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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c240

Bradford Cannon papers


The Bradford Cannon Papers, 1902-2003, document Cannon's work at Massachusetts General Hospital as a plastic surgeon, a Clinical Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and his war service at Valley Forge General Hospital.


  • 1902-2003.


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 from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II, III, IV, V, VII, and VIII. 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.


13 cubic feet (9 record cartons, 3 document boxes, 11 small photograph boxes, 1 oversize photograph box.)
The Bradford Cannon Papers, 1902-2003, contain Cannon's records or his work as a plastic surgeon and clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. The bulk of the records date from 1943 to 1978 and are the result of BC's efforts to improve burn treatment and reconstructive techniques, both in the military and at MGH, and to improve plastic surgery practices and to establish residencies. The collection also contains records from Cannon's work at Valley Forge General Hospital. Less than one cubic foot of personal and family papers is included in the collection.


Bradford Cannon (BC), MD, a plastic surgeon and Clinical Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, whose contributions to plastic surgery include improvements to burn treatments and reconstructive techniques. His research and publications include original work on wound healing, soft tissue and bony reconstruction, tissue transplantation, and radiation injuries.

Cannon was born on December 2, 1907 in Cambridge, Mass. He is the son of Walter Bradford Cannon (WBC) (1871-1945) and Cornelia James Cannon (CJC) (1876-1969). BC received the SB in chemistry from Harvard in 1929. He married Ellen DeNormandie in 1938, and they had five children. Additional information about BC’s family and their life in Cambridge, Mass. may be found in Marion Cannon Schlesinger’s autobiography, Snatched From Oblivion: A Cambridge Memoir, published in 1979.

Following graduation, BC completed a general surgical residency under Evarts A. Graham at the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. While there, he worked with Vilray P. Blair and James Barrett Brown, and became interested in plastic surgery. He returned to Boston in 1940 as an Assistant Surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and specialized in burn treatment under Varaztad H. Kazanjian in the Plastic Clinic. BC assumed direction of the Clinic in 1941.

Also in 1941, at the behest of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, BC and Kazanjian started a clinic to treat congenital deficiencies at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., under the auspices of its Crippled Children’s Program. The center operated until 1974.

At the MGH Plastic Clinic, BC and his brother-in-law, Oliver Cope, studied the effectiveness of tannic acid, the most commonly accepted burn therapy treatment. Cannon recognized that immediate excision of affected areas, combined with skin grafts, was a superior treatment to tannic acid. Although already drafted into the Army Medical Service, BC remained at MGH to treat the victims of the Cocoanut Grove fire disaster in November 1942. BC and his colleagues tested their new treatment in the aftermath of the fire.

In 1943, BC was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the United States Army. He was assigned to duty as Assistant Chief of the Plastic Surgery Section at Valley Forge General Hospital (VFGH) in Phoenixville, Penn., under the direction of James Barrett Brown. During his four years of service, BC participated in over 15,000 operations, mostly reconstructive procedures, without a single fatality. He received the Legion of Merit Citation “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements” in 1946. That same year, BC replaced Brown as Chief of Plastic Surgery at VFGH. BC had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by the time of his discharge in 1947. BC returned to Boston and HMS in 1947 and was appointed Clinical Associate in Surgery. BC was appointed Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery in 1973 and Clinical Professor of Surgery in 1974; he later retired as Clinical Professor of Surgery Emeritus in 1974. An active HMS alumnus, BC served as vice-president 1968-1971 and president 1981-1982 of the HMS Alumni Association.

While maintaining his appointments at Harvard Medical School, BC resumed both his private practice and his duties at the MGH Plastic Clinic. From 1953 to 1963, BC served as a consultant for the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and made three separate trips to the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific to study the effects of fallout radiation. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, BC worked to gain recognition for plastic surgery practice in Boston. His goal was achieved in 1970, when MGH established a formal residency in plastic surgery. BC’s fifty-year tenure at MGH culminated in his appointment as Honorary Surgeon in 1991.

BC authored, co-authored, or edited dozens of articles, original reports, and monographs for professional publication, mostly on plastic and reconstructive surgery. Topics included wound healing, soft tissue and bony reconstruction, tissue transplantation, and radiation injuries. BC was on the editorial boards of Journal of Hand Surgery, 1975-1981, and Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 1958-1963. He was co-editor of the PRS from 1966 to 1973.

BC also maintained active memberships in many professional societies. He was a member of both the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Surgical Association. He was secretary-treasurer of the American Board of Plastic Surgery 1950-1955, President of the New England Society of Plastic Surgeons 1962-63, President of the Massachusetts Medical Benevolent Society 1972-1992, and President of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons 1957-1958. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and a Founding Member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Personal Correspondence and Papers, 1902-1998
  2. ___ Subseries A. Bradford Cannon Personal Correspondence and Papers, 1933-1998
  3. ___ Subseries B. Correspondence with Walter B. Cannon, 1902-1992
  4. Series II. Harvard University and Medical School, Administrative, Student, and Alumni Records, 1930-1982
  5. ___ Subseries A. Administrative and Teaching Records, 1940-1982
  6. ___ Subseries B. Student Notes, 1930-1932
  7. ___ Subseries C. Alumni Correspondence and Photographs, 1957-1981
  8. Series III. Massachusetts General Hospital Administrative Records, 1940-2000
  9. Series IV. Professional Activities and Associations Records, 1933-2003
  10. ___ Subseries A. Professional Organizations and Activities Records, 1933-2003
  11. ___ Subseries B. American Association of Plastic Surgeons Records, 1944-1999
  12. ___ Subseries C. American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons Records, 1948-1979
  1. Series V. Valley Forge General Hospital Administration and Patient Records, 1943-1988
  2. ___ Subseries A. Valley Forge General Hospital Administration Records, 1943-1975
  3. ___ Subseries B. Valley Forge General Hospital Patient and Treatment Records, 1943-1988
  4. Series VI. Writings, 1931-1996
  5. Series VII. Memorabilia and Scrapbook Correspondence, 1929-1994
  6. ___ Subseries A. Memorabilia, 1929-1994
  7. ___ Subseries B. Scrapbook Correspondence, 1938-1986
  8. Series VIII. Patient Records, 1948-1974
Arrangement Twenty photographs were physically removed from the collection; they are located in M022.08-M022.09 and S060.01-S060.20. Consult the Public Services Librarian for further information. Patient records are listed in Series V and Series VIII. Photographs are listed where they belong in the collection, and housed in boxes 10-13. There is personal and patient information interfiled in Series II, III, IV, V, VII, and VIII. These records are restricted for 80 years.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Bradford Cannon Papers were donated to the Harvard Medical School Library by Bradford Cannon in 2000.

Related Materials

Related collections in the Center for the History of Medicine include the:
  1. Walter B. Cannon. Papers, 1881-1945.
  2. William B. Castle. Papers, 1921-1987.
  3. Oliver Cope. Papers.
  4. Elliott Carr Cutler. Papers, 1911-1948.
  5. Robert M. Goldwyn. Papers.
  6. Varaztad Hovhannes Kazanjian. Papers, 1905-1984.
  7. Andrew M. Moore. Papers, 1936-1990s.
  8. Francis Daniels Moore. Papers, 1954-1997.
  9. Joseph E. Murray. Papers, 1943-1999.
For more information on related materials, consult the Public Services Librarian.

Processing Information

Processed by: Alyson Reichgott, December 2003

Processing Note: Seventeen cubic feet of material were integrated to form the eight series of the collection. Five volumes of scrapbooks, assembled by BC, were removed from acidic binders and sleeves and placed in the same arrangement in archival scrapbooks. Similarly, acidic newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks were photocopied and discarded. Patient names and social security numbers have been eliminated from correspondence and notes accompanying unrestricted material. Approximately two cubic feet of duplicate unmarked photocopies and reprints were removed and discarded. One cubic foot of mildew-damaged exhibit panels containing duplicate photographs and captions was removed and discarded. Two cubic feet of duplicate, unmarked annual meeting programs were removed and incorporated into the holdings of the National Archives of Plastic Surgery.
Link to catalog
Cannon, Bradford. Papers, 1902-2003: A Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
The Bradford Cannon Papers were processed with support from Bradford Cannon.

Repository Details

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

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