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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c354

Jean Mayer papers


Records in the Jean Mayer Papers were created by Mayer during the course of his career as a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and as a researcher and author from 1953 to 1975. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, but it also includes records related to Mayer’s activities as a research scientist, a consultant on issues of nutrition and diet, and an author. Mayer’s main areas of professional work and research interests were in human nutrition, diet, and weight loss and control.


  • Creation: 1953-1975 (inclusive),
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1965-1973 .


Language of Materials

Records are predominantly in English, with a smaller number in French, German, and Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Harvard University records are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation; these restrictions are noted where they appear in Series I and II. Personal and patient records are restricted for 80 years from the date of creation; these restrictions occur in all series. The end of the restriction period is noted with each folder. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records.

The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to consult Public Services for further information regarding retrieval of material and any 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.


12.5 cubic feet (13 records center cartons, 1 half letter document box, and 1 oversized box)

Consists of correspondence, memoranda, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, reports, pamphlets, publications, reprints, class curricula, meeting minutes, agendas, notes, and photographs generated as a result of Jean Mayer’s work as a professor, researcher, and author in the field of human nutrition and diet in the United States, Europe, and Africa. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence created by or sent to Mayer regarding his professional interests in diet, nutrition, and weight control. Mayer corresponded regularly with a variety of scientists and researchers, including D. Mark Hegsted, the United States Army, the World Health Organization, and the Monsanto Corporation, as well as from private individuals seeking advice or medical assistance with issues of diet or weight control. The remainder of the records reflect Mayer’s work as a Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, his involvement with professional associations, and his international consulting work, including the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health.

Records are predominantly in English, with a smaller number in French, German, and Spanish.

Biographical Notes

Jean Mayer (1920-1993), B.Litt, 1937, University of Paris; B.Sc., 1938, University of Paris; M.Sc., 1939, University of Paris; Ph.D., 1948, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; D.Sc., 1950, Sorbonne, Paris, was a Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston (1950-1976), a Special Consultant to the President on Food, Nutrition, and Health (1969-1970), and a President of Tufts University (1976-1992). His main areas of research were human nutrition, diet, and weight loss and control.

Jean Mayer was born in 1920 in Paris, France. His father, André Mayer (1875-1956), was a noted physiologist who interned with Jean Charcot during the 1890s, and did key research work during World War I to help develop prophylactics against German gas attacks on the French trenches. Mayer's mother, Jeanne Eugenie Mayer, was also a professional physiologist. Influenced by his father’s work, Mayer entered the University of Paris and received distinguished degrees in philosophy, mathematics, and biology in 1937, 1938, and 1939, respectively. He visited the United States and Harvard Medical School in 1939, but when World War II was declared, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the French army. He was captured by the Germans in 1940 and escaped from the prisoner of war camp to rejoin the Free French forces. During the rest of the war, Mayer fought with the Free French and Allied armies in Europe and North Africa, worked as an agent for English intelligence in Europe, and served as a staff member for General Charles de Gaulle in London. For his wartime service, Mayer received a total of fourteen decorations, including the Croix de Guerre. He met and married Elizabeth van Huysen in 1942.

After the war, Mayer moved to the United States and attended Yale University as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow. He received his Ph.D. in physiological chemistry in 1948, earned a doctorate in physiology from the Sorbonne in 1950, and joined the Harvard School of Public Health faculty in the Department of Nutrition the same year, a position he held until 1976. During the 1960s, Mayer was involved with several citizens’ groups working against hunger in the United States, including the Citizens’ Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition in the United States, which published the controversial Hunger U.S.A. report in 1968. Mayer was appointed as a Special Consultant to President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 with a charge to organize the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. The Conference produced a list of “priority points” to deal with issues of malnutrition, hunger, and poverty in the United States, including expanded welfare benefits, changes in the food stamp program, and improvements in school lunch programs and other Federally supported “free food” programs. On his return to Harvard, Mayer was involved with the development of Harvard’s Center for Population Studies and was tapped to be the master of Dudley House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate dormitories. In 1971, Mayer was the chairman of the Nutrition division of White House Conference on Aging, and in 1974, he coordinated the Senate National Nutrition Policy Study.

In 1976, Mayer was elected as President of Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, serving from 1976 to 1993. While at Tufts, Mayer was responsible for the founding of the first school of veterinary medicine in New England, substantially increasing in the Tufts endowment, and creating both a School of Nutrition and a Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. The Research Center was a partnership project between the United States government and Tufts. The Center is now known as the Jean Mayer USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. In 1992, a year before his death, Mayer left the office of President but was named a Chancellor of the University.

Throughout his career, Mayer championed the idea of a balanced diet and steady exercise as the best way to reverse weight gain, publishing extensively on issues of food, nutrition, weight, and diet both in academic journals (including Postgraduate Medicine and Science) and the popular press (including regular contributions to Family Health magazine and a nationally syndicated column co-authored with nutritionist Jeanne Goldberg called, “Food for Thought”). Mayer also authored several books on the same subjects, including Overweight: Causes, Cost and Control (1968) and A Diet for Living (1975), along with textbooks and a biography of Denis Diderot; after writing the introduction to Corinne Collins’ handbook Key to Lasting Slimness, he purchased the rights to the volume in 1972.

During the 1960s, Mayer was one of those working to call attention to and halt the use of defoliants and starvation tactics in the Vietnam conflict. In 1969, Mayer was selected to travel to Africa as a member of the first international fact-finding mission to Biafra during the Nigerian civil war. After his return from Africa, Mayer and his colleagues worked to publicize the difficulties faced by those in Biafra, including widespread food shortages, potential famine, and long-lasting health problems brought on by malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and the illnesses which attend large scale refugee situations. Mayer was also a member of a grant-sponsored group to help develop a foods and nutrition board in Ghanain collaboration with Harvard University, UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the World Health Organization.

Mayer and his wife Elizabeth Mayer had four sons (Andre, Jean-Paul, Theodore, and Pierre) and one daughter (Laura). Mrs. Mayer died in April 2006.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Personal and Professional Corresponence, 1955-1975
  2. ___ A. Alphabetical, 1955-1975
  3. ___ B. Chronological, 1966-1973
  4. II. Professional Associations and Activities Records, 1953-1974
  5. ___ A. Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, 1960-1973
  6. ___ B. National and International Activities and Associations, 1953-1974
  7. III. White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health Records, 1966-1970

Related Collections in the Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives.

  1. Records of the Office of the President at Tufts University, 1828-2006. UA001.
  2. Papers of the Jean Mayer at Tufts University, 1972-1993. MS144.
  3. A Guide to the Office of the President at Tufts University, 1828-2006. UA001.

Processing Information

Processed by Hanna Clutterbuck, January 2011.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered, arranged, and described material and created a finding aid to improve access. The material arrived at the Center in three rough record groupings; these pre-accession groupings were maintained as separate series, with subseries created as necessary. Where folder titles existed in the original collection, they were transcribed on new folders; new titles were supplied as necessary for unfoldered or untitled material. Newspaper clippings and items with adhesives (primarily telegrams) were photocopied onto acid-free paper for preservation.

Mayer, Jean, 1920-1993. Papers, 1953-1975 (inclusive), 1965-1973 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
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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