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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c167

Maurice Howe Richardson papers


The Maurice Howe Richardson papers, 1869-1913, document Richardson's career as Surgeon-in-Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital and as the Moseley Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.


  • Creation: 1869-1913.


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. 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.


73.5 cubic feet (73 record cartons, 1 flat document box)

The Maurice Howe Richardson papers, 1869-1913, primarily contain records of Richardson's professional work as a pioneering abdominal surgeon and a Harvard Medical School faculty member. Correspondence, notes, syllabi, writings, lectures, examinations, articles, certificates, glass slides, and photographs document Richardson's abdominal surgery and appendicitis research and teaching activities. Richardson’s professional records also contain information on the changes and developments in surgical practice during the span of his career, particularly the process through which surgery evolved from a service performed at home by general practitioners and surgeons, to the standardized surgical practices of the present, performed in hospitals by highly skilled, specialized surgeons, often with significant academic credentials.

The bulk of the records date from 1890 to 1912, and document MHR’s medical and clinical training, both at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. In addition, the collection contains records from his private practice, research and publications, particularly concerning abdominal maladies, and academic and clinical work assigned to HMS medical students while he was a faculty member at MGH from the mid 1870s through the early 1910s. The collection also contains some personal records interfiled with the professional records and correspondence.


Maurice Howe Richardson (MHR), MD, was Surgeon-in-Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Moseley Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School (HMS). The son of Martha Ann Barber and Nathan Henry Richardson, he was born 31 December 1851 in Athol, Massachusetts. He received the AB from Harvard in 1873, and taught for a year in Salem High School. There he met Dr. Edward Brooks Peirson (1820-1874), a highly-regarded local physician. MHR studied medicine under Peirson’s guidance, and entered Harvard Medical School as a second-year student in 1874. During his last year as a student, he served for three months as surgical house officer at MGH. He resigned before completing his service to become a private assistant to the demonstrator in anatomy at HMS. He received the MD from HMS in 1877.

Following graduation, MHR immediately began a private practice. At the same time, he remained an assistant in HMS’s Anatomy Department where he became acquainted with Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809-1894), Parkman Professor of Anatomy, and began preparing specimens for Holmes' lectures. During this time, MHR began the extensive anatomical training that contributed to his surgical education and later practice.

MHR’s professional life bridged the period between pre-antiseptic and antiseptic surgery. Initially, he practiced throughout New England, performing surgery in private homes and hospitals. In 1882, MHR renewed his life-long affiliation with the MGH, becoming a surgeon to outpatients, and a visiting surgeon in 1886. In 1888, he gave up private general practice in favor of surgery, the first physician in New England to do so. He was a consultant to many Boston and New England hospitals, including Boston City Hospital, Carney Hospital, Corey Hill Hospital, and the Free Hospital for Women in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Richardson abdominal retractor, which bears his name, underscores his contributions to operative technique. Richardson’s surgical career culminated in his appointment as MGH Surgeon-in-Chief in 1911.

Between 1882 and 1912 MHR held several faculty positions at HMS. He became Demonstrator of Anatomy in 1882, Assistant Professor of Anatomy in 1887, Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1892, Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1902, and Chair of Clinical Surgery in 1903. In 1907, MHR succeeded John Collins Warren (1842-1928) as Moseley Professor of Surgery, and held this position until his death in 1912.

MHR frequently contributed to professional publications, including the Harvard Medical Journal, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Annals of Surgery, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. His early writings covered a wide range of surgical topics, including an 1886 paper describing the first gastrotomy for the removal of a foreign body through the stomach. In addition, MHR produced articles on many subjects pertaining to abdominal surgery, and became involved in early appendix research conducted by his colleague, Reginald Heber Fitz(1843-1913). Richardson’s research and writings contributed to the early diagnosis and surgical prevention of appendicitis.

MHR’s other research interests included diseases of the gallbladder, kidneys, and pancreas; male and female genito-urinary diseases; breast, uterus, and ovarian cancers; and cranial nerve surgery. He began a full-length volume on surgery of the abdomen that was partially written, but never completed. His most extensive published works were Surgery of the Abdomen and Hernia, in Roswell Park’s Surgery by American Authors(1895), and Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, in Frederic S. Dennis’s System of Surgery (1896).

MHR maintained active memberships in many professional societies. Besides participation in the Boston Medical Library Association, Boston Society for Medical Science, and the Obstetrical Society of Boston, he was an honorary member of Harvard’s Aesculapian Club, fellow of the Massachusetts Medical Society, charter member of the International Surgical Society, president of the American Surgical Association (1902), and chairman of the surgical section of the American Medical Association (1904).

In his private life, Richardson enjoyed music and outdoor pursuits. He played the piano, flute, cello, and bassoon, and enjoyed fishing, hiking, and hunting. Noted for physical strength and endurance, he walked nearly sixty miles, from Fitchburg, Massachusetts to the top of Monadnock Mountain in Jaffrey, New Hampshire and back, in one day. He served for one year on a committee for the regulation of Harvard athletics. MHR was married to Margaret White Peirson (July 1879) and they had six children.

On 31 July 1912, after a full day of surgery, Richardson died in his sleep. Funeral services were held at King’s Chapel, Boston, on 2 August 1912.

Series and SubseriesArrangement

  1. Series I. Family and Financial Records, 1885-1912
  2. ___ Subseries A. Family Correspondence, 1886-1910
  3. ___ Subseries B. Financial Ledgers, 1885-1912
  4. Series II. Personal and Professional Correspondence, 1881-1912
  5. ___ Subseries A. AlphabeticalCorrespondence, Incoming, 1881-1912
  6. ___ Subseries B.Chronological Correspondence, Outgoing with Index, 1886-1912
  7. Series III. Harvard Medical School Student and Teaching Records, 1874-1912
  8. ___ Subseries A. Student Notes, 1874-1880
  9. ___ Subseries B. Harvard Medical School Class Schedules and Syllabi, 1902-1910
  10. ___ Subseries C. Examinations, 1907-1910
  11. ___ Subseries D. Lectures, 1895-1912
  12. Series IV. Writings and Speeches, 1869, 1886-1912
  13. ___ Subseries A. Articles and Lectures, 1869, 1886-1912
  14. ___ Subseries B. Notes for Frederic S. Dennis’s System of Surgery and Roswell Park’s Surgery by American Authors, n.d.
  15. ___ Subseries C. Unpublished Draft [Surgeryof the Abdomen], 1903-1908
  16. Series V. Patient Records, 1886-1912
  17. Series VI. Photographs and Ephemera, 1889-1912
  18. ___ Subseries A. Certificates, 1902-1907
  19. ___ Subseries B. Glass Slides, 1911
  20. ___ Subseries C. Photographs, 1889-1912,n.d.


Patient records are located in Series V, although patient information is found throughout the collection. Photographs are listed where they belong in the collection, then again as Series VI, Visual Materials, in the order in which they appear. Boxes 33-34 and 74 contain oversize materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Maurice Howe Richardson papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Margaret E. Richardson in two accessions in 1999.

Related Materials

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

  1. Maurice Howe Richardson's faculty publications (1.Mh.1888.R)
  2. Edward Peirson Richardson, Sr., 1881-1944. Papers, 1875-1931.
  3. Edward Peirson Richardson, Jr., 1918- . Papers, 1898-1998.
  4. Harvard Medical School. Department of Surgery Records.

Consult Public Services for further information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Alyson Reichgott, March 2001

Processing Note: Seventy-three cubic feet of material from two accessions were integrated to form the six series of the collection. Eleven cubic feet of Edward Peirson Richardson, Sr. Papers, and two cubic feet of Ernest Amory Codman Papers, were removed and placed with their respective collections in the Center for the History of Medicine.

Richardson, Maurice Howe, 1851-1912. Papers, 1869-1913: AFinding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
The Maurice Howe Richardson papers were processed with support from Maragaret E. Richardson.

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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