Edwin Joseph Cohn papers
The Edwin Joseph Cohn papers, 1927-1955 (inclusive), are a product of Cohn's professional appointments, activities, and research, during the period of his service at Harvard Medical School as the Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry and Director of the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health, and at Harvard University as the Chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Chairman of the Department of Biophysical Chemistry.
- 1927-1955 (inclusive).
Language of Materials
Records are in English.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series I. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.
The Records are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services 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.
Extent0.5 cubic feet (1 records center carton)
The Edwin Joseph Cohn papers, 1927-1955 (inclusive), are a product of Cohn’s professional appointments, activities, and research, during the period of his service at Harvard Medical School as the Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry and Director of the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health, and at Harvard University as the Chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Chairman of the Department of Biophysical Chemistry. The papers are arranged in three series: I. Correspondence (1927-1955); II. Writings and Publications (1950-1952, undated); and III. Newspaper Clippings (1945-1953).
Series I comprises the bulk of the papers and consists of correspondence related to Cohn’s research and his professional appointments at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School. Papers also include grant applications, meeting minutes of the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health staff, drafts of his proposal for a Harvard University patent policy, a copy of a United States patent for Cohn’s work on protein fractionation, and conference invitations including speaking engagements. Series II consists of manuscript drafts, including articles and article reprints related to blood protein separation and blood transfusions, and pamphlets authored by Cohn related to the Biologic Laboratories of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Department of Physical Chemistry at Harvard Medical School, and the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health, authored by Edwin J. Cohn between 1950 and 1952. Papers also include the typescript for a radio interview with Cohn concerning the interactions between the proteins and metals in blood, conducted by Frederick H. Garrigus in 1950. Series III contains biographical newspaper and magazine clippings printed between 1945 and 1953 related to Cohn’s life and work, although it is unclear if these clippings were actually collected by Cohn or deposited with his collection posthumously.
Materials entirely in English.
Edwin J. Cohn (1892-1953), B.S., 1914, Ph.D., 1917, University of Chicago, Illinois, was Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (1935-1949); Chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1936-1949); Director of the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health, Harvard Medical School (1949-1953); and Chairman of the Department of Biophysical Chemistry, Harvard University (1949-1953). Cohn’s research focused on the physical chemistry of blood proteins and amino acids and, working with George R. Minot (1885-1950), he developed a method to extract the non-protein fraction of liver that contains the active component for the treatment of pernicious anemia.
Edwin Joseph Cohn was born in New York City, New York in 1892 to Abraham and Maimie Einstein Cohn. He attended the University of Chicago, where he received his B.S. (1914) and Ph.D. (1917) in chemistry. Cohn was a National Research Fellow from 1919 to 1920 at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he researched protein chemistry under Soren P. L. Sorensen (1868-1939). From 1918 to 1919, he served as the First Lieutenant of the United States Sanitary Corps, where he studied the physical chemistry of bread making using non-grain sources, and in 1920, began work at Harvard University on research centered on the physical chemistry of proteins and amino acids. Cohn was subsequently appointed: Professor of Biological Chemistry and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry at Harvard Medical School (1935-1953); Chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University (1936-1949); Higgins University Professor at Harvard University (1949-1953); Director of the University Laboratory of Physical Chemistry Related to Medicine and Public Health at Harvard Medical School (1949-1953); and Chairman of Harvard University’s Department of Biophysical Chemistry (1949-1953). Edwin J. Cohn is known for his work concerning the physical chemistry of the proteins and amino acids of blood. With George R. Minot (1885-1950), he is credited with developing a method to extract the non-protein fraction of liver that contains the active component for the treatment of pernicious anemia, and with T. L. McMeekin and John L. Oncley (1910-2004), he developed a method of fractionating blood plasma proteins in 1941 to extend the storage life of blood and use blood proteins more efficiently. Cohn also introduced serum albumin as a treatment for shock patients and gamma globulin as an immunization for measles and various other diseases, both used extensively during World War II.
Throughout his career, Edwin J. Cohn consulted for the American Red Cross and the Medical Department of the United States Navy, and served as a member of numerous organizations, including the American Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Research Council. His awards and honors include the Medal of Merit of the United States (1948), the Theodore William Richards Medal (1948), the Passano Award for Distinguished Service to American Clinical Medicine (1945), and the Alvarenga Prize of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (1942), among others. He is also known for his efforts to develop a patent policy for scientific research conducted in university settings. Cohn’s numerous publications include Proteins, amino acids, and peptides as ions and dipolar ions with John T. Edsall (1943), Blood and blood derivatives (1946), and History of the development of a patent policy based on experiences in connection with liver extract (1951).
Edwin J. Cohn married Marianne Brettauer (died 1948) in 1917, and had two sons, Edwin Cohn, Junior, and Alfred Cohn. He married Rebekah Higginson in 1948. Cohn died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1953, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Series and Subseries in the Collection
- I. Correspondence, 1927-1955
- II. Writings and Publications, 1950-1952, undated
- III. Newspaper Clippings, 1945-1953
Correspondence between John L. Oncley and George P. Berry (1898-1986), Dean of Harvard Medical School from 1949 to 1965, regarding the deposition of Cohn’s papers at the Medical School Archives was removed from the collection and incorporated into the Center's control files for the collection.
Resources about Edwin J. Cohn.
- Edsall, John T. Edwin Joseph Cohn, December 17, 1892-October 1, 1953 New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.
- Surgenor, Douglas M. Edwin J. Cohn and the development of protein chemistry: with a detailed account of his work on the fractionation of blood during and after World War II Cambridge: Center for Blood Research, 2002.
Processed by Amber LaFountain, 2012 February.
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 rehoused 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 only on the physical folders. Papers that did not meet the collection policy of the Center for the History of Medicine were discarded.
Researchers should be aware that Edwin J. Cohn interfiled his personal and professional papers with those he generated throughout his tenure at Harvard University. Because of this ambiguity, the papers have been maintained as one manuscript collection. No attempt has been made to impose an artificial separation of Harvard Medical School institutional records from Cohn’s personal and professional papers.
- Cohn, Edwin J. (Edwin Joseph), 1892-1953. Papers, 1927-1955 (inclusive): Finding Aid.
- Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
- Language of description
- Processing of Edwin Joseph Cohn papers was funded by the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine's Charles S. Minot Fund for Hematology.
- 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.
10 Shattuck Street
Boston MA 02115