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MC 236

Ladies' Physiological Institute (Boston, Mass.). Records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, 1848-1996: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

This collection was processed under a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 236
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Ladies' Physiological Institute (Boston, Mass.)
Title: Records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, 1848-1996
Date(s): 1848-1996
Quantity: 2 linear feet (2 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 folio box)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Minutes, financial records, annual reports, correspondence, scrapbook, etc., of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, which sponsored lectures on health, physiology, and related topics.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 76-3, 81-M188, 97-M139
The records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Ladies' Physiological Institute between January 1976 and October 1997.

Processing Information:

Processed: November 1976
By: Katherine Gray Kraft
Updated: April 2014
By: Anne Engelhart

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by Ladies' Physiological Institute is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Ladies' Physiological Institute Records, 1848-1996; item description, dates. MC 236, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


The Ladies' Physiological Institute was an outgrowth of five years of meetings (1843-1848) on women's physiology led by one of Boston's first women physicians, Harriot K. Hunt. In 1848 Professor Charles P. Bronson announced a course of lectures for women "who should form themselves into a society for the promotion of useful knowledge among their own sex," offering to present such a group with his medical apparatus if they could raise $1000. Hunt's group met, adopted a constitution, and chose Eunice H. Cobb to receive Professor Bronson's donation, which consisted of a full size model of a woman; other anatomical models; bones; and French engravings. As none of the women was prepared to defy public opinion by serving as president of the new club, Professor Bronson filled that office for the first two years. Within a year of its formation, the Ladies' Physiological Institute had 454 members, in spite of the prevailing view that it was immodest and disgraceful for women to talk about the human body.
On May 6, 1850, the Institute was incorporated in Massachusetts stating its purpose as "promoting among women a knowledge of the human system, the laws of life and health, [and] the means of relieving sickness and suffering." Eunice Cobb, called "Mother Cobb," was elected president. The Institute held weekly lectures, covering such topics as "Physiology and Hygiene of Women in Middle Life," "Dress Reform and Physical Development," and "Development of Character in Schools." In 1895, the Ladies' Physiological Institute joined the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs, and in 1906 the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Over the years the scope of topics broadened, reflecting the more general interests of women's clubs in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


This collection contains Institute and Executive Board minutes for 1850-1857, 1937-1946, and 1994, and Institute minutes for 1881-1886. Included in the minutes are annual reports which summarize the year's activities, lecture topics, lists of officers and Board members, and also occasional committee reports. Financial records are complete only for the years 1848-1859 and 1954-1966. The only financial documentation for the years between 1859 and 1930 consists of treasurer's reports in the 1881-1886 minutes; financial records between 1930 and 1954 are scattered. The earliest handbook in the collection is for the year 1910; other years are represented, the last being 1995. Lists of members, officers, and past presidents, as well as the Constitution and By-Laws, and a brief history of the club are included in each handbook; the centennial handbook of 1948 contains a longer, more thorough history. There are also announcements of meetings; material on membership and committees; non-financial correspondence; printed material by and about the Institute; photographs, citations, and memorabilia.
In April 2014, correspondence, handbooks, newsletters, citations, and a scrapbook were added to the collection. These records are found in Box 3 and Folio box 4.


Container List

Additional Index Terms

Annual reports
Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs
Women--Health and hygiene
Women--Physiology--Study and teaching
Women--Societies and clubs
Bronson, C. P. (Charles P.)
Cobb, Eunice Hale, 1803-1880
Hunt, Harriot Kezia, 1805-1875