[OASIS] Harvard University Library
OASIS: Online Archival Search Information System
http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HMS.Count:med00023View HOLLIS Record   Frames Version
Questions or Comments   Copyright Statement

On July 1, 2018, OASIS will retire. It will be replaced by HOLLIS for Archival Discovery. Please explore.
H MS c239

Ayer, James Bourne, 1882-1963. Papers, 1788-1960: A Finding Aid.

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)


Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Preservation and description of the James Bourne Ayer papers was supported by the Colonial North America at Harvard Library Project.

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: H MS c239
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Title: James Bourne Ayer papers, 1788-1960.
Date(s): 1788-1960.
Quantity: 3.5 cubic feet (3 record cartons, 1 document box, and 1 half legal document box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The James Bourne Ayer Papers, 1788-1960, document the professional and personal life of the James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and Chief of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Also included are diaries, correspondence, financial ledgers and notes of father and grandfather, James Ayer and James Bourne Ayer, both physicians.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The James Bourne Ayer Papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Mrs. Nancy Ayer Saltonstall, daughter of James Bourne Ayer, in 1966.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Shaina Marrus, March 2001.
Processing Note: When surveyed in 2000, parts of the collection were in alphabetical order. Patient records and unrelated material were discarded. Items within folders were not reorganized.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years. These restriction are noted where they appear in Series II and VII. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult the Public Services Librarian for further information.

Conditions Governing Use:

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the material in the collections. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Public Services Librarian. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Public Services Librarian are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright. Reference Services and Access Information.

Preferred Citation:

James Bourne Ayer papers, 1788-1960. H MS c239. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Related Materials

Related materials in the Center for the History of Medicine include:
For further information on related materials, consult the Public Services Librarian.


James Bourne Ayer (JBA), 1882-1963, James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Chief of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), received the AB from Harvard College in 1903 and the MD from HMS in 1907.
JBA's contributions to the field of neurology included new laboratory methods, standardization of test procedures, and the establishment of the first neuropathology laboratory at MGH. He developed the cisternal puncture during WWI and invented a tool for measuring cerebrospinal fluid pressure. His scientific work was published in many articles on neurological topics including meningitis, multiple sclerosis, spinal subarachnoid block, and brain tumors.
JBA's training in neurology began in 1908 with a year of study under Dr. Myrtelle Canavan, a neuropathologist at Danvers State Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts. JBA was appointed a fellow in pathology at HMS in 1910, and assistant physician to outpatients at MGH in 1911. After serving in the Army Medical Corps during WWI, he returned to MGH and became assistant neurologist, neurologist, and finally chief of neurology in 1926. He was the James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology from 1926 until his retirement in 1946.
JBA became president of the American Neurological Association in 1931. He was a member of the American Medical Association, the Massachusetts Medical Association, and the Boston Society of Psychiatry and Neurology.
JBA married Hannah Gilbert Palfrey and they had six children. JBA's father and grandfather were also physicians. His grandfather, James Ayer, 1815-1891, received the AB in 1834 and the MD in 1839 from Bowdoin College. In 1843 he married Martha Bourne; only one son, James Bourne, survived to maturity. JA was a practicing physician in Boston and a member of several medical associations, including the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, the Obstetrical Society of Boston, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the American Medical Society.
James Bourne Ayer, 1849-1910, was the son of James and Martha Ayer. He received the AB in 1869 from Harvard College and the MD in 1873 from HMS. He studied in Europe in 1875. JBA specialized in nervous disorders. He was a member of the American Medical Association and the Massachusetts Board of Insanity.

Series and Subseries Arrangement


The collection is arranged in ten series. There are no photographs in the collection. Box 4 contains oversize folders. There is patient and personal information interfiled in Series II and VII; these records are restricted for 80 years.

Scope and Content Note

The James Bourne Ayer Papers, 1788-1960, include the professional and personal records resulting from JBA's work as an academic physician and neurologist at HMS and MGH. The collection contains correspondence, memoranda, notes and writings that document his administrative, teaching, and research activities, including his research on human cerebrospinal fluid. JBA's correspondence with colleagues, staff meeting minutes, reports, writings and notes record his research and administrative responsibilities. JBA's professional activities are documented his correspondence with and about medical societies, particularly the American Neurological Association of which JBA was the president.
The collection also contains the records of JBA's father and grandfather who were both physicians. Biographical papers including trip journals, and family and professional correspondence document the life of James Ayer. Financial ledgers, diaries, and medical notes are the product of the the professional activities of James Bourne Ayer. Correspondence and a diary describe the lives of other members of the Ayer family.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Cerebrospinal fluid.
Harvard Medical School--Study and teaching.
Medical education.
Ayer, James Bourne, 1882-1963.
Ayer, James, 1815-1891.
Ayer, James Bourne, 1882-1963.
Massachusetts General Hospital. Dept. of Neurology.