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H MS c36

White, Paul Dudley, 1886-1973. Papers, 1870s-1987: 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.: H MS c36
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Creator: White, Paul Dudley, 1886-1973
Title: Paul Dudley White Papers, 1870s-1987.
Date(s): 1870s-1987.
Quantity: 1 collection (197 boxes, 1 half document box)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Papers document White's role in the American Heart Association (AHA), International Society of Cardiology, International Cardiology Foundation, and the National Heart Institute (NHI); introduction of the EKG in Boston and at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH); his clinical work; research and writings on heart disease; and interest in comparative electrocardiography, especially of whales. Significant events which are recorded in the collection include White's consultancy to Dwight Eisenhower after his heart attack; 1946 medical mission to Czechoslovakia and several trips to the U.S.S.R.; and visits with Albert Schweitzer in Gabon, and to China.

Processing Information:

This finding aid has been posted as a product of converting a heritage finding aid to an electronic format for the purpose of facilitating collection access. Researchers should be aware that this finding aid has not been revised to meet current Center for the History of Medicine descriptive practices, nor nationally promulgated content standards. Please report any difficulties using this guide to Public Services.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. Contact the Public Services Librarian 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 Harvard 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 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:

Paul Dudley White papers, 1870s-1987. H MS c36. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Biographical Note

The essence of Dr. White's place in history was captured in the Boston Globe on November 1, 1973. The lead editorial that day began: If anyone in the world deserved the title "Dr. Heart" it was Paul Dudley White, who died yesterday in his beloved Boston. He deserved the title for many reasons. One is that when he was born on June 6, 1886, the word cardiology did not exist. When he became an intern at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1911, cardiology was being born. They grew together and he became one of the greatest developers: teacher, physician, innovator, preacher and prophet without peer.
Paul White, New England born and bred, was the son of a physician who practiced in the Roxbury section of Boston and helped to found the New England Baptist Hospital. Young Paul attended the Roxbury Latin School, where the classical curriculum gave him a sense of history, and a vision of the future; even more, it gave him an ease of written and verbal expression that would serve him well in the years to come. Then followed what was to be a lifelong association with Harvard, first as an undergraduate at the College and student at the Medical School, and later as a member of the Medical Faculty, rising to clinical professor of medicine in 1946.
He began his affiliation with the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he spent his entire career, immediately after receiving his medical degree. In 1913, the award of a Sheldon Fellowship from Harvard allowed him to spend a year abroad, at which time he trained with Thomas Lewis in London in the newly-established specialty of cardiology. Upon his return, he was one of the first to introduce the electrocardiograph into the United States. During World War I, he served with the British and American Expeditionary Forces in France and at war's end went on to Greece as a member of a Red Cross mission to control typhus.
Back in Boston in 1919, Dr. White soon became chief of the Out-Patient Department at the MGH in addition to his continuing work as physician in charge of its Cardiac Laboratory and Clinics. His work in the hospital's clinics and wards attracted many physicians--future world leaders in cardiology--to seek training with him and collaborate in his research. Awarded a Moseley Traveling Fellowship in 1928, he used it for a sabbatical year to travel abroad and write his monumental text, Heart Disease. First published in 1931, Heart Disease went through many subsequent revised editions and became the standard work for the profession.
Dr. White's reputation continued to grow in the following decades as he published and broadcast the ever-increasing body of knowledge and his own remarkable contributions pertaining to the art and the science of cardiology. He was instrumental in developing and utilizing many of the discoveries and advances in heart care and knowledge that came out of World War II. From 1948 to 1957, he was executive director of the National Advisory Heart Council and chief adviser to the National Heart Institute of the U.S. Public Health Service. As a clinician, his care of the patient was becoming legendary; over time his encouraging and optimistic outlook would change the prognosis for thousands of patients recovering from heart attacks and give them the confidence to resume normal and productive livers.
In September 1955, Paul White became the best-know physician in America when he was called in as a consultant after President Eisenhower had a heart attack. This event, which happened when PDW was almost 70 and in his "retirement" years, immediately catapulted him into the media's limelight; his informative and authoritative news conferences set a new standard for the handling of Presidential illness. His prescription for living, simple and direct, became a crusade that fueled the health and fitness movement: eat sparingly, drink moderately, avoid smoking, and above all, exercise daily. Virtually launched on a new career as an elder statesman of medicine, he used his wisdom and experience to foster international cooperation and further the quest for world peace. When he died at the age of 87 after more than 60 years of service to mankind, the world lost a splendid physician and a fine human being.
PDW's long and distinguished career has been the subject of many articles, interviews and newspaper accounts. The April 1965 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology was devoted to a series of essays about him, edited by E. Grey Dimond and published separately as Paul Dudley White: A Portrait. In 1971 Dr. White's autobiography, My Life and Medicine, written with the help of Margaret Parton, was published. Finally, in 1986 a full-length biography appeared: Oglesby Paul's Take Heart: The Life and Prescription of Dr. Paul Dudley White. It was Dr. Paul who obtained funding in the early 1980s, mainly from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, for organizing, cataloging and preserving the Paul Dudley White Papers. Later, when the present archivist took up the work, Dr. Paul obtained further assistance with a grant from the Milton Fund.
Paul White had a long-standing interest in medical history--"the handsome eternal framework of our venerable profession" in the words of Samuel A. Levine, another eminent heart specialist--and took care to study the record of the past as well as current literature in his field. In his later years, he became a collector of major medical works published since the invention of printing, which he ultimately presented to the Boston Medical Library. It is fitting that his papers also reside in the Countway Library and that they will be available for research and study far into the future.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

Scope and Content

The Paul Dudley White Papers, one of the most extensive collections of manuscripts and archives in the Rare Books Department of the Countway Library of Medicine, documents the life and times of a world leader in cardiology and a great humanitarian. Although the bulk of the collection concentrates on the last twenty-five years of Dr. White's life--from the post-World War II era to his death in 1973--there is also a range of earlier materials scattered throughout the various sections that cover the first half of the twentieth century.
Parts I, II and III of the collection reflect Paul White's ever-widening role in and relations with local, regional and national associations, as well as his importance as a founder, leader and promoter of such specialty groups as the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and National Heart Institute. He was much in demand as a speaker to both medical and non-medical audiences. His extraordinary energy and enthusiasm made him the center of attention at meetings and conferences. The AHA files contain the record of his presidency in 1941-1942 as well as his efforts to publicize the cause of cardiology in a succession of Heart Fund campaigns and good-will appearances.
Parts IV and V are devoted to activities on the international scene, not only by means of the organizations that Dr. White founded, guided, and supported, but also as an indefatigable world traveler, heart specialist and statesman of medicine. From the late 1940s he sought to improve world understanding of heart disease and foster a cooperative approach to research through the International Society of Cardiology, world and regional congresses of cardiology, and most of all, through the International Cardiology Federation and its network of national heart foundations. In the file of countries may be found the record of PDW's extraordinary achievements on six continents: his post-World War I and II medical missions to Greece, Czechoslovakia and Italy; his efforts to cement East-West relations through exchange of visits with medical personnel in the USSR and Eastern bloc countries; his connection with Albert Schweitzer and his hospital in Gabon; his trip to the People's Republic of China in 1971 as a member of the first medical group allowed to visit under the Communist regime.
Among the files in Part VI are materials relating to Dr. White's most famous patient, Dwight D. Eisenhower; his interest in comparative electrocardiography, with emphasis on whales; his sponsorship of bicycling and other forms of exercise; his efforts in behalf of conservation and environmental issues; his pronouncements on physical fitness, diet and smoking. The PDW Papers, when they came to the Countway, contained no alphabetical files for individual and corporate correspondence. These have now been created to form Part VII and include not only such individuals as Grenville Clark, Ashton Graybiel, Wilhelm Raab and Jeremiah Stamler, but also such corporate entities as the Elbanobscot Foundation, Sara Gordon Heart Trust, National Life Insurance Company and Smith College.
The file of publications and manuscript materials in Part VIII attests to the prolific output of Paul White as author of more than 900 scientific and popular articles and of twelve books--including several editions of his classic text Heart Disease. The personal and biographical materials that follow in Part IX provide details of PDW's family background and boyhood, early training and travels as reported in his letters home, the warmth of his relations with family and friends. This section also contains files on his awards, honors and nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as materials relating to his health, final illness and death. Here, too, may be found his connections with Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as his service in World War I.
All this is supplemented by memorabilia and bulk materials in Parts X and XI--not only photographs and audio-visual materials, diaries and notebooks, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, but also Dr. Oglesby Paul's interviews and working files for his biography of PDW. It should be noted that the memindex card files and patient ledgers are of value as a chronological approach to the collection. Access to the 108 cartons of patient records, which are stored off-site, is by permission only.

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