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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c168

Edward H. Kass papers


The Edward H. Kass papers, 1908-1990, are the result of the teaching, research and professional activities of Edward Harold Kass, William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Channing Laboratory at Boston City Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a specialist in infectious diseases.


  • 1908-1990.


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for resaerch. Access requires advance notice. There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted in Series II. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II, IIIA, IIIC, IVA, IVB, and V. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all materials in the collection. Researchers are responsible for identifying and contacting any third-party copyright holders for permission to reproduce or publish. For more information on the Center's use, publication, and reproduction policies, view our Reproductions and Use Policy.


37 cubic feet (36 record cartons and 3 document boxes)

HMS c168, the Edward H. Kass (EHK) papers, 1908-1990, are the result of the teaching, research, and professional activities of Edward Harold Kass, an infectious diseases specialist in the Harvard Medical School (HMS) community. The papers contain information on EHK’s medical accomplishments, professional relationships and activities, and experience at HMS, Boston City Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other medical institutions in Boston, Mass. EHK’s tenure at the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory and his experiences as an administrative board member of the Harvard Medical Unit at BCH are documented in the Boston City Hospital records in Series III. The bulk of the records, which falls between 1964-1990, is from EHK’s work as the director of the Channing Laboratory. Correspondence, writings, research data, conference materials, and photographs are the result of his infectious diseases research activities on pyelonephritis, bacteriuria, antimicrobial drug treatments, hypertension, and toxic shock syndrome (TSS).


Edward Harold Kass (EHK), 1917-1990, was appointed William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1974 and Director of the Channing Laboratory at Boston City Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in 1963 and 1977 respectively, and specialized in epidemiology and infectious diseases. EHK was born on 20 December 1917 in New York City, and married Fae Golden in 1943. After his first wife’s death in 1973, EHK married Amalie Hecht in 1975.

EHK received his AB and an MS in bacteriology from the University of Kentucky in 1939 and 1941, respectively. In 1943, EHK completed his Ph.D. in Medical Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin, and received his MD from the University of California at San Francisco in 1947. EHK was an intern at the Mallory Institute of Pathology at Boston City Hospital (BCH) from 1947 to 1948, beginning a 43-year association with Harvard Medical School (HMS). EHK completed a second one-year internship at BCH on the Second Medical Service in 1949, when he was appointed Research Fellow in Maxwell Finland’s laboratory at the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory (TML). One of the first projects that EHK and Finland collaborated on at BCH in 1949 was the first controlled clinical trial defining the role of corticosteroids in resistance to infection. EHK was later named Assistant Physician at the TML in 1951, the same year he was appointed associate in medicine at HMS. EHK was appointed Associate Director (Bacteriology) of the Mallory Institute of Pathology in 1957, a position he held until 1963 when he became the first director of the Channing Laboratory (CL) at BCH. EHK was also simultaneously appointed the director of the Department of Medical Microbiology at BCH, and chief of the Infectious Diseases Unit of HMS services at BCH in 1963. Between 1958 and 1968, EHK served as Associate Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology at HMS, and as Associate Professor of Medicine from 1968 to 1969, when he was appointed Professor of Medicine. In 1974, EHK was named the first William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine at HMS, a position that supports teaching and research activities in infectious diseases.

While at HMS and its affiliated institutions, EHK’s research primarily focused on antimicrobial agents, pyelonephritis, and hypertension. EHK and Finland conducted several studies on the clinical and laboratory use of new antibiotics in urinary tract infections. Through this research, EHK learned that in the “diagnosis and management of such infections was the interpretation of the positive urine culture.” To differentiate between infection and contamination in diagnosing pyelonephritis and urinary tract infections, EHK developed a quantitative approach to determine the number of bacteria in a sample, once widely known as the “Kass count.” His work during this time contributed to several treatments of urinary tract infections that became standard practice. While examining hypertension at TML, EHK’s research revealed that adult hypertension should be promptly treated to prevent further damage to organ systems. EHK also conducted research on the connection between hypertension in mothers and their children, and participated in several studies with the Epidemiological Research Unit of the British Medical Research Council examining links between bacteriuria levels and hypertension in Jamaica and South Wales. EHK’s research revealed that hypertension may begin in early childhood.

EHK’s epidemiologic research and his service as a member of the advisory committee on biometry and epidemiology of the National Heart and Lung Institute led to his involvement in the development of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. This community health center was one of fourteen national clinics chosen to participate in the Hypertension Detection and Follow-Up Program (HDFP) during the 1970s. EHK served as chairman of the original organizing committee and on the steering committee of the program. This national project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart and Lung Institute, and the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, screened individuals in geographically defined areas for hypertension and also studied the effectiveness of “therapy in controlling blood pressure and the extent to which the disability and death associated with hypertension is reduced.” While the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center provided substantial data for the HDFP, the facility also produced valuable research in urinary tract infections, oral contraceptive use and its relation to blood pressure, chronic lung diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, otitis media in infants and children, and the effects of tobacco use on the developing fetus, in a community laboratory model.

EHK remained at the CL at BCH until 1977, two years after HMS withdrew the rest of its medical unit from BCH. The CL then moved to Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) where EHK continued as the laboratory’s director and also became Senior Physician at BWH. While at BWH in the 1980s, EHK focused his research on toxic shock syndrome (TSS). In 1985, EHK and a team of researchers found that certain fibers in some menstrual tampons had a “powerful ability to absorb magnesium, enhancing production of the body of a bacterial toxin that causes” TSS. His research also proved that “production of staphylococcus toxin is maximized in the low magnesium vaginal environment created by these magnesium-binding fibers.” This research on the influence of the bacterium staphylococcus aureas on the production of TSST-1, the most common TSS toxin in vitro and in vivo, had major implications which resulted in revisions in the composition of menstrual tampons and a decrease in TSS diagnoses. EHK authored several articles on the subject, was frequently called as an expert witness in TSS lawsuits against menstrual tampon manufacturers, and shared his influential findings at numerous conferences and symposia related to TSS. In 1988, EHK retired from teaching but continued his research on TSS as Professor Emeritus at the CL until shortly before his death. In addition to his responsibilities at BCH, HMS, and the CL, EHK served as an infectious disease and internal medicine consultant to several Boston medical centers including Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Chelsea Soldiers Home.

During his career, EHK authored more than 475 articles and published on topics such as antimicrobial agents, pyelonephritis, TSS, hypertension, and bacteriuria. EHK and his wife, Amalie, published the first major biography of Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, Perfecting the World: The Life and Times of Dr. Thomas Hodgkin 1798-1866, in 1988. This work chronicled Hodgkin’s participation in numerous medical discoveries in the nineteenth century including his identification of acute appendicitis, the construction of blood cells, retroversion of the aortic valve, and promotion of preventive medicine, aside from identifying Hodgkin’s Disease, which bears his name. EHK was a founding member and the first president of the International Society for Infectious Diseases. He was also a founding member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the organization’s first secretary-treasurer and later president, and the editor of the organization’s publication, Journal of Infectious Diseases. In 1979, EHK started a new journal, Reviews in Infectious Diseases, which he edited through December 1989. EHK was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council’s Space Science Board from 1971 to 1975, and simultaneously chaired the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council’s Committee on Space Medicine. As a member of the Committee on Space Medicine, EHK examined the effects of weightlessness on astronauts’ metabolism and made recommendations for the study of materials recovered from the moon. EHK was also a founding member and the first president of the International Congress for Infectious Diseases in 1983. He served as president of the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel from 1985 to 1990. EHK died of lung cancer on 17 January 1990, at the age of 72.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Personal Correspondence, 1944-1990
  2. Series II. Harvard Medical School Administrative, Teaching, and Research Activities Records, 1955-1990
  3. Series III. Research Records, 1908-1978
  4. ___Subseries A. Thorndike Memorial Laboratory Records, 1923-1965
  5. ___Subseries B. Boston City Hospital Administration Records, 1959-1964
  6. ___Subseries C. Channing Laboratory at Boston City Hospital Records, 1908-1978
  7. Series IV. Channing Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital Administrative and Research Activities Records, 1976-1990
  8. ___Subseries A. Administrative Correspondence and Research Records, 1976-1990
  9. ___Subseries B. Toxic Shock Syndrome Research Records, 1976-1989
  10. Series V. East Boston Neighborhood Health Center Research Records, 1967-1986
  11. Series VI. Professional Organizations and Societies Records, 1950-1990
  12. Series VII. Infectious Diseases Society of America Records, 1963-1988
  13. Series VIII. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Science and Space Medicine Boards Research Records, 1968-1988
  14. Series IX. Writings, 1958-1989
  15. Series X. Records from Conferences and Symposia, 1957-1990
  16. Series XI. Travel Records, 1963-1986
  17. Series XII. Restricted Records and Patient Records


The collection includes 56 photographs and non-print items. Photographs and non-print materials listed in the order in which they appear in the collection, but are housed separately in box 36. Series II contains Harvard University records that are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. Restricted records are listed in the order they appear and housed in boxes 37-39.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Edward H. Kass papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Mrs. Amalie Moses Kass in 1990.

Related Materials

Related collections in the Center for the History of Medicine include the:

  1. Theodore L. Badger Papers, 1934-1981.
  2. William B. Castle Papers, 1921-1987.
  3. Maxwell Finland Papers, 1916-2003.
  4. William V. McDermott Papers, 1970s-1990s.

For more information on related materials, consult the Center for the History of Medicine Public Services Librarian.

Biographical Sources

  • Fowler, Glenn. Edward H. Kass, 72, Researcher on Toxic Shock, New York Times. 19 January 1990.
  • Harvard Medical School Press Release, 8 February 1974.
  • Kasper, Dennis et al. Faculty of Medicine-Memorial Minute Dr. Edward H. Kass, Harvard Gazette. 9 July 1993, 11-12.
  • Kass, Amalie M. A Brief History of the Channing Laboratory, 31 October 1996.
  • Lindsay, Bill. Local Couple Creates Definitive Biography of a Man and His Time, Lincoln Journal. 22 September 1988, 1, 3.
  • Passing the Torch: Infectious Disease Research, Harvard Medical School Perspectives. Autumn 1985, 2-3.

Processing Information

Processed by Jennifer Pelose, March 2002

Processing Note: When surveyed in 2000, the collection was divided into alphabetical sections that were further separated according to type of material and activity. The collection was organized into twelve series. Duplicates and items not created by EHK were discarded. Items within folders were not reorganized; many were found organized in chronological order.

Kass, Edward H. (Edward Harold), 1917- . Papers, 1908-1990: Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
The Edward H. Kass Papers were processed in 2000-2002 with support from the Boston Foundation at the request of Mrs. Amalie Moses Kass.

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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