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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c591

Robert Latou Dickinson papers


The Robert Latou Dickinson papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk), are the product of Dickinson's activities as a sex researcher, obstetrician and gynecologist, author, and artist.


  • Creation: 1881-1972 (inclusive)
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1926-1951


Language of Materials

Papers are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I, II, III, and IV. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for further 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.


22.35 cubic feet (20 records center cartons, 3 clamshell boxes, 2 letter size document boxes, 1 half legal size document box, and 1 flat oversized box.)

The Robert Latou Dickinson papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk), are the product of Dickinson's activities as a sex researcher, obstetrician and gynecologist, author, and artist. The papers include Dickinson's professional and personal correspondence. The correspondents include: Randolph Cautley on the manufacture of contraceptives; Norman Himes (1899-1949) regarding marriage research and contraception; Gershon Legman (1917-1999), who worked with Dickinson as a researcher on his writings; and Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), on contraception. Case histories and subject files related to his research interests include the topics of sexology, anatomy, fertility, and marriage. The collection also contains Dickinson’s writings for books and articles, including records related to his unpublished book Doctor as Marriage Counselor. The Biographical Records series includes Dickinson’s diaries, obituaries and related correspondence, photographs, and an unpublished biography written by Dickinson's son-in-law, George Barbour. Medical and non-medical artwork by Dickinson is also contained in the collection.

The Robert Latou Dickinson papers consist of five series: I. Correspodence, II. Research Records, III. Writings, IV. Biographical Records, and V. Medical Illustrations, Artwork, Slides, and Plaster Reliefs.

Papers are entirely in English.

Biographical Note

Robert Latou Dickinson (1861-1950), M.D., Long Island College Hospital, 1882, was an obstetrician and gynecologist, sex researcher, anatomist, author, and artist. Dickinson worked with Margaret Sanger in promoting contraception and was also known for his medical illustrations and work with Abram Belskie developing anatomical models.

Dickinson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 21 February 1861, to Horace Dickinson and Jeannette Latou. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York and at age 12 moved with his family to Europe for four years. While there he attended schools in Germany and Switzerland. Returning from Europe, Dickinson graduated high school from Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute in 1879. After receiving his M.D. from Long Island College Hospital, Brookyn, New York, Dickinson entered private practice in Brooklyn and joined the staff of Long Island College Hospital. During his career, he also worked on the staffs of Brooklyn Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.), Episcopal Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.), and Kings County Hospital (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.). While in private practice, Dickinson developed extensive sexual case histories of his patients, including sketches. This informed his belief in the need for physicians to serve as marriage counselors for their patients.

During World War I, Dickinson served on the National Council of Defense, Medical Section, as Assistant Chief (1917), and on the Army General Staff as a medical adviser (1918-1919). In 1919 and 1926 he joined public health missions to China. In 1923 Dickinson founded the Committee on Maternal Health (later National Committee on Maternal Health), through which he worked with Margaret Sanger on studies of contraceptive practices. In 1939 he became the Senior Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. During his career, Dickinson served as president of the New York Obstetrical Society, the Euthanasia Society of America, and the American Gynecological Society, as well as Fellow and Director of the American College of Surgeons.

After retirement from medical practice, Dickinson collaborated with sculptor Abram Belskie on teaching models of conception, fetal development, and birth, some which were exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, New York. The models were later featured in Dickinson's teaching book, Birth Atlas. The sculptures “Norma” and “Normman” were a product of their collaboration as well. Books published by Dickinson include A Thousand Marriages, Control of Conception, and Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy. In 1946 Dickinson received the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation award for his work in human fertility.

Dickinson traveled extensively during his life and in addition to medical illustration, he maintained a studio, drawing for his own pleasure and creating illustrations unrelated to medicine, primarily landscapes. He was a joint author of New York Walk Book. In 1890, Dickinson married Sarah Truslow. The couple had three children, Margaret (who predeceased Dickinson), Dorothy, and Jean. Sarah died in 1938 and Dickinson died in 1950 at age 89 of pleurisy.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Correspondence, 1881-1972, undated.
  2. ___ A. Professional Correspondence, 1881-1972, undated.
  3. ___ B. Personal Correspondence, 1887-1951, undated.
  4. II. Research Records, 1883-1950, undated.
  5. ___ A. Case Histories, 1883-1950, undated.
  6. ___ B. Subject Files, 1901-1950, undated.
  7. III. Writings, 1887-1960, undated.
  8. ___ A. Doctor as Marriage Counselor, 1912-1960, undated.
  9. ___ B. Publications, 1887-1950, undated.
  10. ___ C. Books, 1923-1950, undated.
  11. IV. Biographical Records, 1896-1972, undated.
  12. ___ A. Diaries, 1906-1950, undated.
  13. ___ B. Obituaries and Related Correspondence, 1950-1960.
  14. ___ C. Unpublished Biography, 1960-1972.
  15. ___ D. Photographs, 1896-1946, undated.
  16. V. Medical Illustrations, Artwork, Slides, and Plaster Reliefs, 1933, 1956, undated.
  17. ___ A. Medical Illustrations, undated.
  18. ___ B. Artwork, 1933, 1956, undated.
  19. ___ C. Slides, undated.
  20. ___ D. Plaster Reliefs, undated.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Robert Latou Dickinson papers were donated by Dororthy Barbour in 1969.

Related Collections in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine

  1. Papers of Clarence J. Gamble. H MS c23.
  2. Papers of Alan F. Guttmacher. H MS c155.
  3. Papers of Norman E. Himes. B MS c77.
  4. Papers of John Rock. H MS c161.
  5. Papers of Abraham Stone. H MS c157.
  6. Records of the National Committee on Maternal Health. B MS c78.
  7. Dickinson-Belskie Collection in the Warren Anatomical Museum, object numbers 20500-20778.

    Between 1939 and 1950, Robert Latou Dickinson and artist Abram Belskie collaborated at the New York Academy of Medicine to create molds and models of human reproductive anatomy for display and teaching aid. In 1945, Dickinson transferred his reproductive anatomy model collection to the Cleveland Health Museum. In 2007 the Health Museum was absorbed into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and at that time transferred the Dickinson-Belskie collection to the Warren Anatomical Museum. The collection is available for research. Advance notice is required. Consult Public Services for further information.

Related Collections in the Belskie Museum of Art and Science, Closter, New Jersey

Related holdings in the Belskie Museum include: sculptures from the Birth Series and the larger Dickinson-Belskie anatomical collection; correspondence of business dealings regarding the Dickinson-Belskie models; time logs of hours put in for the Dickinson-Belskie collection (from Belskie and the other artists who worked on it); receipts for materials used in making the Dickinson-Belskie models; catalog inventories by Dickinson about the Dickinson-Belskie models; photographs inside Belskie's shop showing him working on models.

Associated Papers at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University

Processing Information

Originally processed in 1993, reprocessed and new finding aid created by Bryan Sutherland, 2016 May.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the records and created a finding aid to improve access. To enhance preservation, processing staff re-housed the collection and, where necessary, items were removed from three ring binders and documents were photocopied onto acid-free paper. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals. Former collection number: B MS c72. In October 2019, the call number for this collection was changed from B MS c72 to H MS c591 to reflect correct classification according to collection ownership.

Dickinson, Robert Latou, 1861-1950. Papers, 1881-1972 (inclusive), 1926-1951 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Description rules
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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