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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c162

L. Vernon Briggs papers


The collection reflects the professional work and the personal interests of psychiatrist and reformer Lloyd Vernon Briggs. As well as being a practicing psychiatrist, Briggs was an advocate for the reform of the asylum system in Massachusetts. He worked on reforms of the procedures for the committal of patients and the confinement of those suspected of having mental illness, and he advocated requiring formal training for both attending physicians and attendants in psychiatric institutions. Briggs was called in as a psychiatric consultant on several prominent cases, including evaluating the case of Leon Czolgosz who shot President William McKinley in 1901. Records include correspondence, reprints, original typescripts of publications, photographs, patient records, publications, a small amount of realia, and scrapbooks.


  • Creation: 1774-1940 (inclusive)
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1911-1938


Language of Materials

Papers are primarily in English with some materials in French and German.

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 end of the restriction period is noted where such restrictions appear in Series II. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

The Papers 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.


24.25 cubic feet (22 records center cartons, 3 flat boxes, and 1 half-document box)

The collection reflects the work of L. Vernon Briggs in psychiatry and medical reform, particularly in the fields of asylum conditions and the care of people with mental illness, and as an active member of the medical community in Boston from the late 1880s to the late 1930s. Topics in the collection include the oversight of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts state hospital system, the administration and reform of the State Board of Insanity, Briggs’ ocean voyage to Hawaii, and the care and treatment of people with mental illness, including such issues as restraint of people housed in asylums and the prescription of drugs. Publications have been identified by volume and number as well as date where possible. Records include correspondence, photographs, magazine and newspaper clippings, publications, manuscripts, blueprints, and legislation. Also included is a small number of artifacts, including quills used by the Massachusetts Governor’s Office for the formal signing of legislation, and botanical specimens gathered by Briggs on the United States West Coast.

Researchers should be aware that most of the documents dated from the eighteenth century are photocopies, except for the 1777 publication in Series IV which is either a high-quality reproduction or a part of an original publication.

Papers are primarily in English with some materials in French and German.

Biographical Notes

L. (Lloyd) Vernon Briggs (1863-1941), M.D., 1889, Medical College of Virginia at Richmond was a psychiatrist and medical reformer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was active in seeking changes to the laws regarding the evaluation and incarceration of people with mental illness and in suggesting reforms to the asylum, prison, hospital systems in the Commonwealth.

L. Vernon Briggs was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1863, and died in Tucson, Arizona, in 1941. He began attending medical lectures at Harvard Medical School at the age of sixteen with the consent of the professor, Henry I. Bowditch (1808-1892). Briggs was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis before he could matriculate into medical school. On the advice of his physician, Briggs took a sea voyage around South America to Hawaii in 1880. He settled temporarily in Hawaii and received an appointment as Deputy Vaccinating Officer on Oahu from the Hawaiian government. Briggs returned to Boston in the mid-1880s. In pursuit of his medical degree, Briggs took courses at Tufts University, Dartmouth College, and Harvard Medical School; he also took a position as a physician’s assistant. He received his M.D. From the Medical College of Virginia in 1889.

Briggs worked closely with Walter Channing (1849-1921) during the 1890s and early 1910s, taking a position as physician at Channing’s private sanatorium in Brookline, Massachusetts. Briggs also held positions at the Boston State Hospital and on the Massachusetts State Board of Insanity. He was largely responsible for the passage in early 1923 of legislation nicknamed “The Briggs Law,” which required the psychiatric evaluation of people held in custody and charged with a felony before the commencement of criminal procedures against them.

Briggs volunteered for military service at the outbreak of World War I. He worked primarily at Camp Devens in Massachusetts designing psychiatric tests for servicemen. After the war, he was active in veterans' service organizations.

Briggs married Mary Tilotson Cabot in 1905 and the couple had one child, Lloyd Cabot Briggs (1909-1975). L. Vernon Briggs died in 1941 in Tucson, Arizona.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Correspondence, 1872-1940, undated
  2. II. Crime and Law Enforcement Records, 1774-1938 (inclusive), 1927-1938 (bulk)
  3. III. Patient and Institutional Records, 1906-1940, undated
  4. IV. Publications, 1777-1938 (inclusive), 1864-1938 (bulk)
  5. V. Scrapbooks and Realia, 1910-1933

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. Eleanor R. Briggs. 1981 June 30.
  2. Robert H. Rubin Books. 2008 July 24.

Processing Information

Processed by Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, 2015 May.

Processing staff at the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered and reboxed material and created a finding aid to increase researcher access. Oversized material was unfolded and flattened where possible. Some items which were too fragile be unrolled or flattened are in Box 28. Enveloped correspondence was opened and original envelopes have been left with correspondence where possible.

Damaged or fragile newspaper clippings have been photocopied for preservation purposes and the originals discarded. Where possible, the original citation for the newspaper has been recorded with the folder where the material was found in Series I. Obituaries of L. Vernon Briggs from the period between February 28 through May 31 1941 were too damaged for photocopying. Researchers should consult the following papers:

  1. Boston Traveler, March 1, 1941
  2. Daily Record, March 17, 1941
  3. The Boston Herald, May 31, 1941
  4. Boston Evening Globe, May 16, 1941
  5. Boston Traveler, February 28, 1941
  6. Daily Record, March 1, 1941
  7. Boston Traveler, March 8, 1941
  8. Boston Evening Globe, May 12, 1941
  9. Boston Traveler, May 13, 1941
  10. The Boston Post, March 1, 1941
  11. Boston Post, May 16, 1941
  12. Boston Evening Globe, February 28, 1941
  13. Boston Traveler, May 16, 1941
  14. The Boston Herald, March 1, 1941
  15. Boston Daily Globe, March 1, 1941
  16. Boston Globe, March 1, 1941
  17. Boston Evening Transcript, February 28, 1941

The following papers were determined to be too damaged to permit photocopying and were not originally in folders:

  1. Boston Evening Transcript: "Alligators and Anecdotes", May 5, 1887
  2. New York Journal (No obvious article), December 22, 189
  3. Boston Evening Transcript: "Intervale House, Bought Recently by Brookline Man, a Prey to Flames--Loss Estimated at $40,000", May 23, 1923
  4. Boston Daily Globe: "Awful Wreck / Rear-End Collision on the Pennsylvania Road", December 21, 1898
  5. Boston American: "'Lone Wolf' Prisoner Beaten", December 9, 1935

Rusty pins, paper clips, and other fasteners have been removed. The bulk of the collection has been exposed to soot at some point; efforts were made during processing to remove the worst of the residue. Researchers may request a mask or gloves from Public Services. Researchers should also be aware that most of the items with an eighteenth century date are reproductions except the item in Series IV which appears to be either a genuine section of an original publication or a very high quality reproduction.

The presence of mildew was detected on some patient files; photocopies were made and damaged originals discarded. Six printing plates were wrapped in archival tissue paper to protect their surfaces.

Charlotte Lellman replaced terminology in the Scope and Content note, Biographical Note, and Series I Scope and Content note of this finding aid to person-first alternatives (people held in custody, people with mental illness) in January 2022 to bring them into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020).

Briggs, Lloyd Vernon, 1863-1941. Papers, 1774-1940 (inclusive), 1911-1938 (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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