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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c158

Ethel Collins Dunham papers


The Ethel Collins Dunham papers, 1950-1965, are the product of Dunham's work in children's health. Dunham, whose specialty was in newborn babies, and in particular, premature babies, established national (US) standards for the care of newborns. The collection includes her research on the family life of primates.


  • 1950-1965


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. The papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for more information concerning retrieval of material.

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 cubic feet (3 record cartons, 1 file box, 5 card and lantern slide boxes.)

The Ethel Collins Dunham papers, 1952-1965, are the product of Dunham's work in children's health. The bulk of the collection includes documents that relates to Dunham's work—drafts of her publications, correspondence with colleagues, research notes, and what she called ‘source material,’ excerpts of articles and clippings. These files document Dunham's research process, and include articles, research notes, multiple draft chapters of books, and letters written to colleagues about the topics of her work. Much of the records are what Dunham called 'source material,' which is all of the material used to develop the content of her publications, including bibliographies, articles, notes, and typescripts. Series V contains records from Dunham's work with opossums.

Biographical Notes

Ethel Collins Dunham (1883-1969). B.A., 1914, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and M.D., 1918, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland,was a pediatrician and professor at Yale Medical School. While working as Chief of Child Development at the U.S. Children's Bureau, where she established standards for the care of infants, including those born prematurely.

Ethel Collins Dunham was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1883. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1914 and then from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1918. She completed an internship in pediatrics under Dr. John Howland in 1920. Dunham then was appointed instructor at Yale Medical School in 1920, was promoted to assistant and then associate clinical professor in 1927. During this time, Dunham became a consultant to the United States Children’s Bureau.

In 1935, Dunham left Yale and was appointed Chief of Child Development at the Children’s Bureau, where her life partner, Martha May Eliot, was appointed Assistant Chief. Dunham, whose specialty was newborn babies, and in particular, premature babies, established national (U.S.) standards for the care of newborns. These standards were published as Standards and Recommendations for the Hospital Care of Newborn Infants, Full Term and Premature (1943). In Premature Infants: A Manual for Physicians, she expanded on her research to include information from other countries.

From 1949-1951, Dunham worked at the World Health Organization, studying premature birth with an international group of experts in Geneva. When Eliot was appointed head of the Children’s Bureau in 1951, she and Dunham moved to Washington, D.C. In 1957, the American Pediatric Society awarded Dunham its highest honor, the John Howland Medal; Dunham was the first woman pediatrician to receive the award. When Eliot resigned in 1957, the two women relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In addition to her public advocacy work and developing standards for newborn infant care, Dunham also championed research. In the mid-to late 1950s, Dunham became interested in opossum babies to see if correlations could be made between opossums (who as marsupials, are born very prematurely, and develop in the mother's pouch), and premature human babies.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I: Biographical and personal records
  2. II: Family life among nonhuman primates research records
  3. III: Working Papers
  4. IV: Premature infants research records
  5. V: Opossums research records
  6. VI: "Family Life Among Primitive People" research records

Related Material

An oral history of Dunham conducted as part of the Family Planning Oral History Project and the records of Dunham's life partner, Martha May Eliot, and an can be found at the The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. For more information, please contact The Schlesinger Library directly.

Processing Information

Processed by Giordana Mecagni.

Processing staff refoldered the collection, retaining as much of Dunham's original filing system and groupings as possible.Additional descriptive information was added for folder and series titles. Dunham's own descriptions of the contents of folders was put in quotes in the folder titles. The collection was then divided into series and re-housed. Processing staff discarded duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine.

Charlotte Lellman revised some archivist-supplied folder titles and the Series VI title, as well as the biographical note of this finding aid, in July 2022 to bring them into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). In particular, Lellman changed the description to avoid the use of the term "primitive" to describe indigenous societies in Tasmania and other parts of the world or to clarify that the term was Dunham's, not the archivist's. She also added the names of two Aboriginal Tasmanians, William Lanney and Truganini, to a folder title, and added several details to the biographical note.

Dunham, Ethel C. (Ethel Collins), b. 1883. Papers, 1952-1965: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
The Ethel C. Dunham papers have been processed and made available by the Archives for Women in Medicine project with generous support from our donors.

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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