George Burgess Magrath (1870-1938)

Photograph of George Burgess Magrath

Photograph of George Burgess Magrath, July 1933

Gift of the Department of Legal Medicine to the Library of Harvard Medical School

For the next few years, other than as a voluntary course of lectures on the relations of medicine to law and the courts, legal medicine was not part of the standard curriculum.  This changed in 1907 with the appointment of George Burgess Magrath (1870-1938), the Medical Examiner for Suffolk County, as instructor.  In 1918, in a letter to the Medical School's dean, Edward H. Bradford, Magrath said of his position:

I am eager to make the presentation of this subject in the Harvard University Medical School the best thing of its kind in this country.  My official work not only endows me with rich opportunity, but likewise through the contact with the body politic of physicians incidental to it, convinces me of the stirring need of its wider use for educational purposes.  Again I have no need to comment with you on the low status of medical jurisprudence in this country, and on the meagreness of the instruction therein offered by our medical schools.  This community is one of the very few in which scientific medicine is officially applied to the use of the law, and it ought to be the one in which the principal institution of medical research and instruction transcends all others in the field of medical knowledge.

Magrath offered a course in legal medicine for second-year students and provided them with the opportunity to observe post-mortems at Boston's North District Morgue and Massachusetts General Hospital.  In 1918, this became a “systematic and approximately adequate” course for third-year students; by 1929, however, legal medicine had been reduced to a few lectures at the end of the course in pathology

George Burgess Magrath (1870-1938)