Mary Ellen Avery papers
The Mary Ellen Avery papers, 1929-2002, consist of personal and professional correspondence, teaching materials, professional activities records, grant records, articles and drafts, lectures and speeches, diaries, photographs, and other records from Avery's life and career as a pediatrician in: Boston, Massachusetts; Montreal, Quebec; and Baltimore, Maryland and as a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Boston, where she was the first woman to chair a major department. She was the first female Physician-in-Chief at Children's Hospital, Boston. In 1959, Avery discovered that the lack of lung surfactant in premature infants causes respiratory distress syndrome.
- 1929-2002 (inclusive)
- Avery, Mary Ellen, 1927-2011 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of record creation. Access to personal information about individuals and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of record creation. Both University records and personal information appear in all series of the collection (Series I-VIII). Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.
The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact reference staff 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.
Extent31.5 cubic feet (30 record cartons and 3 flat oversized boxes)
The Mary Ellen Avery Papers, 1929-2002, consist of personal and professional correspondence, teaching materials, professional activities records, grant records, articles and drafts, lectures and speeches, diaries, photographs, and other records from Avery's life and career as a pediatrician in: Boston, Massachusetts; Montreal, Quebec; and Baltimore, Maryland and as a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Correspondence (Series I) includes letters of recommendation, reports from meetings, and committee and travel correspondence. Professional records (Series II) consist of correspondence, reports, patient records, notes, newspaper clippings, committee materials, and other records chronicling Avery’s involvement and interactions with professional organizations, committees, publications, and institutions, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Joint Program in Neonatology, the American Pediatric Society, and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Professional records also contain correspondence and reports from the Joint Program in Neonatology, Children’s Hospital, Boston, Montreal Children’s Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. Grants records (Series III) consist of applications, renewal forms, correspondence, budgets, reports, and other materials related to grants from the National Institutes of Health and Specialized Centers of Research that Avery was involved with, as well as correspondence with the National Tuberculosis Association. Lectures (Series IV) and teaching records (Series V) contain speech drafts, correspondence, syllabi, and notes from Avery’s travels around the world as a guest lecturer and as a professor at Harvard Medical School. Writings (Series VI) and subject files (Series VII) consist of drafts and reprints of writings by Avery on such topics as respiratory distress syndrome, hyaline membrane disease, pulmonary , bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and oral rehydration. Personal records (Series VIII) include diaries, calendars, photographs, and certificates and awards.
Please note that the abbreviation "MEA" was employed by the records creator on folder titles and stands for "Mary Ellen Avery."
Materials are entirely in English.
Mary Ellen Avery (1927-2011), A.B., 1948, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts; M.D., 1952, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, was Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and Physician-in-Chief Emeritus at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Avery is known for discovering in 1959 that the lack of lung surfactant in premature infants caused respiratory distress syndrome. Avery was the first woman to chair a major department at Harvard Medical School, and the first female Physician-in-Chief at Children's Hospital, Boston.
Mary Ellen Avery was on born on May 6, 1927 in Camden, New Jersey. She attended Wheaton College, received an A.B. in 1948, and was awarded a M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1952. After graduating from medical school, Avery was a research fellow in pediatrics with Dr. Clement Smith at Harvard Medical School (1957-1959), and later a fellow in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University (1959-1960). At Johns Hopkins, Avery went on to become Assistant Professor in Pediatrics (1960) and the Eudowood Associate Professor of Pulmonary Disease of Children (1965). During this time, Avery was also Pediatrician-in-Charge at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After nine years at Johns Hopkins, Avery moved to Canada to become Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at McGill University, Montreal, as well as Physician-in-Chief of Montreal Children’s Hospital, Quebec province. In 1974, Avery returned to Harvard Medical School and was named the Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics, as well as Physician-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital, Boston, a position she held until 1985. As Physician-in-Chief, Avery established the Joint Program in Neonatology with Beth Israel and Peter Bent Brigham Hospitals.
Throughout her career, Avery studied lung biochemistry, surface tension, and pulmonary physiology. She is known for her discovery of pulmonary surfactant while a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. She has been awarded numerous honors, including the National Medal of Science in 1991, the John Howland Medal, and the Virginia Apgar Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Avery served on the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and President of the American Pediatric Society.
During the course of her career, Avery authored numerous articles and book chapters, and edited several books, including, Diseases of the Newborn with Alexander J. Schaffer (later editions with H. William Taeusch, Jr.), and Born Early: The Story of a Premature Baby (1983), co-authored with Georgia Litwack. In addition to her writing and professional activities, Avery traveled across the world as an invited speaker at symposiums and conferences, and as a visiting professor.
Series and Subseries in the Collection
- I. Correspondence, 1956-2002
- ___A. Chronological Correspondence, 1958-1996
- ___B. Alphabetical Correspondence, 1956-2002
- II. Professional Records, 1953-1998, undated
- III. Grants Records, 1959-1998
- ___A. National Institutes in Health (NIH) Grants, 1960-1974
- ___B. Specialized Centers of Research (SCOR) Grants, 1970-1998
- ___C. Other Grants, 1959-1990
- IV. Lectures, 1958-1999
- V. Teaching Records, 1965-1998, undated
- VI. Writings, 1938-2000, undated
- VII. Subject Files, 1938-1999
- VIII. Personal Records, 1929-2002, undated
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Mary Ellen Avery papers were gifted to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine by Mary Ellen Avery, 1999-2003, and were delivered in four accessions: 2000-001; 2000-031; 2001-064; and 2003-054.
Selected items from this collection have been scanned and are available for download from our digital repository:https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/items/browse?tags=Mary+Ellen+Avery
To provide context, links to items in the digital repository are also provided with the folder title in which they physically reside.
Three vials of sheep lung surfactant used by Mary Ellen Avery in her infant respiratory distress syndrome research were transferred to the Warren Anatomical Museum (catalog #20451).
Processed by Meghan Bannon and Jessica Sedgwick, April 2010.
Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the papers, and created a finding aid to improve access. Items were removed from three ring binders and, where necessary, photocopied to acid-free paper. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals when available; titles supplied by the processing staff appear in brackets on the physical folders.
- American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Avery, Mary Ellen, 1927-2011
- Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia
- Bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
- Fluid Therapy
- Harvard Medical School
- Hyaline Membrane Disease
- Hyaline membrane disease.
- Lungs -- Diseases.
- Medicine -- Study and teaching.
- National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
- Oral rehydration therapy for infants.
- Pediatrics -- Research.
- Physicians, Women
- Pulmonary Medicine
- Pulmonary Surfactants
- Pulmonary surfactant.
- Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn
- Respiratory distress syndrome.
- Women in medicine.
- Women physicians.
- Avery, Mary Ellen, 1927-2011. Papers, 1929-2002 (inclusive): Finding Aid.
- Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
- Language of description
- The Mary Ellen Avery Papers have been processed and made available by the Archives for Women in Medicine project with generous support from our donors.
- EAD ID
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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