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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c5

Henry Pickering Bowditch papers


H. P. (Henry Pickering) Bowditch (1840-1911) established the first physiological laboratory at Harvard Medical School and taught at the school for 35 years. The collection consists mainly of correspondence but also includes family research records, personal papers including military records, lectures, writings, and manuscript materials.


  • 1809-1961 (inclusive)
  • Majority of material found within 1860-1900


Language of Materials

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

Conditions Governing Access

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

Access requires advance notice. Contact 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.


5 cubic feet (4 records center cartons, 1 letter-size document box, and 3 oversize flat file boxes.)
The collection consists mainly of correspondence but also includes family research records, personal papers including military records, and a small amount of writing and manuscript material.

The bulk of the collection, Series I, is correspondence to and from Henry Pickering Bowditch. The major individual correspondents are members of the Bowditch and Knauth families, including Selma (Knauth) Bowditch, Lucy (Orne Nichols) Bowditch, John Ingersoll Bowditch, and Charles Pickering Bowditch. Also included here is correspondence between Bowditch and groups including Harvard Medical School and the city of Boston.

Series II. Lectures, Notes, and Manuscripts, are records related to Henry Pickering Bowditch’s professional writing, including manuscripts, notes, and partial drafts. Also included here are notebooks from Pickering’s time as a student studying physiology in Europe, including notes from his time with physician and physiologist Carl Ludwig in Leipzig, Germany.

Personal memorabilia and war records relating to Henry Pickering Bowditch including a journal from his time spent on Edisto Island, South Carolina, during the American Civil War are in Series III. Also included here are records relating to Bowditch’s funeral and will, a celebration of the centenary of his birth, and composite photographs created by Bowditch to demonstrate racial typing using anthropometric principles.

In Series IV are family research records assembled by Harold Bowditch, including biographical notes on Henry Pickering Bowditch and annotated typescripts of selections from Henry’s correspondence. Included here is a small amount of correspondence from and to Harold Bowditch, primarily from other members of the Bowditch family.

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

Biographical Note

H. P. (Henry Pickering) Bowditch (1840-1911), A.B., 1861, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts; M.D., 1868, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, established the first physiological laboratory at Harvard Medical School.

Henry Pickering Bowditch was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 4, 1840 to Lucy Orne Nichols (1816-1883) and Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch (1806-1889). He entered Harvard College in 1857 and graduated in 1861 with a bachelor’s degree. He began studies at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge the same year, but left school to volunteer for the Union Army. Bowditch served as a cavalry officer until 1865 when he resigned his command and returned to the Lawrence Scientific School and Harvard Medical School. He received his M.D. in 1868 and travelled to Europe to study medicine. Bowditch studied in France and Germany between 1868 and 1871, specializing in the study of physiology under the tutelage of Carl Ludwig (1816-1895) in Leipzig, Germany.

In 1871, Bowditch returned to the United States with his wife, Selma Knauth (1853-1918); the couple had met and married during Bowditch's time as a student in Germany. Bowditch left Europe to accept an assistant professorship in physiology at Harvard Medical School. Bowditch established his first physiological laboratory and the first physiological laboratory at Harvard Medical School in 1872 in what was then the medical school building on North Grove Street. Bowditch accepted a promotion to full professor in 1876 and in 1903 he was given the newly established George Higginson professorship in physiology. Bowditch taught at Harvard for 35 years, resigning in 1906.

Bowditch studied physiology throughout his teaching and research career, focusing on studies of the nerves and the cardiac muscles. He was also interested in longer term growth studies and presented data from one of the first on Boston schoolchildren at a Boston Society of Medical Sciences meeting in 1872. Bowditch continued to work on comparative growth studies through the 1890s in addition to his physiological research. He was an active campaigner in favor of animal experimentation in the 1890s when efforts were being made to restrict the use of laboratory animals. He was one of the founding members of the American Physiological Society in 1887 and served as the Society’s second president after S. Weir Mitchell. Bowditch was also on the first editorial board for the American Journal of Physiology when it was founded in 1898.

Bowditch died in Boston on March 13, 1911.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. I. Correspondence, 1809-1938
  2. I.A. Individual Correspondence, 1809-1914
  3. I.B. Corporate Correspondence, 1857-1938
  4. II. Lectures, Notes, and Manuscripts, 1861-1906
  5. III. Personal Papers and Civil War Records, 1845-1946
  6. IV. Harold Bowditch Family Research Records, 1901-1961

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was gifted to the Center for the History of Medicine by Nancy Bowditch in 1968.

Processing Information

Processed by Jennifer Pelose and SPI, 2007 August.

Reprocessed and finding aid updated by Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, 2017 October.

In 2017, staff at the Center for the History of Medicine reboxed and refoldered material and substantially revised the finding aid to improve researcher access. All material from collection # GA 09 was integrated into H MS c5. Lecture notes originally housed in a wooden box were foldered; photographs were taken of the box and the box was discarded. This material is all part of Series II. Lectures, Notes, and Manuscripts. Consult Public Services to view the photographs.
Link to catalog
Bowditch, H. P. (Henry Pickering), 1840-1911. Papers, 1809-1961 (inclusive), 1860-1900 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook
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

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