On a Thursday in February 1980, English couple Mark Smith and Kay Lund were facing a dilemma: Smith was about to overstay his tourist visa while visiting Lund, a postdoctoral fellow in Joel Habener, MD’s Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology.
The MGH Archives houses the official records of the hospital dating back to its beginnings. Archivist Lucy Ross, who oversees collections of documents and photographs spanning more than a quarter mile of shelf space, discusses this valuable resource – and its constant surprises.
The MGH is all about looking forward, so why look back at its history?
The history of medicine is not all leeches and alchemy, but is about major ongoing themes, such as the evolution of the doctor-patient relationship, the progression of the scientific method and working toward evidence-based practices. The history of medicine touches everyone. At the MGH, records can show us why certain things are the way they are. Out of the apothecary, for example, grew not only the pharmacy, but also imaging. We can also gain perspective on how far medicine has come in a relatively short time.
Who uses the archives, and why?
Most requests come from MGH staff looking for photos relating to their department or verifying that a certain person was in their department during a certain year, though I should note that we do not have personnel records or modern patient records. We also host researchers from the world over who are writing papers or books on topics such as the history of the social service and anesthesia.
Where does the archives get its materials?
The archives collects whatever materials it can – such as Broadcast MGH emails about hospital policies or changes of heads of departments, or new issues of hospital newsletters to add to existing collections – but largely relies on donations from MGHers. Though donors are most commonly physicians, anyone can contribute. We aim to preserve the history of all the people who have made MGH what it is.
What is your favorite item in the archives?
Currently it is a scrapbook compiled by Jane Holbrook, a medical illustrator here in the 1940s, that includes not only department pictures, but also party pictures – snapshots of daily life inside and outside the hospital.
Aren’t a lot of the documents you consult – like reports – pretty dry?
Even in things that appear to be dry, you’ll find signs of life – doodles in the corner or a pithy cover letter. Also, I must say I come across a delightful amount of verse – in a newsletter called the World of MGH, department newsletters, retirement party programs – in places you’d least expect it.
Is it archives or archive?
Archives generally refers to collections of records or the physical place where the records are kept. Archive usually refers to less formal collections,
like a file cabinet full of old papers. Really, though, either term is fine.
- Feb | 7 | 2020
Female heroes – both the known and lesser-known – were showcased during the Jan. 31 Martin Luther King Jr. Gospel Celebration Breakfast, hosted by the Association of Multicultural Members of Partners (AMMP).
- Jan | 24 | 2020
In this week's Flashback Friday – an installment highlighting stories from the MGH Hotline archive – we took a look at MGH: A Brief Review, an annual publication created by the MGH Office of Resources and Development from the early 1950s to late 1960s.
- Jun | 28 | 2019
The Partners HealthCare board of directors has named Anne Klibanski, MD president and chief executive officer of Partners HealthCare.
- Jun | 14 | 2019
During a May 29 celebration of the Patricia R. Austen, RN MGH History Award, the Russell Museum was full of champions of MGH history.
- Mar | 22 | 2019
The MGH was nearing its 50th year of operation when hospital trustees approved a proposal from several women in the city who wished to volunteer their time to visit with patients and serve as “female wards of the Hospital.” And so the Ladies Visiting Committee was born.