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COLLECTION Identifier: GA 92

Soma Weiss papers


The Soma Weiss papers, 1922-1957, contain records from Weiss's teaching, research, and administrative activities as Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School and Physician-in-Chief at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. His research focused on biochemistry, the pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease, and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics.


  • Creation: 1922-1957


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II, IV, V, and VI. 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.


5.3 cubic feet (4 record cartons, 3 document boxes, 1 legal document box)

The Soma Weiss Papers, 1922-1957, are the result of Weiss's teaching, research, and administrative activities at Harvard Medical School, Boston City Hospital, and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. The papers range from his early research at Cornell University Weill Medical College and Bellevue Hospital, through the years spent at the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at BCH, and end with his brief tenure as Physician-in-Chief of PBBH. The collection contains records from SW’s professional activities, including lectures and public appearances, as well as from his participation in the work of organizations such as the American Foundation for Studies in Government’s Committee of Physicians and the American College of Physicians.


Soma Weiss (SW) was appointed Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School and Physician-in-Chief of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1939. He was born on January 27, 1899 in Bestercze, Hungary, the son of Ignac and Leah Kahan Weiss. At age seventeen, SW began to research respiratory metabolism in the laboratory of Dr. Hari at the Royal Hungarian University in Budapest and published his first scientific paper, The Significance of the Increased Respiratory Quotient in Forced Breathing and Increased Muscle Work, at age 19. He later served as Demonstrator and Researcher in Physiology and Biochemistry at the Royal Hungarian University before leaving Europe. In 1920, SW moved to New York City and attended Columbia University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1921. After admission to Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, SW was appointed an Assistant in the Department of Pharmacology as a student and published his first American research paper on the reflex nature of the emetic action of digitalis under the guidance of Dr. Robert Hatcher. In 1923, SW received the MD from Cornell and began a two-year internship at Bellevue Hospital. SW moved to Boston in 1925 to join Dr. Francis Peabody of Boston City Hospital (BCH) at the newly established Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, which combined clinical research with patient care.

Beginning as a Research Fellow, SW had consecutive appointments as Associate Director of the Harvard Medical Unit at BCH in 1930, Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services (Harvard) at BCH in 1932, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) the same year. SW spent the next seven years at BCH as an administrator, teacher, and researcher. He integrated the three intern programs of Boston University, Harvard, and Tufts at BCH. At the same time, his continued research in biochemistry, the pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease, and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics (in which he often served as his own test subject) resulted in a number of publications. At the Thorndike, SW worked with Kenneth Mallory in 1929 to describe “Mallory-Weiss Syndrome,” a condition in which forceful retching causes a tear in the esophagus, eventually leading to internal bleeding. He also collaborated with James Porter Baker in 1933 to publish the first comprehensive description of carotid sinus syncope, or “Weiss-Baker Syndrome.”

In September 1939, SW was appointed to succeed Dr. Henry Christian as the second Physician-in-chief of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH); at the same time, he was appointed Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at HMS. While at PBBH, SW continued to serve his hospital, his students, and his community. SW was a devoted mentor to many HMS students, as well as to a great number of BCH and PBBH interns; many of his students joined leading medical schools and hospitals across America. SW believed strongly in the continuing education of the medical profession, giving many public lectures and graduate clinics during his tenure at BCH and PBBH, as well as extending an open invitation to visiting colleagues to join him on Grand Rounds at both hospitals.

Despite the increase in administrative and teaching responsibilities that accompanied his appointment at PBBH, SW’s continued to pursue his research interests. He published in the fields of pathological physiology of cardiovascular disease and clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, adding works such as Preeclamptic and Eclamptic Toxemia of Pregnancy (co-authored with Lewis Dexter) to a list that would eventually include more than two hundred publications. SW also served on a number of Harvard Medical School committees, including the Committee on Pharmacology and the Committee on Bacteriology, both of which the he chaired.

SW was active in more than two dozen different professional associations, including the American College of Physicians, the AMA Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, and the American Foundation for Studies in Government. At the start of World War II, he became involved in relief organizations, such as the Boston Committee for Medical Émigrés and the Russian War Relief.

Weiss and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School established the annual “Soma Weiss Research Day,” first sponsored by SW in 1940, as an opportunity for students to share their research with other members of the Harvard community. On January 31, 1942, SW died suddenly from a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage. His death, at age 43, shocked the international medical community.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal Papers, 1922-1945
  2. ___ Subseries A. Biographical Papers, 1925-1942
  3. ___ Subseries B. Student and Intern Research Records, 1922-1925
  4. ___ Subseries C. Family Correspondence and Papers, 1934-1945
  5. Series II. Harvard Medical School Records, 1931-1957
  6. Series III. Boston City Hospital Records, 1924-1938
  7. Series IV. Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Records, 1938-1941
  8. Series V. Research and Teaching Notes, 1928-1942
  9. Series VI. Professional Correspondence, 1928-1943
  10. Series VII. Professional Activities Records, 1928-1949
  11. ___ Subseries A. Speeches and Lectures, 1929-1940
  12. ___ Subseries B. Publications and Related Correspondence, 1928-1949
  13. ___ Subseries C. American College of Physicians Conference Records, 1940-1941
  14. ___ Subseries D. American Foundation Studies in Government Committee Records, 1937-1941
  15. ___ Subseries E. Other Professional and Charitable Organizations Records, 1933-1941

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. The Soma Weiss Papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Elizabeth Sachs Weiss Jones, wife of Soma Weiss, in 1964.
  2. Accession number 2001-012was donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Dr. Walter Abelmann on August 16, 2000.
  3. Accession number 2008-045 was donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Dr. Joel Katz on February 8, 2008.

Related Materials

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

  1. Soma Weiss' faculty publications (1.Mh.1921.W)
  2. Boston City Hospital. Harvard Medical Unit. Records, 1970-1973

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

Processing Information

Processed by: Megan Milford, May 2003

Processing Note: The Soma Weiss papers were accessed as call number GA 92. Some personal records, primarily those dealing with the Weiss household in the years following SW’s death, such as mortgage statements and maintenance invoices, were removed from the collection, as were duplicates and items not created by SW. Part of the correspondence series was photocopied and the originals discarded due to water and mold damage. Materials from fifteen document boxes and one folder were integrated to form the seven series of this collection; most of the original order was retained and papers were not reorganized within folders.

Processing Information

Marco Lanier revised the Immediate Source of Acquisition Note in this finding aid in December 2022 to bring it into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). He replaced "Mrs. Victor O. Jones" with "Elizabeth Sachs Weiss Jones."

Weiss, Soma, 1899-1942. Papers, 1922-1957: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description

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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