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COLLECTION Identifier: B MS c60

Ernest Amory Codman Papers,

The Ernest Amory Codman papers, 1849-1981, contains correpondence concerning Codman’s book on treatment of diseases of the shoulder and other writings; patent and accompanying material for his invention of a surgical cutting tool; and some personal correspondence. Also includes patient records from Codman's service at Massachusetts General Hospital and his private medical practice.


  • 1849-1981

Conditions Governing Access

Access requires advance notice. Consult the Public Services Librarian for further information.

Boxes 1-11 of the Ernest Amory Codman papers are housed in the Center for the History of Medicine stacks. Boxes 12-17 are stored offsite. One record carton of patient note cards is unprocessed and closed to research. One oversized folder is located in XL005. Researchers are advised to contact reference staff for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use

The Boston Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Public Services Librarian. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Public Services Librarian are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright. Reference Services and Access Information.


6.85 cubic feet (11 flat black manuscript boxes, 2 document boxes, 1 record carton, 1 flat half record carton, 1 oversized legal document box, 1 half document box, 1 legal half document box, and one oversized folder.)

The collection of Codman Papers is a fragmentary one. It has been organized and distributed among eleven manuscript boxes: six of professional correspondence and related materials, and five of personal papers plus photographs. An inventory of these boxes follows. A large part of the professional materials concerns EAC's efforts to make surgical techniques, hospital organization and patient care more efficient. In recent times there has been a resurgence of interest in hospital standardization by those studying the economic aspects of health care and Codman is receiving recognition and even praise for his part in the movement.

An additional accession to the collection in 2005 includes 2.5 cubic feet of patient records, correspondence, and illustrations resulting from Codman's service at Massachusetts General Hospital and his private medical practice. These records are located in Series III, Patient Data and Research Records.

Oversized items in this collection are located in boxes 17, 18, and in drawer XL005.

Biographical Note

Ernest Amory Codman, a native of Boston, was born on December 10, 1869, and died on November 23, 1940. In the Brahmin fashion, he was educated at St. Mark's School, Harvard College and Harvard Medical School (M.D., 1895). In 1899, he strengthened his Brahmin connections when he married Katherine Putnam Bowditch. Codman's early career was spent at the Massachusetts General Hospital and at Harvard Medical School, where he served as assistant in anatomy and in clinical and operative surgery and as lecturer in surgery from 1900 to 1915. One of the early workers with x-rays, he practiced surgery from 1905 on, specializing in diseases of the bones and joints. Before long, he became an authority on bone tumors and diseases of the shoulder, and he later established a registry of bone sarcoma. His book on The Shoulder, first published in 1934 and still a classic, has the added bonus of an autobiographical preface and epilogue.

Describing himself as “quixotic” or “a little queer,” Codman's personality was very much a factor in his professional life. His was a strong character, uncompromising but with an attractive whimsical streak that, in all but his most strenuous moments, took the edge off his intensity. A good many of those strenuous moments came during his crusade to reform surgical practice and medical care by linking the standardization of hospitals to the creation of what he called “true clinical science.” To achieve this end, EAC formulated and developed his “end result system”--that is, a follow-up on patients to measure surgical and medical outcomes. His attempt to make a systematic study of the clinical consequences of advances in medical science made him part of a larger group of physicians, surgeons, nurses and administrators who were eager to bring industrial efficiency techniques to the practice of medicine.

Beginning in 1910, Codman launched a campaign to have standardization and the end result system adopted by hospitals throughout the land. To serve as a model, he opened a private hospital in Boston and issued annual reports that he mailed all over the country. At the same time, he instituted reforms at the Massachusetts General Hospital and worked through such organizations as the Clinical Congress of Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons (he was instrumental in founding the latter) to spread the gospel of his crusade. Bold and energetic, deeply committed to his mission, Codman not only served as a self-appointed gadfly to his colleagues, he also posed a threat to their autonomy. Openly combative and even outrageous in his tactics, he succeeded in antagonizing potential converts almost as much as he convinced them of the righteousness of his ideas. But he never lost faith in himself or his cause. In the post-World War I era, he continued to participate in the hospital standardization meetings and to promote his end result system.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Professional Correspondence and Related Records, 1891-1946, 1956, 1975, undated
  2. ___ A. Professional Correspondence with Individual Correspondents, 1907-1941, 1946, undated
  3. ___ B. General Professional Correspondence, 1894, 1903-1938, undated
  4. ___ C. Patient Correspondence, 1900-1935
  5. ___ D. Related Professional Correspondence, 1905-1926
  6. ___E. Hospital Standardization, Efficiency, Etc., Records, 1913-1920, undated
  7. ______ 1. General Correspondence, 1913-1920
  8. ______ 2. EAC Hospital Standardization and Efficiency Publications Correspondence, 1913-1920, undated
  9. ___ F. Codman Hospital Correspondence and Records, 1891, 1901-1941, 1956, undated
  10. ___G. Writings, 1896-1935, 1975, undated
  11. ______ 1. Manuscripts and Typescript Items, 1917, undated
  12. ______ 2. Printed Matter, 1896-1935, 1975
  13. II. Personal Correspondence and Records, 1849-1981, undated
  14. ___A. Personal Correspondence, 1880-1955
  15. ______ 1. Correspondence with Individual Correspondents, 1880-1939
  16. ______ 2. Chronological Correspondence, 1890s-1939, undated
  17. ______ 3. Katherine Bowditch Codman Correspondence, 1909-1955, undated
  18. ___ B. Legal and Financial Papers, 1885-1959
  19. ___ C. Biographical Records, 1849-1940, undated
  20. ___D. Personal Writings, 1856, 1895, 1900, 1906-1981, undated
  21. ______ 1. Manuscripts, 1895, 1900, 1917, undated
  22. ______ 2. Poetry, 1906-1933, undated
  23. ______ 3. Printed Items, 1856, 1926, 1934-1981
  24. ___ E. Photographs, undated
  25. III. Patient Data and Research Records, 1897-1921, undated
  26. ___A. Massachusetts General Hospital Correspondence and Records, 1895, 1900-1918, undated
  27. ______ 1. Correspondence, 1903-1918, undated
  28. ______ 2. Related Records, 1895, 1900-1914, undated
  29. ___B. Private Practice Records, 1897-1921, undated
  30. ______1. Patient Records, 1897-1917, undated
  31. _________ a. Patient Case Notes and Records, 1900-1917, undated
  32. _________ b. Patient Note Cards, 1897-1917, undated
  33. ______ 2. Subject Files, 1914-1921, undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Accession number 2005-050, Mrs. Margaret Richardson, June 9, 2005
Codman, E. A. (Ernest Amory), 1869-1940. Papers, 1849-1981: Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.

Repository Details

Part of the Countway Library of Medicine Repository

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