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COLLECTION Identifier: M-CE21, Series 00626-00629

Harvard University. Cancer Commission records


The Harvard University Cancer Commission records, 1888-1945, are the product of the Commission’s administrative, clinical, and research activities.


  • Creation: 1888-1945 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Some restrictions apply (see below).

Access requires advance notice. Contact Public Services for further information.

Access to personal and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions appear in Series I, II, and IV. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for 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.


21.8 cubic feet (21 records center cartons and 2 letter size document boxes)

The Harvard University Cancer Commission records, 1888-1945, are the product of the Commission’s administrative, clinical, and research activities. The records include: correspondence regarding the finances, staffing, and treatment of patients, including the therapeutic use of radium and x-rays, of the Commission as well as the Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital; ledgers detailing the treatment of patients and correspondence regarding autopsy results, as well as microscopic and diagnostic results; administrative reports and meetings minutes; and financial ledgers and statements.

The Harvard University Cancer Commission records consist of four series: Series 00626 I. Correspondence, Series 00627 II. Patient Records, Series 00628 III. Administrative Records, Series 00629 IV. Financial Records.

Records are entirely in English.

Historical Note

The Harvard University Cancer Commission began with a donation of $100,000 from the Caroline Brewer Croft Fund. The donation, which was made after her death in 1899, was placed under the control of physicians Henry K. Oliver (1829-1919) and John Collins Warren (1842-1927). The money was designated for treatment of difficult or incurable diseases, with special preference given to the treatment of cancer. Croft’s father, a merchant in Boston, Massachusetts, had died of cancer in 1874. Oliver and Warren decided to place the funds with Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts in order to develop and endow an organization dedicated to the study and treatment of cancer. The Caroline Brewer Croft Cancer Commission was founded on June 16, 1899, and was changed to the Harvard University Cancer Commission in 1909, in order to allow for the consolidation of funding.

The Commission began with John Collins Warren as Chairman, along with H. B. Walcott and Arthur T. Cabot (1852-1912) representing Harvard University, William T. Councilman (1854-1933) and Theobald Smith (1859-1934) representing Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and Oliver and Warren representing the Fund. Robert Greenough (1871-1937) was appointed Secretary and Edward H. Nichols (1864-1922) Director, supervising the Commission’s scientific work. E. E. Tyzzer (1875-1965) replaced Nichols in 1905. In 1910, fundraising began for a new hospital to be operated by the Commission to aid in its research. A donation of $100,000 from Arabella Duval (Yarrington) Huntington allowed for the construction of a new building on the corner of Van Dyke Street and Huntington Avenue in Boston. The Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts opened on March 26, 1912.

Members of the commission contributed to advances in cancer treatment and research. In 1907, Tyzzer made discoveries about the inheritability of cancer. William Duane, who defined the international x-ray unit, developed high voltage x-ray and the 200,000 volt x-ray machine. A one million volt x-ray machine was installed at the hospital in 1937. William T. Bovie joined the Commission as a research fellow and assistant to Duane, and worked with radium bromide to develop a therapeutic treatment for cancer. Other physicians involved with the commission include Joseph Aub (1890-1973), Shields Warren (1898-1980), Edward D. Churchill (1895-1972), and George Richards Minot (1885-1950).

With the Commission facing financial difficulties, the Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital was closed on January 1, 1942, with its records, clinical work, and the laboratories of Joseph Aub, being transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the laboratories of Shields Warren and Charles Lund (1895-1972) transferred to Harvard Medical School. The functions of the Cancer Commission were taken over by the Harvard Medical School Commission on Special Diseases in 1947 and by the Committee on Research and Development in 1949.

Collection Arrangement

  1. Series 00626 I. Correspondence, 1910-1945
  2. Series 00627 II. Patient Records, 1888-1941
  3. Series 00628 III. Administrative Records, 1905-1940
  4. Series 00629 IV. Financial Records, 1912-1942
  5. Series 00629 IV.A. Accounts Payable, 1923-1942
  6. Series 00629 IV.B. Ledgers, 1912-1942
  7. Series 00629 IV.C. Monthly Financial Statements, 1930-1935

Processing Information

Processed by Bryan Sutherland, 2017 December.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine analyzed, arranged, and described the papers, and created a finding aid to improve access. Folder titles were transcribed from the originals.

Former call numbers consolidated at the time of processing: E 11, E 11A, E 11.A3.

Processing Information

Marco Lanier revised the Historical Note in this finding aid in December 2022 to bring it into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). Lanier replaced "Mrs. Collis P. Huntington" with "Arabella Duval (Yarrington) Huntington."

Harvard University. Cancer Commission. Records, 1888-1945: Finding Aid.
Bryan Sutherland
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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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