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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c455

Rose E. Frisch papers


The collection consists of records created and collected by Rose Frisch during her tenure as a professor at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies from 1974 through the early 2000s.


  • 1921-2014 (inclusive)
  • Majority of material found within 1970-2000


Language of Materials

Papers are primarily in English with a small amount of material in German.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice. The Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact Public Services for more information regarding retrieval of material.

Access to Harvard University records is restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. Researchers may apply for access to restricted records. Consult Public Services for further information.

Access to digital files in this collection (as found in Series I) is also subject to the above restrictions. Technical access to digital files is premised on the availability of a computer station, requisite software, and/or the ability of Public Services staff to review and/or print out records of interest in advance of an on-site visit.

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.


2.25 cubic feet (1 records center carton, 2 letter size document boxes, and 1 legal size document box)
0.01 Gigabytes (28 digital files, 3 digital folders)

The Rose E. Frisch Papers consist primarily of professional records created and collected by Rose Epstein Frisch during the course of her work as a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health in the Department of Population and Development Studies in Boston, Massachusetts. Also included here are some of her personal records involving her life outside of Harvard, primarily personal correspondence and photographs.

Professional activities records (Series I) relate to her work with female fertility and body fat including notes, reference materials, drafts and writings for publication, lecture and presentation notes, reprints, publications, professional correspondence. Reading notes and annotated reprints are included here. She kept a significant number of her own publications as references and file copies. Also used in her research, as well as referenced in presentations, are glossy graphs and figures for publications and transparencies of graphs and figures. A large portion of the research and figures in the collection were used in Frisch’s 2002 book, Female Fertility and the Body Fat Connection. Also in this series are two 3.5 inch floppy disks containing drafts of Frisch’s research and some professional correspondence.

Personal papers (Series II) pertain to Frisch's activities outside of her professional Harvard work and include correspondence, photographs, clippings from newspapers and other publications, certificates, a notebook, a calendar, and records of her affiliation with the Schepp Foundation, an organization that provides funds for students they deem ambitious and in financial need. Frisch was a recipient of Schepp Foundation funding as a student at Smith College and continued to be connected to the Schepp Foundation throughout her life.

The collection is predominantly in English, but includes some materials in German.

Biographical Note

Rose (Epstein) Frisch (1918-2015), B.A., 1939, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts; M.A., 1940, Columbia University, New York City, New York; Ph.D., 1943, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Wisconsin, was a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Population and Development Studies in Boston, Massachusetts from the early 1970s until 1992. Her work focused on fat content and female fertility as well as fat content and cancer, especially in athletes and those with low body fat.

Rose (Epstein) Frisch was born in the Bronx in New York City, New York, to Russian immigrant parents Louis and Stella Epstein on July 7, 1918. She graduated with her B.A. in 1939 from Smith College. Frisch graduated with her M.A. in zoology from Columbia in 1940, and her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin in 1943.

Frisch and her husband, David Henry Frisch, worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, beginning in 1943. David worked as a physicist, and Rose was a computer doing calculations with Kitty Oppenheimer (1910-1972). Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States at the end of World War II, the Frisches left Los Alamos in late 1945 and returned to Boston to work in academia, where Rose shifted her research focus from animal to human reproduction. Frisch spent almost all of her subsequent academic career at Harvard University in the Harvard School of Public Health, later the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. At Harvard, she began as a Research Fellow (1953-1954). She took time off to take care of her daughter from 1954-1965 and returned to work as a Senior Research Assistant (1965-1967), then a Research Associate (1967-1974). She was a Research Associate at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston (1974-1980) and had a brief stint as a research associate in Hawaii in 1976. At the Harvard School of Public Health, Frisch served as a Lecturer (1975-1984) and taught as an Associate Professor of Population Sciences and worked as a researcher in the Center for Population Studies until she received emerita status in 1992.

Frisch’s focus was the relationship between fat content and female fertility as well as the connection between fat content and breast cancer. Her subjects were usually athletes, including ballerinas, runners, and swimmers, or those with lower body fat reserves, including women in underdeveloped areas of the world and women who suffered from anorexia nervosa. Frisch’s work laid the groundwork for the discovery of leptin, a hormone involved in the process of energy expenditure. In 1963, Dr. Gordon C. Kennedy of Cambridge University conducted initial experiments about the links between the brain and energy consumption regulated by a lipostat (a fat regulator) in rat brains. Leptin was later discovered, named, and connected to the lipostat’s function. Frisch was involved in confirming the results of Dr. Kennedy’s experiments afterwards with researchers Mark Hegsted and Kogi Yoshinaga. They then expanded Kennedy's results by obtaining the body composition of the rats at their first estrus in 1975, which linked Kennedy's findings and Frisch's experiment to fertility.

Frisch was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Most of Frisch’s published work consists of articles in anthologies, journals, or other serial works. She was the lead editor on the scientific volume Adipose Tissue and Reproduction in 1990. Frisch published outside of academia as well, including a children’s book called Plants that Feed the World (1966) and a book about her life’s work, Female Fertility and the Body Fat Connection (2002).

Rose married David Henry Frisch (1918-1991) in 1940. The couple had two children: Ruth Frisch Dealy, an artist in Providence, Rhode Island, and Henry J. Frisch, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. Rose Frisch died at an assisted living facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2015 at the age of 96.

Collection Arrangement

  1. I. Professional Activities Records, 1944-2011
  2. II. Personal Records, 1921-2014

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was gifted to the Center for the History of Medicine by Ruth Dealy and Henry Frisch in 2015.

  1. Accession number 2015-072. Ruth Dealy. 2015 May 20.
  2. Accession number 2015-084. Henry Frisch. 2015 June 20.
  3. Accession number 2015-085. Henry Frisch. 2015 June 20.

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

  1. Working Paper Series, 1990-1999. P-CE01. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.
  2. Discussion Paper, 1984-1989. P-CE01. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Related Collections at Other Institutions

  1. Frisch, David H. David H. Frisch Faculty Papers, MIT Archives and Special Collections.
  2. Boston Women's Health Book Collective Audiotape collection (T-321). Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Processing Information

Processed by Faith Plazarin under the supervision of Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, 2018 September.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine refoldered and reboxed material and created a finding aid to increase researcher access. Folder titles were transcribed from original folders which were then discarded. Folder titles were devised by the archivist for unlabled or loose materials and are indicated with square brackets in the inventory below. Books already in the collection of the Countway Library of Medicine were not retained with the papers. There were 2 3.5 inch floppy disks included in the collections. Contents were imaged and copied using the Center’s Forensic Evidence Recovery Device and are available to researchers upon request. Contact Public Services for more information. Coated paper was photocopied for preservation.

Frisch, Rose E. (Rose Epstein). Papers, 1921-2014 (inclusive), 1970-2000 (bulk): Finding Aid.
Faith Plazarin
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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