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COLLECTION Identifier: Arch GA 37

Lawrence Joseph Henderson papers


This collection documents the career of Lawrence J. Henderson, Professor of Biological Chemistry at Harvard University. Types of materials include correspondence, speeches, writings, and materials that document his work at the Fatigue Laboratory, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Research Council.


  • 1906-1942


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. HBS Archives collections require a secondary registration form, please contact for more information.


6 linear feet (4 boxes, 4 cartons)

The papers of Lawrence Joseph Henderson contain memos, correspondence, lecture notes, speeches, reviews, photographs, certificates, and financial records. The bulk of the collection pertains to his professional activities between 1919 and 1941, but some documentation of his personal life is also included. Of special interest are his unpublished autobiographical writings in Series VII, which furnish an introspective outline of the development of his interests.

The collection contains significant documentation regarding the need for curriculum change in higher education, social and economic conditions of the inter-war years (1919-1939), ideas of Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto, effects of fatigue on productivity, and need for cross-disciplinary exchange in academia. These topics are well-documented in correspondence, Series I, and writings and speeches, Series VII. The collection illustrates Professor Henderson’s concern for improving the quality of university training, promoting technological advances, fostering the safety of displaced European academics in the late 1930s, administration of fatigue research, and other matters. These activities are documented in correspondence, Series I, as well as committee records and correspondence in Series IV and V and lab administrative materials in Series III.

Additional information about Henderson’s activities and ideas can be found among his speeches and writings, Series VII, which illustrate shifts in interest from physiology and chemistry to sociology and philosophy.

Biographical Note:

Lawrence Joseph Henderson, son of Joseph and Mary Reed (Bosworth) Henderson, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on July 3, 1878. He received the BA degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1898 and an MD from Harvard Medical School in 1902. Following graduation, he spent two years in Germany conducting research in the field of Biological Chemistry.

Upon his return to the United States in 1904, he began his long association with Harvard University. Henderson taught Biological Chemistry (1904-1905) at Harvard Medical School as an Instructor (1905-1910), Assistant Professor (1910-1919), and Professor (1919-1934). In 1934, Henderson became the Abbot and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry, an honor he retained until his death in 1942. He was also Chairman of the Society of Fellows from 1933-1942 and a member of the Harvard Cancer Commission from 1928-38. In addition to his teaching career at Harvard, he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Paris (1921), Yale University (1928), the University of Berlin (1928), and the University of California (1931).

His principal field was biological chemistry, but he also taught and wrote on sociological topics. Professor Henderson established the Fatigue Laboratory at Harvard Business School in 1927 to discover physiological norms for human biological processes and to study the physiological changes that cause fatigue in workers. The lab continued to operate until 1947. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Harvard undergraduate concentrations in biochemistry and in history of science, as well as the doctoral program in the history of science and learning. He was an enthusiastic proponent of the cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas at Harvard.

Henderson was active in a wide variety of professional organizations. He was Foreign Secretary for the National Academy of Sciences and also for the National Research Council. He was Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences section on Physiology and Biochemistry, and he chaired the National Research Council’s committee on Work in Industry and Committee on Inter-American Relations. He also played a pivotal role on the Rockefeller Foundation's Committee on Industrial Physiology.

He married Edith Lawrence Thayer in 1910. The Henderson’s had one son, Lawrence, Jr. The family lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Professor Henderson died on February 10, 1942 after a short illness.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1934-1938
  2. Series II. Committees at Harvard, 1928-1941
  3. Series III. Fatigue Laboratory, 1928-1940
  4. Series IV. National Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1928-1942
  5. Series V. National Research Council, 1936-1941
  6. Series VI. Teaching Materials, 1936-1941
  7. Series VII. Writings and Speeches, 1906-1941
  8. Series VIII. Personal Papers, 1920-1937

Physical Location


Processing Information

Processed: June 1995

By: Jeff Mifflin

Henderson, Lawrence Joseph, 1878-1942. Lawrence Joseph Henderson Papers, 1906-1942: A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository

Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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