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B MS c72

Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861-1950. Papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk): 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

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: B MS c72
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Creator: Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861-1950.
Title: Robert Latou Dickinson papers,
Date(s): 1881-1972 (inclusive)
Date(s): 1926-1951 (bulk)
Quantity: 21.45 cubic feet (20 records center cartons, 2 letter size document boxes, 1 half legal size document box, and 1 flat oversized box.)
Language of materials: Papers are in English.
Abstract: The Robert Latou Dickinson papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk), are the product of Dickinson's activities as a sex researcher, obstetrician and gynecologist, author, and artist.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The Robert Latou Dickinson papers were donated by Dororthy Barbour in 1969.

Processing Information:

Originally processed in 1993, reprocessed and new finding aid created by Bryan Sutherland, 2016 May.
Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access. To enhance preservation, processing staff re-housed the collection and, where necessary, items were removed from three ring binders and documents were photocopied onto acid-free paper. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I, II, III, and IV. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.
The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use:

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

Preferred Citation:

Robert Latou Dickinson papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk). B MS c72. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

Related Collections in the Belskie Museum of Art and Science, Closter, New Jersey

Related holdings in the Belskie Museum include: sculptures from the Birth Series and the larger Dickinson-Belskie anatomical collection; correspondence of business dealings regarding the Dickinson-Belskie models; time logs of hours put in for the Dickinson-Belskie collection (from Belskie and the other artists who worked on it); receipts for materials used in making the Dickinson-Belskie models; catalog inventories by Dickinson about the Dickinson-Belskie models; photographs inside Belskie's shop showing him working on models.

Associated Papers at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University


Plaster casts (#20779-20781) were transferred to the Warren Anatomical Museum in June 2016.

Biographical Note

Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), M.D., Long Island College Hospital, 1882, was an obstetrician and gynecologist, sex researcher, anatomist, author, and artist. Dickinson worked with Margaret Sanger in promoting contraception and was also known for his medical illustrations and work with Abram Belskie developing anatomical models.
Dickinson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 21 February 1861, to Horace Dickinson and Jeannette Latou. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and at age 12 moved with his family to Europe for four years. While there he attended schools in Germany and Switzerland. Returning from Europe, Dickinson graduated high school from Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute in 1879. After receiving his M.D. from Long Island College Hospital, Brookyn, New York, Dickinson entered private practice in Brooklyn and joined the staff of Long Island College Hospital. During his career, he also worked on the staffs of Brooklyn Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.), Episcopal Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.), and Kings County Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.). While in private practice, Dickinson developed extensive sexual case histories of his patients, including sketches. This informed his belief in the need for physicians to serve as marriage counselors for their patients.
During World War I, Dickinson served on the National Council of Defense, Medical Section, as Assistant Chief (1917), and on the Army General Staff as a medical adviser (1918-1919). In 1919 and 1926 he joined public health missions to China. In 1923 Dickinson founded the Committee on Maternal Health (later National Committee on Maternal Health), through which he worked with Margaret Sanger on studies of contraceptive practices. In 1939 he became the Senior Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. During his career, Dickinson served as president of the New York Obstetrical Society, the Euthanasia Society of America, and the American Gynecological Society, as well as Fellow and Director of the American College of Surgeons.
After retirement from medical practice, Dickinson collaborated with sculptor Abram Belskie on teaching models of conception, fetal development, and birth, some which were exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, New York. The models were later featured in Dickinson's teaching book, Birth Atlas. The sculptures "Norma" and "Normman" were a product of their collaboration as well. Books published by Dickinson include A Thousand Marriages, Control of Conception, and Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy. In 1946 Dickinson received the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation award for his work in human fertility.
Dickinson traveled extensively during his life and in addition to medical illustration, he maintained a studio, drawing for his own pleasure and creating illustrations unrelated to medicine, primarily landscapes. He was a joint author of New York Walk Book. In 1890, Dickinson married Sarah Truslow. The couple had three children, Margaret (who predeceased Dickinson), Dorothy, and Jean. Sarah died in 1938 and Dickinson died in 1950 at age 89 of pleurisy.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Scope and Content

The Robert Latou Dickinson papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk), are the product of Dickinson's activities as a sex researcher, obstetrician and gynecologist, author, and artist. The papers include Dickinson's professional and personal correspondence. The correspondents include: Randolph Cautley on the manufacture of contraceptives; Norman Himes (1899-1949) regarding marriage research and contraception; Gershon Legman (1917-1999), who worked with Dickinson as a researcher on his writings; and Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), on contraception. Case histories and subject files related to his research interests include the topics of sexology, anatomy, fertility, and marriage. The collection also contains Dickinson's writings for books and articles, including records related to his unpublished book Doctor as Marriage Counselor. The Biographical Records series includes Dickinson's diaries, obituaries and related correspondence, photographs, and an unpublished biography written by Dickinson's son-in-law, George Barbour. Medical and non-medical artwork by Dickinson is also contained in the collection.
The Robert Latou Dickinson papers consist of five series: I. Correspodence, II. Research Records, III. Writings, IV. Biographical Records, and V. Medical Illustrations, Artwork, and Slides.
Papers are entirely in English.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Anatomy, Artistic.
Birth control--United States.
Human anatomy--Models.
Marriage counseling.
Medical illustration.
Medicine and art.
Sex in marriage.
Sexual intercourse--Case studies.
Anatomy, Artistic
Marital Therapy
Medical illustration
Medicine in Art
Models, Anatomic
Sexual behavior
Case histories
Cautley, Randolph.
Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861-1950.
Himes, Norman Edwin, 1899-1949.
Legman, G. (Gershon), 1917-
Sanger, Margaret, 1879-1966.
National Committee on Maternal Health (U.S.)
Church of the Holy Trinity (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)