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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c300

Bernard Lown papers,

The Bernard Lown papers, 1933-2003 (inclusive), are the product of Lown’s executive activities as co-founder and Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, as co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, his research and teaching activities at the Harvard School of Public Health, his role in establishing and administering health care-related organizations including SATELLIFE and the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, as well as his activities as an author and private-practice cardiologist.


  • 1933-2003 (inclusive),
  • Majority of material found within 1960-1995 .


Conditions Governing Access

Access requires advance notice. There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series II. Personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series I, II, III, IV and V. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information. The Bernard Lown 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 the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to Public Services. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from Public Services are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.


63.3 cubic feet ( (58 records center cartons, 11 letter size document boxes, 2 legal size document boxes, 3 half letter size document boxes, 1 half legal size document box, 1 flat document box, 1 oversize flat document box, and 2 oversize flat file folders))

21.2 cubic feet (21 records center cartons and 1 manuscript box (unprocessed))

The Bernard Lown papers, 1933-2003 (inclusive), are the product of Lown’s executive activities as co-founder and Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), as co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), his research and teaching activities at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), his role in establishing and administering health care organizations including SATELLIFE and the health policy advocacy group Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, as well as his activities as an author and private-practice cardiologist. The bulk of the papers contain executive and administrative records from IPPNW created during his tenure as Co-President, and include correspondence, Executive Committee records including issues and projects records, subject resource files, meeting records, affiliates records and financial records, and are organized into Series I, which also includes IPPNW International Council governance records, and Distinguished Advisory Council records, news clippings and publications related to their activities to educate the public and international leaders about the medical and environmental dangers of nuclear war. The Papers also include research records, manuscripts, and subject resource files related to studies of digitalis, potassium, cardioversion, defibrillation, arrhythmias, preventive cardiology, stress, and exercise, among many other topics of investigation. These records constitute a large portion of Series II, and include raw and compiled data, draft and published research papers, lectures, presentations, grant records, personnel files, Fellows records, and lab administrative records created as a result of Lown’s activities as a teacher and mentor, and his administrative activities as Director of the Cardiovascular Research Lab at HSPH. Notably, teaching records do not include curricula, testing, and student grades. Series II also includes IPPNW records, early records of PSR, records of several cooperative medical endeavors initiated by Lown including the US-China Friendship Association and records of organizations which complement those found in Series III. Records created as a result of Lown’s fostering the establishment of organizations including SATELLIFE, ProCOR and the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation are concentrated in Series III, and include executive planning and administrative records, as well as records of Lown’s activities in student organizations while completing post-doctoral training. Manuscripts and related records of Lown’s activities as an author can be found in Series IV, which includes drafts of several books including The Lost Art of Healing (1996), as well family memoirs, personal memoirs such as Lown’s expulsion from medical school for ignoring segregation policies, and IPPNW-related articles and addresses such as his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Although Lown made extensive use of his papers while researching his book Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness (2008), the manuscript for this publication is not included in these papers. Records of his personal and family life can be found in Series V, and include honors, memorabilia, correspondence with friends and family, patient letters and birthday event records. Series VI consists of Lown’s military service records, and include orders and discharge papers, and records of his lawsuit to regain commission status after it was rescinded in the early 1950’s due to McCarthyism.

The Bernard Lown papers consist of six series: Series I. IPPNW Records; Series II. Subject Files; Series III. Professional Organizations Records; Series IV. Professional Writings; Series V. Personal Records and Correspondence; Series VI. Military Records. Oversized items are housed in boxes 36, 48, 67, 68, 69, and in flat file drawer FF007. Two boxes of miscellaneous records were integrated throughout the collection.

Materials are entirely in English.

Biographical Note

Bernard Lown (1921- ) cardiologist, peace activist, humanitarian, inventor and author, is co-founder and former Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1981), co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility (1961), founder of SATELLIFE, the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care (1987), ProCOR (1997) and the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation (1973), inventor of the Lown Cardioverter, and developer of direct current defibrillation. Lown is also Professor of Cardiology, Emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health and Senior Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Lown discovered cardioversion in 1962 and in 1965 introduced the preventative use of lidocaine. Later studies on Sudden Cardiac Death helped inform public health initiatives on preventive care through stress reduction, diet and exercise. Through application of his research findings Lown instituted many improvements in hospital coronary care which became standards implemented world-wide. In his book The Lost Art of Healing (1996), he investigates the humanitarian role of the physician in the physician-patient relationship.

Bernard Lown, born Bernard Latz in Utena, Lithuania on June 7, 1921. Lown and his family immigrated to the United States when he was thirteen, eventually settling in Lewiston, Maine. Lown graduated summa cum laude in 1942 from the University of Maine, Orono, and from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1945. He was an Assistant in Pathology at Yale Medical School before completing his Internship at Jewish Hospital (1947-1948) and residency at Montefiore Hospital (1948-1950), both in New York City. While at Montefiore, Lown researched potassium loss during diuresis. His findings caught the attention of Samuel A. Levine, Physician (Cardiology) at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (PBBH), who offered Lown the Cardiology Fellowship. Lown moved to Harvard Medical School and PBBH in 1950, later serving also as Director of the Samuel A. Levine Cardiovascular Research Center, PBBH from1956-1958. Lown’s career was briefly interrupted by military service and his employment was affected by blacklisting prior to his moving to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Department of Nutrition to begin working with Frederick J. Stare in experimental cardiology. From 1965-1974 he was Director of the Samuel A. Levine Coronary Care Unit at the now Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and from 1961-1991, Director of the Cardiovascular Research Lab, Dept. of Nutrition. At HSPH Lown moved up the ranks in several appointments to Professor of Cardiology in 1974, becoming Emeritus upon his retirement in 1991. In addition to his administrative, teaching and research responsibilities, Lown was a practicing physician at PBBH then Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and in private practice at the Lown Cardiovascular Center. Lown also served as Consultant in Cardiology for several Boston area hospitals.

During his almost fifty years practicing medicine and conducting research on diseases of the heart, Lown has pioneered many important advances in coronary care, treatments and improving patient outcomes. Lown evaluated the therapeutic use of immobility, then standard patient care. The results of this study became one of many critical care management changes he introduced. Current Concepts in Digitalis Therapy (1954) is still considered the most definitive resource on the topic. In animal studies, Lown demonstrated that the effects of widely used alternating current shock therapy were injurious to the heart. Searching for a substitute treatment method, he discovered direct current shock could normalize heart rhythm. Collaborating with American Optical Company engineers, Lown invented the technology for cardioversion. After presenting a paper based on clinical trials at the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 1962, cardioversion became the world-wide standard for treating acute patients with irregular heart rhythms. In 1965 Lown introduced the use of the drug lidocaine to prevent fatal cardiac electrical failure in heart attack victims. He helped launch the new discipline of community cardiology by collaborating with the Boston YMCA to develop rehabilitative exercise programs and the Town of Brookline to develop preventive nutrition education programs. Other research interests include Chagas disease, prevalent in Bahia, Brazil and integrated functions of the higher nervous system and the heart.

Lown’s interest in international cooperation and humanitarian and peace activism surfaced early with leadership roles in student groups. For the Association of Internes and Medical Students (AIMS), Lown helped to organize shipments of equipment and supplies to medical students in countries at war. Under Lown’s leadership, founding members of PSR evaluated the information upon which the US government based its policy for community response to nuclear attack and determined their data was erroneous, publishing their findings to the medical community through the New England Journal of Medicine in 1961. PSR then launched a media campaign to educate the general public about the medical dangers of nuclear weapons as well as gain their influence to effect changes in government nuclear weapons policy. Lown founded and presided over the USA-China Physicians Friendship Association, and established cooperative research programs in cardiology with Cuba, Japan and the USSR. Through research with USSR cardiologists, Lown befriended Evgeni Chazov. Together they founded International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War with the belief that working cooperatively would improve the likelihood of influencing governments to cease nuclear testing and weapons build up. SATELLIFE, the first non-profit organization in the world to use satellite technology for sharing public health, medical and environmental information with developing countries, was founded by Lown to help professionals in remote and war-torn regions of South Asia, Africa and South America. The Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation, founded by Lown in 1973, established the website ProCOR in 1997, the first international internet forum for supporting educational programs of preventive cardiology for both health professionals and the public. This led to the establishment of national groups called “AmiCOR’s” in India, Brazil and other countries. To promote patient rights against the policies of for-profit HMO’s, Lown formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care in 1997.

Lown is the author of hundreds of articles and several monographs, most recently Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness (2008). He is the recipient of honorary degrees from universities around the world, and numerous awards including the first Cardinal Medeiros Peace Award. Dr. Lown and his wife Louise were married in 1946. They have three children and five grandchildren.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Records, 1960-2002, undated
  2. ___ Subseries A. International Correspondence, 1960-1997, undated
  3. ___ Subseries B. Alphabetical Correspondence, 1964-1996, undated
  4. ___ Subseries C. International Council Records, 1981-2002
  5. ___ Subseries D. Distinguished Advisory Council Records, 1994-1996
  6. ___Subseries E. Executive Committee Records, 1968-2002, undated
  7. ______ Sub-Subseries 1. Annual Reports and Directories, 1988-1992
  8. ______Sub-Subseries 2. Co-President Records, 1968-2002, undated
  9. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries i. Alphabetical Correspondence – International, 1979-2002
  10. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries ii. Alphabetical Correspondence – Officers and Others, 1982-1994
  11. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries iii. Chronological Correspondence, 1979-1997
  12. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries iv. Chronological Administrative Files, 1986-1995
  13. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries v. Issues and Projects Files, 1980-2001,undated
  14. _________ Sub-Sub-Subseries vi. Subject Resource Files, 1968-1991, undated
  15. ______ Sub-Subseries 3. Secretary Records, 1979-1994
  16. ______ Sub-Subseries 4. Executive Director Records, 1984-1992
  17. ______ Sub-Subseries 5. Meeting Records, 1985-1995
  18. ______ Sub-Subseries 6. Financial Records, 1981-1992
  19. ___ Subseries F. Public Affairs Records, 1962-2001, undated
  20. ___ Subseries G. Publications Records, 1981-2001, undated
  21. ___ Subseries H. Affiliates Records, 1962-2001, undated
  22. II. Subject Files, 1946-2003, undated
  23. III. Professional Organizations Records, 1942-2003
  24. ___ Subseries A. SATELLIFE Records, 1982-2003
  25. ___ Subseries B: Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care Records, 1997-2001
  26. ___ Subseries C. ProCOR Records, 1996-2003
  27. ___Subseries D. Lown Cardiovascular Center and Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation Records, 1956-2003
  28. ______ Alphabetical Correspondence, 1965-1992
  29. ______ Corporate Correspondence, 1960-1983
  30. ______ Administrative Records, 1956-2003
  31. ___ Subseries E. Student Organizations Records, 1942-1954
  32. IV.U.S.-U.S.S.R. Problem Area 5 Records, 1972-1979
  33. V. Professional Writings, 1948-2003, undated
  34. VI. Personal Records and Correspondence, 1933-2003, undated
  35. VII. Military Records, 1946-1954

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Bernard Lown Papers were donated by Bernard Lown to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine in six increments from 2002-2004.
  1. Accession number 2002-054. Bernard Lown 29 April 2002
  2. Accession number 2002-063. Bernard Lown June 2002.
  3. Accession number 2003-053. Bernard Lown January 2003.
  4. Accession number 2004-019. Bernard Lown 29 September 2003.
  5. Accession number 2010-070. Bernard Lown 2010.
  6. Accession number 2011-010. Bernard Lown 2011.

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

  1. Records of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. MC 408.


Two cardioverters were transferred to the Warren Anatomical Museum (WAM) at the Center for the History of Medicine. The accession number is 2009.004. The WAM catalogue numbers are 20347 and 20348

Processing Information

Preliminary processing by Karen Kilgore in 2002. Elizabeth Cousins completed processing from December 2008-June 2009. 2010 and 2011 accruals processed by Bryan Sutherland.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered, rehoused, arranged, described, and prepared a finding aid for the Bernard Lown papers. The Papers have gone through two iterations of processing. With the exception of most of Series I, initial processing remains unchanged. Subsequent processing reflects the organization and arrangement of records as maintained by Lown. The records of some series can also be found in other series. These instances have been noted in the series and subseries descriptions.
Link to catalog
Lown, B. (Bernard). Papers, 1933-2003 (inclusive), 1960-1995 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.

Repository Details

Part of the Countway Library of Medicine Repository

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