Johns Hopkins' present and future owe a debt to those
who safeguarded its past — the
generations of faculty, staff and alumni of the Johns
Hopkins Medical Institutions who had the vision
to save the historical records that today constitute the Medical
First came the nurses at the Johns Hopkins Hospital
School of Nursing, who were trained to be
record keepers. Under the leadership of Mary Adelaide
Nutting, superintendent of nurses from 1894
to 1907, they began collecting documents that would become
the Johns Hopkins Nursing Historical
Collection, housed in their school's library. Their
collection grew when their alumni sponsored the 1954
publication of their history by Ethel Johns and Blanche
Pfefferkorn, The Johns Hopkins Hospital
School of Nursing 1889-1949.
Alan M. Chesney, the School of Medicine's dean from
1929 to 1953, led the initial effort to
establish an archival repository for The Johns Hopkins
Hospital and the School of Medicine. Chesney
felt an obligation to preserve the many significant
institutional documents he had uncovered while
researching and writing his three-volume history, The Johns
Hopkins Hospital and The Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine: A Chronicle.
For the next two decades, Chesney attempted to
persuade hospital and School of Medicine
administrators — and directors of the Welch Medical
Library and the Institute of the History of
Medicine — to establish and oversee an archival
program. To his great dismay, he met opposition at
Chesney, who died in 1964, would not live to see his
vision realized. Yet his monumental efforts
and persistence paved the way for what would become the
Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives,
which turns 30 this year.
To celebrate the occasion, the Medical Archives hosted
a birthday event on Wednesday in the
School of Medicine's Tilghman Room — the site of the
archives' dedication ceremony 30 years earlier —
to offer invited guests a glimpse into the archives' past
and their digital future.
Since the Medical Archives' inception, its mission has
been to collect and preserve records and
cultural materials critical to the legacy and ongoing
operations of the Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions. It also seeks to promote access to
collections for use in ongoing operations of the
medical institutions and as primary resources in research
Among its vast holdings — which now include the
Johns Hopkins Nursing Historical Collection, as
well as the records of the School of Public Health —
are personal paper collections, research papers,
historic photographs and films, biographical files and
several thousand art objects and artifacts,
including a major portrait collection.
Ralph Hruban, chair of the Medical Archives Advisory
Committee, said at the event that the
archives remain a vital patch of Johns Hopkins' fabric.
"Our history and traditions separate Johns Hopkins
from other institutions, and the archives
are the keepers of that. They show the heart and soul of
this institution," Hruban said. "And this
history is a living history that we can use today. It helps
guides us and serves as a map as we go out on
uncharted seas, such as the development of new curriculum
for the School of Medicine."
The archives are jointly funded by The Johns Hopkins
Hospital and the schools of Medicine,
Nursing and Public Health, with additional financial
support from individuals, foundations,
organizations and federal agencies.
After Chesney's passing, the plan for a medical
archive slumbered. The collections of documents
and records that Chesney assembled remained in storage in
various nooks and crannies of the library
and elsewhere. In 1973, when the hospital's School of
Nursing closed, Betty Cuthbert placed the
school's institutional records and personal paper
collections in the Nightingale Room of the Welch
Medical Library, the Maryland Historical Society and in her
Then along came Thomas B. Turner, the School of
Medicine's dean from 1957 to 1968. While
researching a history of the Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions from 1914 to 1947, Turner collected
significant documentation. After publishing Heritage of
Excellence in 1974, Turner turned his
attention to developing an archival repository for the
He set out on a round of diplomacy. First he persuaded
the president of The Johns Hopkins
Hospital (Robert Heyssel) and the deans of the schools of
Medicine (Richard S. Ross) and Public
Health (D.A. Henderson) to fund a joint archival program
for JHMI. Turner next sought and received
permission from hospital and university trustees.
Told of the need for funds, Turner turned his
attention to grant writing. A grant from the
Commonwealth Fund of New York would help pay for the bricks
and mortar and compact shelving, while
grants from the National Historical Publications and
Records Commission and the National Library of
Medicine would fund the start-up staff.
Turner later obtained permission from the trustees to
name the archives in honor of Chesney,
and on May 17, 1978, the Alan Mason Chesney Medical
Archives was formally dedicated.
Turner served as inaugural director until 1982. He was
succeeded by A. McGehee Harvey, the
former chairman of the Department of Medicine and physician
in chief of The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The key focus of Harvey's directorship was shoring up the
documents, data and information that were
needed to prepare for the upcoming centennials of the
hospital and the School of Medicine, to be
documented in the book A Model of Its Kind.
Harvey stepped down as director in 1987, and his
successor was Nancy McCall, who continues in
that post today.
In her remarks at the event, McCall said that it took
a special man like Turner to make
Chesney's dream finally come true.
"Turner was the consummate diplomat in East
Baltimore," said McCall, who worked as a part-
time editorial assistant to Turner and aided in setting up
the archival program. "He had connections at
all the institutions, and he used them. It was quite an
accomplishment at the time to have this sort of
Initially, for administrative purposes, the archives
were placed in the School of Medicine within
the Office of the Dean; in 1987, they moved to the
Institute of the History of Medicine.
The archives have had several physical homes. They
were first housed in Turner Auditorium and
later moved to the Hunterian Building and then to 2024 E.
Monument St., all on the East Baltimore
campus. In October 2005, the archives and the staff —
including seven full-time employees, student
interns and volunteers — moved into 11,500 square
feet on the second floor of McAuley Hall on the
university's Mount Washington campus. The archives had long
since outgrown their 4,200 square feet
at 2024 E. Monument St.
Today, the staff transacts around 1,000 reference and
research requests per year, nearly half
from users with Johns Hopkins affiliations.
The Medical Archives has directed a number of major
projects in its history, including a three-
year effort in the 1980s to process personal paper
collections of JHMI faculty and staff, a seven-
year project to collect the Johns Hopkins Medical
Institutions' records, and the preservation and
digitization of 1931 film footage of The Johns Hopkins
Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Base Hospital
18 in World War II.
McCall said that because digitizing entire collections
would be cost-prohibitive, the staff has
concentrated its resources on describing what is in the
collections. This year, it began to digitize some
of the more than 400,000 photographs in its collection as
part of a larger effort to preserve critical
JHMI records, data and information in digital formats.
Another key feature of the archives' digital
planning is to develop strategies for preserving data and
information in digital formats so that it may
be retrieved and used over time. In 2007, it began a
project to develop a model for electronic records
management at JHMI, funded by the National Historical
Publications and Records Commission. The
staff hopes to report its findings within the next year.
At the event on Wednesday, the archives premiered a
new Web site, which, when it goes live
later this month, will open up the catalog to the public,
allowing users to search for documents, images
and histories. It will also include complete finding aids
to some of its large personal paper collections
listing all of their folders.
McCall said that the lives and contributions of the
individuals represented in the collections are
inspiring and relevant to the challenges that the health
professions face today.
"One of the great privileges of working with the
holdings here has been not only to document
the actual evolution of the medical institutions but to
document the values and culture of the
institution over time," she said. "The archives show the
strength and grit that was required to build a
world-class institution of teaching, research and patient
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