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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c364

Edwin Bidwell Wilson correspondence


Consists of the personal and professional correspondence of Edwin Bidwell Wilson (1879-1964). The bulk of the correspondence was generated as a result of Wilson’s professional activities as a statistician and member of the Harvard School of Public Health faculty, Boston, Massachusetts.


  • 1940-1945 (inclusive),
  • Majority of material found in 1942-1945 .


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Consult Public Services for further information.

Collection 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.


2 cubic feet (2 records center cartons)
Correspondence consists of exchanges between Edwin Bidwell Wilson and various correspondents, including C. C. Little, John Canning, L. K. Frank, and Vannevar Bush on a variety of topics, including statistical studies, public health studies such as those done by William and Mildred Wells on measles, and the work of students in the Harvard School of Public Health. Also included are letters connected with Wilson’s membership and participation in professional organizations, including the American Statistical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Cancer Society. Wilson’s correspondence is in chronological order.

Materials are predominantly in English; a few letters are in Spanish.

Biographical Notes

Edwin Bidwell Wilson (1879-1964), A.B., 1899, Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts; Ph.D., 1901, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Honorary L.L.D., 1955, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, taught mathematics at Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, and was the Harvard School of Public Health's first professor and head of the Department of Vital Statistics when the school was organized in Boston, 1922. After retiring from Harvard in 1945, he joined the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Research. Among others, Wilson contributed to the theory and application of mathematical epidemiology and the analysis of dosage-response curves.

Wilson was born on 25 April 1879 in Hartford, Connecticut to Edwin Horace and Jane Amelia Wilson. His father was a teacher and superintendent of schools in Middletown, Connecticut. Wilson had four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. Wilson received an A.B. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1899, a Ph.D from Yale University in 1901, and an Honorary L.L.D. from Wesleyan University in 1955. In 1900, Wilson was appointed an Instructor at Yale. After receiving his doctorate in 1901, he took a year’s leave of absence and went to Paris to study at the École Polytechnique, the Sorbonne, and the Collège de France in 1902 and 1903. In 1906, Wilson was appointed an assistant professor at Yale, leaving in 1907 to teach at MIT as an Associate Professor of Mathematics. He remained at MIT until 1922, becoming a full professor in 1911, and chairing the Department of Physics in 1917. From 1920 to 1922, when the position of MIT’s College President was vacant after the death of President MacLaurin, Wilson served as the secretary of the administrative committee that ran MIT during the search for a new president. In 1922, when the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) was organized, he left MIT to be the first professor and head of the Department of Vital Statistics. During this time he was also a professor in the Department of Economics for Harvard University. In 1945, when he retired from his positions at Harvard, he became the Lecturer on Citizenship at the University of Glasgow, Scotland where he lectured until 1946. From 1948 until his death in 1964, he worked for the Office of Naval Research in the United States.

Throughout his career, Wilson worked on a variety of subjects including vector analysis, advanced calculus, aerodynamics, statistics, and economics. In 1901, he published his first book, a collection of Professor Josiah Willard Gibbs's lectures on vector calculus called Vector Analysis (1901). While teaching mathematics at MIT, Wilson developed his own textbook and published Advanced Calculus (1912) based on his experience teaching the subject both at Yale and MIT. Between 1902 and 1916, Wilson’s research interests focused on the field of mathematics, including vector analysis, calculus, and advanced geometry, and broadened to include aerodynamics and aeronautics. In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson appointed the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the first Annual Report of the Committee, printed in 1916, included a report by Wilson titled, “Theory of an Aeroplane Encountering Gusts” (1916). Wilson offered courses to graduate students at MIT in aeronautics and published his own text, Aeronautics (1920), using as a foundation his lectures on rigid and fluid dynamics as applied to flight. When Wilson moved from MIT to the new Harvard School of Public Health, he turned his attention to mathematical statistics and their use in medical questions, including epidemiological, dosage, and public health studies.

Wilson was elected to membership in the National Academy of Science in 1919 and he was the first managing editor of the Academy’s Proceedings from 1915 until 1964. He was a member of the Academy’s Committee on Government Relations and Science (1929-1938), serving as Chairman of the Physics Section (1930-1933), Vice-President (1949-1953), member of the Council (1953-1956), and member of several annual nominating committees for Academy officers. He was also a member of the American Philosophical Society, and received the John F. Lewis Prize from them in 1963 for The Last Unpublished Notes of J. Willard Gibbs. He was a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a member of the Mathematical Society of Benares, and of the Social Science Research Council. He was a member and later president of the American Society for the Control of Cancer and was a director of the American Cancer Society when the group changed its name. For his work with the Office of Naval Research, he received the Superior Civilian Service Award (1960) and the Distinguished Civilian Service Award (1964).

In 1911, Wilson married Ethel Sentner of Edmonton, Canada. The couple had two daughters: Doris and Enid Wilson. Wilson died in Boston on 28 December 1964.


Correspondence is arranged chronologically.

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

  1. Records of the Harvard School of Public Health. Department of Biostatistics. P-DT06. Series 00352. ACC. 2011-132.

Processing Information

Processed by Hanna Clutterbuck, July 2011.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered and described material and created a finding aid to improve access. Where folder titles existed in the original collection, they were transcribed onto new folders; new titles were created as necessary for folders without titles. The collection was left in its original chronological order. Archival records concerning Harvard University activities were removed to Record Group P-DT06, Series 00352: Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics, Executive correspondence (Accession 2011-132).
Link to catalog
Wilson, Edwin Bidwell, 1879-1964. Correspondence, 1940-1945 (inclusive), 1942-1945 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
The correspondence of Edwin Bidwell Wilson was processed with grant funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as awarded and administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), 2011.

Repository Details

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

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