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Brigham and Women's Hospital Archives (BWH)

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The Center for the History of Medicine is custodian for the historical archives belonging to the Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Collections include administrative and public relations records (1855 to 1979) from BWH's parent hospitals, including the Boston Lying-in Hospital, the Free Hospital for Women, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, the Robert B. Brigham Hospital, the Boston Hospital for Women, and the Affiliated Hospitals Center, Inc. The BWH Archives also collects and preserves historically noteworthy records of the Brigham and Women's Hospital from 1980 to the present.


Share Your 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing Stories

StongMed_NoSubStrong Medicine is a digital archive created by the Center for the History of Medicine to capture the Boston medical community’s experiences of and responses to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. It is a space where stories, photographs, and other media created by the medical community are available to inform and inspire health care professionals, students, and the general public.

Strong Medicine’s first submission is the Brigham and Women’s Boston Marathon Bombing Ephemera collection. It highlights only a fraction of the cards and letters of support, sympathy, and encouragement sent to Marathon survivors and healers at the Brigham from around the country. The collection also includes objects sent from as far away as Washington state and handmade blankets from as close as Braintree, Massachusetts. The cards and gifts embody the healing spirit felt for those affected by the Marathon Bombing.

Message of support sent to Brigham and Women's Hospital after th

In addition, the Boston Medical Library has funded the collection of interviews with key Boston health care professionals on duty that day. Three graduate students from Harvard’s History of Science department, Emily Harrison, Jacob Moses, and Miriam Rich, have scheduled interviews with professionals from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital. We continue to pursue the involvement of other trauma centers. Interview topics include disaster planning and preparedness, the awareness and presence of news media and social media, technologies and training, and lessons learned. Interviews are being undertaken this spring and will be uploaded to the digital archive as they are completed.

Strong Medicine is actively seeking and accepting submissions from individuals in the medical community to create the most complete and useful documentary record possible. Please submit your stories, photographs, texts, or social media screen captures to the Strong Medicine archive at http://countway.harvard.edu/strongmedicine or contact us to host a Strong Medicine collecting session at your institution.

Questions should be directed to Strong Medicine Project Coordinator Joan Ilacqua at Joan_Ilacqua@hms.harvard.edu.

We also invite you to visit our partner site, Northeastern University’s Our Marathon Boston Bombing Digital Archive.

Help us all remember, reflect, and heal.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives Opens 1963 Time Capsule

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: http://www.brighamandwomens.org/online/blueprint/time-capsule.aspx

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.




More Historic Brigham Newsletters Online, 1943–1961

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: http://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/42588502 They are also permanently available from within the online Harvard Library catalog (search Brigham Bulletin).

“Back in the Day”: new digital resources for BWH history

Brigham and Womens Hospital History Now Searchable Online

Who went before me? Were they like me? What did they do with their days? What did they care about and worry about? What were they proud of? What discoveries did they make, small and large, that echo forward in time to influence my work now?

Whether these questions are stray thoughts passing quickly through your mind during an otherwise too busy day, or the serious business of medical historians, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives can now offer an easier way to discover some answers. Thanks to the financial support of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Physicians Council, the BWH Newsletter Digitization Project, underway at the BWH Archives in the Center for The History of Medicine at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, has created an online resource for all those curious about life and work at the hospital in the past.

Phase 1 of the project completes the digitization of four volumes of hospital newsletters dating from December 1969 through December 1985. Find links to the Brigham Bulletin, Inside AHC, Inside Brigham and Womens Hospital, and BWH: Inside Brigham and Women’s Hospital—all 1600 searchable pages—below. They are also permanently available from within the online Harvard Library catalog.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital as we know it today is a much different organization than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Did you know that it was during the pivotal time period covered by these newsletters that the merger of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, the Robert B. Brigham Hospital and the Boston Hospital for Women (itself the result of a merger between the Boston Lying-in Hospital and the Free Hospital for Women in 1966) was accomplished after nearly 25 years of planning? The new entity, titled rather aridly as the Affiliated Hospitals Center, Inc., was the umbrella organization under which the parent hospitals operated as “divisions” from 1975 through 1980. When the construction of the new hospital tower at 75 Francis Street was finished and all the divisions were finally moved under one roof, the hospital trustees felt inspired to design a new name. They combined the best bits from all three parents and christened the unified hospital as Brigham and Women’s.

Try this: Pick a keyword that reflects something on your mind today. Could be something like nurse, heart, picnic, surgery, construction, volunteer, or whatever you are thinking about, and then search the old newsletters for insights into how your predecessors experienced the same subject 20 to 40 years ago. It’s fun to do—and the current state of the art in time travel.

Phase 2 of the BWH Archives Newsletter Digitization Project will commence as soon as we have filled in some of the gaps in our newsletter collections. Can you help? If you have stashed away any publications from BWH or any of its parent hospitals that you would like to contribute to the BWH archival collections, contact BWH Archivist, Catherine Pate, at cathy_pate@hms.harvard.edu. We are especially low on items from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

What interesting things will you find “back in the day?”

Brigham Bulletin, 12/1969 –2/1977 [Peter Bent Brigham Hospital]

Inside AHC, 6/1978–6/1980  [Affiliated Hospitals Center, Inc.]

Inside Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 7/1980–10/1983

BWH: Inside Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 11/1983–12/1985

Historic Medical Diary Now Available Online

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 (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:4321930) 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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