascist political activism during World War II. The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to report that the Luigi Gorini papers (1947-1977), a product of Gorini’s research, professional and publishing activities, and career as a professor at Harvard Medical School, are currently being processed as part of the Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology, 1936-2000 project.

Luigi Gorini was born on 13 November 1903 in Milan, Italy, and attended the University of Pavia, Italy, for his undergraduate and graduate education. He completed his thesis in organic chemistry, but focused in his graduate studies on biology. His studies were cut short in 1931 by the rise of the fascist state. Gorini fled to Milan, Italy, where he was a researcher at the Istituto Giuliana Ronzoni from 1942-1945. He became the head of the Department of Biochemistry at the Istituto Scientifico di Chimica e Biochimica Giuliana Ronzoni in 1946, a role he held until emigrating to Paris, France, in 1949. In the years directly following the fall of the Italian fascist government, Gorini and his wife Annamaria Torriani-Gorini, a fellow scientist he met at the Istituto Giuliana Ronzoni, managed a refugee camp for Jewish children orphaned during the Holocaust, preparing them and making arrangements for their emigration to Israel.

In Paris, he worked in the Laboratory of Biological Chemistry at the National Center for Scientific Research at the Sorbonne, Paris, from 1949-1951. In 1951, Gorini was named the Head of Research in this laboratory, and the Master of Research in 1954. He was a Visiting Researcher in the Department of Pharmacology of the College of Medicine at New York University, New York, from 1955-1957, where he came to work with Bernard D. Davis (1916-1994). Gorini was hired as a Lecturer in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at the Harvard Medical School in 1957, after Davis was hired as its chair. Gorini continued to teach and research at Harvard Medical School for the remainder of his career. He became the American Cancer Society Associate Professor in this Department in 1962, and acted as the American Cancer Society Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from this time until his retirement in 1974. He remained at Professor Emeritus until his death on 13 August 1976.

Gorini’s laboratory research early in his career related to aspects of bacterial proteolysis and the biochemistry of extracellular enzymes. His work on the physiology of proteolysis led to the discovery of an unusual growth factor, catechol, in 1954. Working with Werner Maas (1921-), Gorini recognized the way bacterial enzymes affect bacterial regulation, which in turn altered modes of thought about the regulation of gene expression and led to the development of the concept of the gene repressor. Once at Harvard Medical School, Gorini’s research focus was primarily on the arginine pathway and the influence of ribosomal mutations. With Eva Kataja, Gorini also studied bacterial ribosomes and the effect of streptomycin. He published more than 100 scientific articles, writing up until his death, and received multiple awards for his scientific research, including the Kronauer Prize from the Faculté des Sciences at the Sorbonne in 1949 and the Harvard University Ledlie Prize in 1965. Gorini also remained politically active throughout his life, writing and speaking out against fascism, violence, and racial and gender prejudice.

The papers, created throughout Gorini’s research, professional, teaching, and publishing activities, include raw research data, correspondence, writings and publications, and other materials relating to his professional activities. They are expected to be opened to research early in 2016.

The Maximizing Microbiology: Molecular Genetics, Cancer, and Virology, 1936-2000 project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Libraries. The project will also open the collections of other scientists and professors whose work relates to the origins of molecular genetics, including the Arthur B. Pardee papers, 1949-2001, the Francesc Duran i Reynals papers, 1936-1959, and the the Bernard D. Davis papers, 1909-1995 (inclusive), 1939-1994 (bulk). For more information on the Maximizing Microbiology project, please contact Emily Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services or Elizabeth Coup, Processing Assistant.

New Exhibit Highlights Harvard’s History with Legal Medicine

By , January 6, 2016


Aftermath of the Summer Street Bridge Disaster, 1916

Aftermath of the Summer Street Bridge Disaster, November 8, 1916 [0003763]

Although seemingly distinct disciplines, medicine and law—as medical jurisprudence, forensic medicine, or legal medicine—have been intertwined for centuries, and legal medicine itself encompasses a wide range of subjects, such as toxicology, psychiatry, chemistry, pathology, anatomy, autopsy, and suicide.  Harvard Medical School’s involvement with legal medicine as both academic discipline and public service is the focus of a new display at the Countway Library.  Corpus Delicti: the Doctor as the Detective is now open on the L2 level of the library, adjoining the Center for the History of Medicine.

Lectures on legal medicine appear as part of the curriculum as early as 1815, and with the change from the office of coroner to medical examiner in Massachusetts, the Medical Examiner for Suffolk County became Harvard’s lecturer in forensic medicine.  In 1907, George Burgess Magrath (1870-1938) was appointed to the office and began his career as instructor in legal medicine.  Magrath, one of the city’s most colorful characters, traditionally sported a wide-brimmed hat, flowing black tie, and pince-nez.  He ate just one meal a day—at midnight—always carried a curving bowled pipe, and travelled in a 1907 Ford called “Suffolk Sue”.  His thirty year tenure as Medical Examiner and expertise in forensic pathology involved him in some 2,000 court cases and investigations of over 21,000 deaths.  Magrath’s career inspired heiress Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) to embark on a unprecedented act of generosity; she created by gift a chair in legal medicine at Harvard for George B. Magrath and then, in 1936, provided an endowment for an entirely new academic department–the Department of Legal Medicine–the first such in the country.  Its aims were three-fold: the teaching of undergraduate and post-graduate students from Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University and the training of law officers in legal medicine; consultation on cases with local medical examiners’ offices; and research on medico-legal issues.  Pathologist Alan Richards Moritz (1899-1986) was hired as Professor of Legal Medicine in 1937 and set about establishing the new department.

The next thirty years saw Legal Medicine’s involvement in more than teaching and training.  Its personnel also worked on hundreds of post-mortem cases for the state each year, and Moritz and his successor, Richard Ford (1915-1970), struggled to balance their academic commitments with public service.  The Department of Legal Medicine had its own laboratories and research library–the Magrath Library of Legal Medicine–and also became custodian of another of Frances Glessner Lee’s interests–the famous Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.  The Nutshells–seventeen miniature crime scenes based on actual forensic cases, rich in detail–were crafted by Mrs. Lee and used as teaching tools for the training of police officers, coroners, and pathologists in regular seminars at Harvard starting in 1945.

Frances Lee and Alan Moritz at work on the Nutshell Studies, 1948

Frances G. Lee and Alan R. Moritz at work on the Nutshell Studies, photographed by Gil Friedberg, circa 1948 [0002275]

Corpus Delicti tells the story of the Department of Legal Medicine’s origins, rise, and, eventual fall–in some ways a victim of its own success–and the individuals–George B. Magrath, Alan Richards Moritz, Richard Ford, and Frances Glessner Lee–who shaped, developed, and promoted its work.  Notable items on display include rare texts in legal medicine; Charles T. Jackson’s summons as expert witness in the 1850 trial of John White Webster; course syllabi and publications; a review of “Mystery Street”, the 1950 MGM film where Legal Medicine’s staff help solve a murder; and photographs from the historical records of the Department, showing its researchers at work, the Nutshell Studies, and some of George B. Magrath’s most famous cases.

Curriculum Changes at Harvard Medical School

By , October 8, 2015

Harvard Medical School introduced a newly designed curriculum this fall, as the Harvard Crimson reports:

Medical professors who conceived the overhaul of the curriculum, which is called “Pathways” and has been in the works since 2012, say it will require medical students to learn more actively, rather than cram and memorize material, and that it seeks to reflect how medicine has changed over the last 30 years. It focuses on the first two years of medical school, termed “preclerkship,” and is now in effect for the school’s first-year students.


Dean Daniel Tosteson

This is only the most recent reshaping of how medicine is taught at HMS. In 1985, under Dean Daniel Tosteson, HMS launched the “New Pathway” program, which utilized problem-based learning done in small groups, to foster life-long learning and de-emphasize memorization, texts, and lectures. Due in part to this work, Tosteson received the Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service in 1991.

In 1928, Dean David Edsall introduced a version of the Oxford tutorial system. Edsall was concerned that medical education was focused on the average student and did not have allowances for the higher-achieving students to reach their full potential. Students showing promise were selected for the system and in their first year received support from tutors in specific subject areas which allowed them to pursue extra work and research outside of the normal course of study.

Major reforms to medical education at Harvard also took place in the late 19th century. Correspondence (shown below) from Harvard University President Charles Eliot to Medical School Dean Calvin Ellis details the reorganization of education at the Medical School in 1870-1871. Reforms designed to raise standards included a three-year course of study, examinations in each department, including a written portion, a requirement that every student perform dissection, attendance of at least two terms as a requirement for a degree, and the specification of fees.

The correspondence below can be found in the following collection: Harvard Medical School. Office of the Dean. Records, 1828-1904 (inclusive), 1869-1874 (bulk). The collection has been digitized and links to digital surrogates are available in the finding aid.

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


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October – December 2014 Event Calendar

By , September 30, 2014

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to invite you to this fall’s program of ten sponsored and co-sponsored lectures in the history of medicine and public health.


[DATE CORRECTION] October 14, 2014, 4:00 pm: “Jewish Medical Resistance in the Holocaust”
Colloquium on the History of Psychiatry and Medicine

Michael A. Grodin, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, and Professor of Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health

Minot Room, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA 

(Free and open to the public. No registration required.)


October 15, 2014, 6:00 pm: “Anatomy and its Legacies: Artistic, Ethical, Scientific”

Naomi H. Slipp, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Art & Architecture, Boston University and 2014-15 Barra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Christina J. Hodge, Academic Curator & Collections Manager, Stanford University Archaeology Collections, and Museum Associate, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

Sabine Hildebrandt, Instructor in Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Minot Room, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Registration required. To register, click here.
This event is free and open to the public.)


October 21, 2014, 5:00 pm: “The Birth of the Pill”

Jonathan Eig, writer and journalist

Ballard Auditorium, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Registration required. To register, click here.
This event is free and open to the public.)


October 30, 2014, 5:30 pm: “21st Century War: the Continuum of Pain and Other Sequelae”
39th Annual Joseph Garland Lecture

Chester ‘Trip’ Buckenmaier III, MD, Program Director, Defense and Veteran Center for Integrative Pain Management, US Army

Rollin M. Gallagher, MD, MPH, National Program Director, Pain Management Veterans Health Administration

Carl Walter Amphitheater
Tosteson Medical Education Center
Harvard Medical School 
260 Longwood Avenue, Boston MA 02115

(Registration recommended by October 10, 2014. This event is free and open to the public.
To register for the lecture only (free), email with your full name, email address, and phone number.
To register for dinner and the reception (pre-paid), please return this form and a check to the Boston Medical Library.)


November 18, 2014, 5:30 pm: “Death and Diversity in Civil War Medicine”
Reception at 5:00pm

Margaret Humphreys, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and History,Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, Duke University, and current President of the American Association for the History of Medicine

Lahey Room, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Registration required. To register, click here.
This event is free and open to the public.)


November 20, 2014, 4:00 pm: “Making the Suicidal Object: Sympathy and Surveillance in the American Asylum”
Colloquium on the History of Psychiatry and Medicine

Kathleen Brian, M.A., Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies, George Washington University

Ballard Auditorium, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Free and open to the public. No registration required.)


December 4, 2014, 5:00 pm: “The True Story of a Government-Ordered Book-Burning in America: Wilhelm Reich’s Books and Journals, and What Was in Them?”

James E. Strick, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Earth & Environment, and of Technology & Science, Franklin and Marshall College

Kevin Hinchey: Filmmaker, Associate Director of The Wilhelm Reich Museum, and Board Member of The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust

Minot Room, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Registration required. To register, click here.
This event is free and open to the public.)


December 18, 2014, 4:00 pm: “Boundary Disputes Between British Psychiatry and Neurology”
Colloquium on the History of Psychiatry and Medicine

Stephen T. Casper, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History of Science, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Clarkson University

Ballard Auditorium, Fifth Floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

(Free and open to the public. No registration required.)

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records Opened for Research

By , July 14, 2014
April 30, 1913 - Informal Dedication of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

First staff with Sir William Osler at dedication of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, April 30, 1913.

The Center for the History of Medicine and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library are pleased to announce that the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records, 1830– (inclusive), 1911–1980 (bulk) are now formally open for research. A guide to the collection can be read via this link:

The collection of historic material related to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH), one of the parent hospitals of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, includes photographs, memorabilia, business records, and historic publications that were created before its merger with Boston Hospital for Women and Robert B. Brigham Hospital in 1975, and while it operated as a division of the Affiliated Hospitals Center (AHC) until 1980. (In 1980 the three AHC divisions were moved into the same new facility and unified under the new name, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.)

The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital collection includes much of its early administrative data, going back as far as 1902, when the corporation to construct the hospital was formed and its close relationship with Harvard Medical School began. All of the hospital’s Annual Reports (1913–1979), Executive Committee Meeting Minutes (1912–1980), and Board of Trustees meeting records (1902–1975) tell the story of the growth of a major metropolitan hospital from its opening in 1913 through the development of modern medicine during the greater part of the 20th century. The collection also includes records of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital School of Nursing (1912–1985), which became one of the preeminent training programs for nurses in the United States. Other hospital publications codify hospital procedures and standards over time, and the newsletter, Brigham Bulletin, adds depth to the hospital’s biography with weekly, more personal stories about the individuals and events that made the organization unique.

PBBH campus 1913

The collection includes 1911 construction records for the original 225-bed, pavilion-style hospital built along Francis Street in Boston, as well as for later additions.

Photographs comprise the largest portion of the collection and provide thousands of images of hospital, staff, and activities from 1911–1980. The archival collection includes images of some of the individuals whose work at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital significantly advanced medical science and education, including: Dr. Francis Moore, considered the “father of modern surgery;” Dr. Harvey Cushing, first PBBH Surgeon-in-Chief, an innovator in neurosurgery; Dr. Samuel A. Levine, a key figure in modern cardiology; Nurse Carrie M. Hall, a leader in the evolution of professional nursing education; Dr. (Brigadier General) Elliott C. Cutler, second PBBH Surgeon-in-Chief and Surgeon-in-Charge of the European Theater of Operations during WWII; Dr. Carl Walter, who developed a way to collect, store, and transfuse blood; and Dr. Joseph E. Murray, the 1990 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He, along with his team of PBBH medical pioneers achieved the first successful kidney transplant in 1954.

Francis D. Moore MD, in surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham HospitHarvey Cushing in Scrubs, circa 1930sPBBH Dr. Samuel LevinePBBH_Carrie Hall_002a

CutlerMoscow_1943a_Sharf_003BPBBH Walter BloodBag c1954PBBH Murray Nobel Prize

Many interesting hospital related artifacts are part of the collection. A menu and china from founder Peter Bent Brigham’s restaurant, a World War I service flag and many of Nurse Carrie Hall’s service medals from the same war; mid-century nurse’s uniforms, caps, and capes; scrapbooks, audio recordings, newspaper clippings, old medical instruments, student notebooks from the nursing school, and the contents of the PBBH 1963 time capsule are some of the widely various objects that can be found here.

The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records, 1830– (inclusive), 1911–1980 (bulk) is the last of the major collections of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives to be cataloged and opened to the public for historic research. The online finding aid to Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records joins those for the other parent hospitals of the Brigham and Women’s, including the Boston Lying-in Hospital Records, 1855–1983 (Bulk 1921–1966), Free Hospital for Women Records, 1875–1975, Robert B. Brigham Hospital Records, 1889–1984 (Bulk 1915–1980), and the Affiliated Hospitals Center (Boston, Mass.) Records, 1966–1984. To view those online collection guides as well as the guide to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Records, 1900– go to this page:

Arnold Relman Papers Now Open to Research

By , June 19, 2014
Arnold Relman

Arnold Relman

The Arnold S. Relman papers, 1953-2011 (inclusive),  1974-2011 (bulk) are now open to research. The Relman papers contain records from his activities as Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, author and researcher, and chair of the John Mack Inquiry Committee at Harvard Medical School, and include professional correspondence, research subject files on conflict of interest, for-profit hospitals, health care reform, the medical-industrial complex, and medical ethics, and records from his service on committees at Harvard Medical School and at the Massachusetts Medical Society. The papers also contain Relman’s writings, records from his attendance at professional meetings and conferences, and a small amount of personal records.

Arnold S. Relman (1923-2014; A.B., 1943, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; M.D., 1946, Cornell University) is a former Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (1977-1991), nephrologist, professor, author, and researcher. After his residency at New Haven Hospital, Relman was on the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine from 1950 to 1967. In 1967, he became the Conrad Wesselhoeft Professor of Medicine at Boston University. From 1968 to 1977, Relman was the Frank Wister Tomas Professor of Medicine and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia. In 1977, he was appointed Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Senior Physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston. In 2004, he won, with Marcia Angell, the George Polk Award in Journalism. Relman died on Tuesday, June 17, in his home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, of melanoma.

The finding aid for the Relman papers can be found here.

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

New Exhibit Charts the History of Dissection at Harvard Medical School

By , May 1, 2014

Robert M. Green performing an anatomical dissection  by Thomas Woolstone Dixon, circa 1929. Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine [0002651]

Robert M. Green demonstrating an anatomical dissection by Thomas Woolstone Dixon, circa 1929. Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Why study human anatomy?  To John Hall, writing his poem An Historicall Expostulation, in 1565, it was the chief of medical arts which had to be mastered “if ye will cure well anything.”  Anatomy was one of the three first areas of medical study at Harvard, and John Warren, the first member of the faculty, was a renowned anatomist and surgeon.  And though Oliver Wendell Holmes could maintain by 1861, that “human anatomy may be considered an almost exhausted science.  From time to time some small organ which had escaped earlier observers has been pointed out… but some of our best anatomical works are those which have been classic for many generations,” anatomy through dissection continued to be studied and taught to first-year medical students, and it still holds a place in the modern curriculum today.  The Nature of Every Member: an Anatomy of Dissection at Harvard, a new exhibit from the Center for the History of Medicine, is now open on the first floor of the Countway Library.  It chronicles the long and distinguished history of the study and teaching of human anatomy through dissection, moving from the very foundation of the Medical School to the present day.  Echoing the changes in teaching human dissection are the developments in anatomical legislation, as the illicit practice of grave-robbing for dissection gives way to Thomas Dwight’s 1896 formulation that cadavers for study are only “loaned to science”,  paving the way for the legal instruments of anatomical gift in common use today.

Notable items in the exhibit include Ezekiel Hersey’s 1770 will, establishing the Hersey Professorship of Anatomy at Harvard with John Warren’s notes from his earliest anatomical lectures at the school; John Collins Warren’s 1831 Massachusetts legislation which first legalized the use of cadavers for medical study; Oliver Wendell Holmes’ own copy of the first edition of Gray’s Anatomy; gross anatomy course descriptions and examinations; notes on lectures and dissection work by student Ralph Clinton Larrabee (Class of 1897); a 1951 report outlining the need for an electron microscope for anatomical research; a pocket kit of dissection tools owned by George Thomas Perkins, a student in the 1850s; and reproductions of several vivid photographs of life at the Medical School by Thomas Woolstone Dixon (Class of 1929), including the depiction of Robert M. Green at work shown above.   A rare colored lithograph from 1840, “The Dissecting Room,” depicts English anatomist William Hunter teaching dissection and gives some impression of what early conditions might have been like at Harvard.

T. C. Wilson, after Thomas Rowlandson The dissecting room, from the original by Rowlandson, in the possession of William Tiffin Illife, Esqr. : colored lithograph (circa 1840). Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine [0002980]

T. C. Wilson, after Thomas Rowlandson.
The dissecting room, from the original by Rowlandson, in the possession of William Tiffin Illife, Esqr. : colored lithograph (circa 1840). Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine [0002980]

The Nature of Every Member, which will be on display through the end of 2014, was designed to complement Body of Knowledge: a History of Anatomy (in 3 Parts) which is currently on exhibit at the Collection of Historic Scientific Instruments on the Cambridge campus and incorporates many anatomical specimens, models, rare books, prints, and photographs from the library and museum collections at the Center for the History of Medicine.

For additional information on the exhibit, contact the Center at or 617.432.2170.





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