Browse Exhibits (3 total)

Broad Foundation

Conceiving the Pill

In 1883, Harvard Medical School moved into new quarters on Boylston Street in downtown Boston, and for the first time in a century, the school was able to provide adequate laboratory and clinical space for its students. A promotional brochure from that period describes the rationale behind the new building as “to secure for each student that direct personal supervision and instruction, forming such a marked feature of the courses offered, especially in the thorough laboratory training, which is so essential in securing a broad foundation for future clinical work.”

This “broad foundation” has been the hallmark of Harvard’s efforts in medical education from the origins of the institution in the late 18th century to the present day. Now, in the 21st century, with the centennial of the dedication of the Longwood campus and the opening of the New Research Building on Avenue Louis Pasteur, Harvard's tradition of providing excellence in medical education and research continues. This exhibit, “A Broad Foundation,” traces the evolving history of medical education at Harvard—its faculty, students, curricula, and facilities—from the establishment of the school and its earliest days down to its current flourishing state.

Monumental Success: The Centennial of the Harvard Medical School Quad


A Monumental Success

When the Harvard Medical School moved into its new home on Boylston Street in the fall of 1883, the building was thought to be sufficient for "many generations" of students, but in fact the limitations of the Boylston building and the increasing number of both students and faculty prompted the decision to move and build again. By the opening of the 20th century, the Medical School had nearly 600 matriculants—nearly three times the number in 1883—and a faculty of 40 with over 100 additional instructors, lecturers, and assistants in 24 departments—with insufficient laboratory space for many of them. A new plan of study, adopted in 1899, increased the amount of student laboratory work as well.

At its meeting on February 3, 1900, the Faculty of Medicine resolved that, rather than spread the school out physically, "the interests of Medical Education in its broadest sense will be best served by the greatest practicable concentration in one locality of the buildings devoted to instruction, since by this means teachers will be helped, students stimulated, loss of time prevented, and a great dimunition of expense secured both for plant and for maintenance." The Faculty also proposed that a hospital be created under the care of the Medical School, following the model of Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. Later that spring, the Faculty and the Harvard Corporation agreed to purchase the Francis estate for $600,000. This parcel of land—over 26 acres between Longwood Avenue and Francis Street— would be the site of the new medical campus.

Nature of Every Member: An Anatomy of Dissection at Harvard Medical School

The Nature of Every member

Why study human anatomy? To John Hall, writing his poem An Historicall Expostulation, in 1565, it was the chief of medical arts which had to be mastered “if ye will cure well anything.” Anatomy was one of the three first areas of medical study at Harvard, and John Warren, the first member of the faculty, was a renowned anatomist and surgeon. And though Oliver Wendell Holmes could maintain by 1861, that “human anatomy may be considered an almost exhausted science. From time to time some small organ which had escaped earlier observers has been pointed out… but some of our best anatomical works are those which have been classic for many generations,” anatomy through dissection continued to be studied and taught to first-year medical students, and it still holds a place in the modern curriculum today. The Nature of Every Member chronicles the long and distinguished history of the study and teaching of human anatomy through dissection at Harvard Medical School, moving from the very foundation of the school to the present day. Coupled with teaching through human dissection are the changes and developments in anatomical legislation, as the illicit practice of grave-robbing for anatomical study gives way to legal instruments of anatomical gift for science.