Posts tagged: Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

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



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:

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives Opens 1963 Time Capsule

By , July 9, 2013

A Box of Hopes and Achievements

PBBH President Alan Steinert handing off 50 year Time Capsule

At the 50th anniversary gala on May 20, 1963, PBBH President Steinert symbolically hands over the time capsule to the hospital’s youngest trustee, J. Linzee Coolidge, for safekeeping. The 11″ x 15″ metal box was later deposited in State Street Bank to wait out the decades.

In 1963, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and a parent hospital of the current incarnation, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), celebrated its 50th anniversary. One way staff marked the occasion was with a time capsule—a small box sent through time as a gift to the future celebrants of the hospital’s 100th anniversary. As they wished, the BWH Archivist, along with members of the BWH administrative staff and the trustee originally tasked with looking after the time capsule in 1963, opened it. Inside, we found a collection of objects and documents that capture their message of pride in the hospital’s achievements, and their great hopes for the future.

Boston Herald Headline Clipping from May 16. 1963. Gordon Cooper's Spaceflight.Reflecting the optimism of the new “space age”, the box included a newspaper clipping about astronaut Gordon Cooper’s May 1963 spaceflight, along with 50th anniversary celebration souvenirs saved from press articles, special scientific sessions, the opening of new facilities, award ceremonies, and alumni reunions. They also included a reel-to-reel tape recording of a hilarious satirical musical play by staff called “Through the Years.”

Plastic Administration Set from 1963. Used for the infusion of fluids into the bloodstream,Several examples of new, leading-edge medical tools being used at the Brigham were packed in, too. There was a new plastic blood bag (invented at PBBH) which had recently replaced glass containers, a plastic syringe (disposable!) which had also replaced glass, a plastic administration set, a new type of dialysis catheter, as well as a gelfoam sponge used as a hemostat.

TimeMag2A signed copy of historian David McCord’s book about the hospital’s first 50 years titled, Fabrick of Man; a copy of Time magazine with a cover featuring Surgeon-in-Chief, Francis D. Moore, MD; the 49th PBBH Annual Report and the Report of the Friends of PBBH; as well as the 50th Anniversary edition of the Brigham Bulletin, immersed us in the life and concerns of the hospital in 1963.

Plan of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital campus in 1963.One huge preoccupation of the day was merger planning. In 1963, the project to unite several local hospitals with PBBH had already been underway for many years. This dream of merger wasn’t finalized until 1975, but they left us a map of the PBBH campus as it was in their day with hopes that by ours, the combined hospitals would be reflected in an expanded, ultramodern facility. (Completed in 1980 and still growing!)

Cortone and Solumedrol. Drugs researhed at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1963.Another preoccupation was innovation. Having pioneered the field of transplantation with the world’s first successful kidney transplant in 1954, PBBH surgeons in 1963 were ready to attempt their first liver transplant. A team-based approach to breast cancer treatment and replacement parts to repair the heart also fascinated PBBH surgeons. They sent us, via time capsule, an X-ray of the first caged-ball valve implanted in a human heart. Researchers sent a Wall Street Journal article about new tests they had developed for the early detection of kidney and bladder cancer, and several drugs that they were experimenting with, including antibiotics, steroids, and hormones used for cancer therapy.

PBBH 1963 Time Capsule Letter from the Pathologist, Gustave Dammin, MD.All of these items were fascinating, but the most exciting find in the 1963 time capsule was a ribbon-tied packet of personal letters from people in 1963 to be opened by their counterparts in 2013. The Chairman of the Board, President, Director, and Chiefs of Medicine, Surgery, Radiology, Pathology, and Urology all sent missives.

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Nurse's Cap and School Graduation PinIn 1963, the Director of Nursing and of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital School of Nursing (1912–1985) was at the center of an evolution in the training of professional nurses. Along with her letter, she sent a copy of her speech accurately predicting the future of nursing education, as well as adding a PBBH nursing cap and a PBBHSoN graduation pin to the box.

Several others wrote letters too, for a total of 14 detailed glimpses into the minds and imaginations of hospital staff of 50 years ago. The reading of these letters 50 years later by the individuals to whom they were addressed was videotaped. You can listen to these or read each letter by following this URL:

Some of our favorite quotes from the letters:

  • “Automation will be abundant throughout the institution, and although solving many problems, will bring new ones with it.”
  • “…the continuing shortage of nurses…”
  • “My major problems have been securing sufficient funds to carry on our research program…”
  • “University medicine must … take a more active role in directing medicine and medical affairs outside of its four walls.”
  • “[Transplantation] should be regarded as the next great advance of human biology … I envy you the fact that fifty years later you will be able to say whether or not this dream came true.”
  • “The transition to a collegiate program of professional preparation [for nurses] will become a reality.”
  • “I prophesy the cure for cancer will not yet be found.”
  • “My dear Mr. President…”
  • “Gall stones will still exist to afford pleasure to the general surgeon.”
  • “[From] Station 21 V5 The Moon, 10 August 2013: …the Brigham [is] ready to return your reconditioned heart…I shall call you on your synophone as soon as I return. My crystal is x50279…”
  • “I sense that there is a thread of continuity that extends into the distant future, …headed in the direction of continued progress in medical science… in the teaching of medical students and the training of hospital residents, in the research laboratories, and in the care of patients.”

If you are in the neighborhood, drop in to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There is an exhibit of some of the above named time capsule items near the gift shop on the 2nd floor which will be on display throughout Blueprint,” the hospital’s celebration of significant anniversaries of its parent hospitals in 2013 and 2014.




Processing of Dwight E. Harken Papers has Begun

By , May 2, 2013

Western Union Telefax from President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dwight E. Harken, President of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), 19 February 1965, thanking the officers and members of the ACC for their immeasurable contribution to the "progress and well-being of the American people," and announcing the President's recommendation of legislation to "greatly facilitate the work of the cardiologist..."

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that processing of the Dwight E. Harken papers is now underway. Harken (M.D., 1936, Harvard Medical School) was Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham (PBBH) and Mount Auburn Hospitals, Clinical Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and a pioneer in cardio-thoracic surgical technique, medical instrumentation technology, and post-operative patient care.

While serving in London with the United States Army Medical Corps during World War II, Harken established his reputation as the first surgeon to perform consistently successful operations upon the interior of the heart when he removed shell casings, bone fragments, and other foreign bodies from in and around the hearts of 134 soldiers without a single fatality. Back in Boston following the war, he worked to adapt his technique for the treatment of mitral stenosis – cardiac valvular disease characterized by the tightening of the mitral valve, which regulates the passage of blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle. The first finger fracture valvuloplasty (a technique and term coined by Harken) was performed in June of 1948; by June of 1956, one thousand mitral valvuloplasty operations had been performed by Harken and his surgical team. On March 10, 1960, Harken achieved another first when he inserted a prosthetic aortic valve directly into a human heart at the site of the biological valve; the prosthesis was the first of several designed by Harken throughout his career. He was also the first to insert an implantable demand pacemaker – a device designed to avoid interference with the heart’s own natural electrical impulses by kicking in only when the heartbeat falls outside of a predetermined range. In addition to these and innumerable other surgical accomplishments, Harken pioneered the concept of the modern intensive care unit, the first of which opened at PBBH in 1951. He was also an early critic of tobacco smoking as a cause of lung cancer and heart disease. His papers reflect the diversity of his career within the field of cardio-thoracic medicine and illuminate the first decades of success in heart surgery.

The collection consists of records generated during Harken’s appointments in the United States Army Medical Corps and at Harvard Medical School, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (a predecessor of Brigham and Women’s Hospital), and the Mount Auburn Hospital, including his surgical notebooks, correspondence, research, writings, publications, professional activities, photographs, and audio-visual materials. The collection is currently scheduled to open in early 2014.

Joseph Murray Papers Open to Research

By , March 18, 2013

Joseph E. Murray

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of the Joseph E. Murray papers, 1919-2011. The papers are the product of Murray’s activities as a plastic surgeon, transplant surgeon, laboratory director, author, and Harvard Medical School alumnus, and include records from Murray’s plastic surgery and transplantation work at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Children’s Hospital Boston. The collection also contains his personal and professional correspondence, records from his activities as chairman of the Harvard Medical Alumni Fund, records from reunions of the Harvard Medical School class of 1943b, as well as Murray’s professional writings.

Joseph E. Murray (1919-2012), A.B., 1940, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts; M.D., 1943, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, transplant and plastic surgeon, received the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on organ transplantation. Murray served as Head of the plastic surgery departments at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Children’s Hospital Boston, Chief of Transplant Surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and Director of the Surgical Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. In 1954, Murray performed the first successful human organ transplantation, between identical twins, Ronald (donor) and Richard (recipient) Herrick, at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

The finding aid for the collection can be found here.

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

Links to previous blog posts on Joseph Murray:
In Memoriam: Joseph E. Murray, 1919-2012
Staff Finds: Joseph Murray and the Surgical Research Laboratory
Joseph Murray on the First Successful Human Organ Transplant

More Historic Brigham Newsletters Online, 1943–1961

By , August 22, 2012

View the newly digitized issues of the Brigham Bulletin.

“Hail! A New Baby is Born!” With that announcement on its front page, the very first Brigham Bulletin was inaugurated in the summer of 1943. The newsletter was conceived as a way of keeping Brigham staff who were serving in the armed forces during WWII informed about goings on at the hospital. Publication of the Brigham Bulletin stopped with the end of the war, but it was brought back by popular demand in 1950. There has been a hospital Bulletin published in one form or another ever since. The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives has made another portion of our collection of 60+ years of hospital newsletters available online, the latest covering the war years and the 1950s.

Thanks to the financial support of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Physicians Council for our Newsletter Digitization Project, these earliest Brigham Bulletins from the Archives have been added to the 1969-1977 batch digitized during Phase 1 of the project.

How interesting is this collection? Even a quick skim will reveal that the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, one of the parent hospitals of the current incarnation known as the Brigham and Women’s, was a tightly-knit village. The hospital staff of the time thought of themselves as a family. Here are some fun facts gleaned from the pages of the early Brigham Bulletins:

  • Did you know that the hospital used to employ a part-time barber?
  • Or that in the 1940s the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Chief of Surgery, Colonel Elliott Carr Cutler, was promoted to Brigadier General in the US Army and appointed as the Chief Surgeon for the European Theater of Operations?
  • The long hospital corridor, known by the nickname “the Pike,” had been an outdoor path between wards since 1913. Enclosing it began in 1945, albeit with long rows of sunny windows.
  • A Christmas dance was held every year for the nurses.
  • The Brigham installed a high-tech dial telephone system in 1950.
  • In 1958, the hospital was proud to announce that 6% of their doctors were women and that no one expected them to be celibate or infertile. “We welcome them as doctors and as women.”

What other interesting facts can you find?

This completes Phase 2 of the digitization of hospital newsletters. Two hundred and fifty-five pages dating from July 1943 through the Spring of 1961 are now keyword searchable. This is a direct link to page 1 of the first Brigham Bulletin: They are also permanently available from within the online Harvard Library catalog (search Brigham Bulletin).

Staff Finds: Joseph Murray and the Surgical Research Laboratory

By , August 17, 2012

Joseph Murray (far right) with Roy Calne (second from left), future 1988 Nobel Laureates Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings (third and fourth from left, respectively), and surviving transplant dogs.

Staff at the Center recently discovered notebooks from the Surgical Research Laboratory while processing the Joseph E. Murray Papers. Of particular interest are two notebooks detailing the work of Murray and his colleagues to refine surgical techniques for kidney transplantation in dogs, which lead to the development of the procedure used for humans. These notebooks date from 1952 to 1954; the first successful human kidney transplant, performed by Murray, took place in December 1954.

A sample detailing a renal autotransplantation procedure on a dog can be seen below. The notes include a description of the operation as well as a postmortem.

The Surgical Research Laboratory, located on the Harvard Medical School Quadrangle, was founded in 1912 by Harvey Cushing, surgeon-in-chief at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. The lab functioned as a place for animal-based surgical research, as well as a place for medical students to receive surgical experience. Members included Elliott Cutler, Carl Walter, Francis Moore, and Dwight Harken. Murray was director of the lab from 1952-1975. The lab closed in 2001.

The Joseph E. Murray Papers are expected to be opened to research in early 2013.

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Merrill Clary Sosman Papers Open to Research

Merrill Clary Sosman

Merrill Clary Sosman, undated. From the Portrait Collection, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Courtesy Harry Saltzman.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce the papers of Merrill Clary Sosman, M.D., have been processed and are now open to researchers. Merrill Clary Sosman (1890-1959), A.B., 1913, University of Wisconsin, Madison; M.D., 1917, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, was Clinical Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (1948-1956), and Roentgenologist-in-Chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston (1922-1956). Sosman was a leader in diagnosis by x-ray, the first to describe the calcification of heart valves as determined by x-ray, and significantly contributed to the establishment of a Department of Radiology at Harvard Medical School.

The bulk of the papers consist of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital administrative and patient correspondence, notes, report drafts, and Harvard Medical School administrative correspondence and lecture notes. In addition to his clinical activities, Sosman authored over eighty papers in scientific journals on the diagnosis and treatment of disease or tumors by x-ray and was an active member of many professional organizations. He was Chairman of the Section of Radiology for the American Medical Association from 1938 to 1939, and President of the New England Roentgen Ray Society, the American Roentgen Ray Society, and the Harvey Cushing Society.

For more information about Merrill Clary Sosman, the collection, and how to access the materials, please view the collection finding aid.

Processing of the Merrill Clary Sosman papers was made possible by the Countway Library’s Lloyd E. Hawes Fund for Radiology.

Historic Medical Diary Now Available Online

By , October 4, 2011

1912 Travels of the Medical Staff, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

In 1912, as the columns were being raised for the façade of the new Peter Bent Brigham Hospital on Francis Street in Boston, and before the final brick was laid or the plaster dust settled, the first Brigham Physician-in-Chief, Henry A. Christian, worked out a plan for his new staff to take a trip together to investigate the latest medical innovations in European clinics before beginning their official hospital duties.

This team, assembled by Dr. Christian, included Francis Weld Peabody, M.D., First Resident Physician; Channing Frothingham, Jr., M.D., Physician;  I. Chandler Walker, M.D. Acting Resident Physician; and Reginald Fitz, M.D., Assistant Resident Physician.

Throughout the summer of 1912, Drs. Christian, Frothingham, and Fitz toured various facilities across the continent. Dr. Peabody also traveled the continent, but spent five weeks in Copenhagen studying with physiologist, August Krogh (1874-1949). Dr. Walker spent nearly all his time with internist and physiologist, Paul Oskar Morawitz (1879-1936) in Freiburg, Germany.

They chronicled their travels and discoveries in diaries that were typed and assembled into an unpublished volume, a few copies of which were given away to their colleagues. Thanks to a generous donation from Brigham and Women’s Hospital donor, Frederic A. Sharf, the BWH Archives copy of 1912 Travels of the Medical Staff of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital was recently digitized and made available to the public via the Harvard Hollis catalog.

Look here ( for an interesting snapshot of the state of European medicine in the early 20th century. The volume includes description of visits to notable hospitals and physicians in Germany, Ireland (with notes about Christian’s attendance at the the Bicentenary Celebration of Trinity College), Scotland, France, Italy, Russia, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and England (including a visit with Sir William Osler at Oxford.)

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