The Formation of the Department of Legal Medicine


Researchers in the Department of Legal Medicine by James C. Ward, circa 1941

From the Records of the Department of Legal Medicine

At Dr. Moritz’s return to Boston in September 1939, he began formal organization of the Department of Legal Medicine, and its operations started in February 1940.  Moritz viewed his responsibilities as three-fold: teaching of undergraduate and post-graduate students from Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University and the training of law officers in legal medicine; consultation on cases with local medical examiners’ offices; and research on medico-legal issues.  In early 1940, laboratories were established on the third floor of Building E, adjoining the Magrath Library, and in addition to lectures, addresses, and publications, the staff pursued research on such diverse subjects as chromate poisoning, urine testing for alcohol intoxication, and analysis of gunshot residue.  At the same time, Alan R. Moritz was appointed as Expert Assistant (Medico-Legal Consultant) to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety and Associate Medical Examiner for Suffolk County.  


The dean made a formal appointment of Frances Glessner Lee as Consultant to the Department of Legal Medicine in 1943, in recognition of her ongoing role to promote its work.  By the end of that year, however, some division of opinion between the Medical School and Mrs. Lee began to be apparent and, according to the dean’s assessment:

One was the overemphasis which she believes research is given in the Harvard Medical School and in the Department of Legal Medicine.  She considers research an ornament and routine the fundamental matter.  Therefore, she is very anxious to see state police teaching develop as a means of putting higher standards of Legal Medicine into operation.  She hopes that the seminars for state police will be held, each with a central theme, and that confidence in the practical and helpful nature of this Department will be built up.



At this same time, Alan R. Moritz began to express his frustration with a lack of personnel and financial support from the Medical School, caused, in part, by restrictions of the war years.  He also felt the growing demands of his position beyond teaching and research, as he and his staff were consultants in over 200 post-mortem examinations for the Commonwealth during 1946, and the number of cases continued to increase. 




Harvard Medical School
Department of Legal Medicine 
Credo : typescript, circa 1960 

From the Records of the Department of Legal Medicine 

While unclear how or even whether this statement of beliefs was ever used, it provides an overview of the purpose and function of the Department of Legal Medicine.

Alan Richards Moritz (1899-1986)
The Formation of the Department of Legal Medicine