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COLLECTION Identifier: H MS c153

Maxwell Finland papers


The Maxwell Finland papers, 1916-2003, document Finland's career as a specialist in infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital and as George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.


  • Creation: 1916-2003


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Access requires advance notice.There are restrictions on access to portions of this collection. Personnel and patient information is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and IX. Access to Harvard University records are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. These restrictions are noted where they appear in Series III. 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.


38.5 cubic feet (35 record cartons, three document boxes, two half-document boxes, one legal document box, and three oversized flat boxes)

The Maxwell Finland papers, 1916-2003, record Finland's work as an epidemiologist and academic physician at Harvard Medical School and Boston City Hospital. Most of the records date from 1950 to 1968, corresponding roughly to Finland's most senior years at Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, and are from Finland's research and publications, particularly concerning original laboratory work and therapeutic trials. Other records include those from fundraising efforts on behalf of Harvard Medical School, attendance and participation in conferences, meetings, and symposia in the US and abroad, and site visits conducted for the Veterans' Administration.

The records contain information on the evolution and significant changes that occurred in the treatment of infectious disease during Finland's career. Also included are articles, certificates, clippings, correspondence, memoranda, notes, patient records, plaques, reports, film reels, videotapes, and photographs from Finland's research concerning a range of subjects related to infectious diseases, but most often clinical evaluations of new antibiotics. Other topics covered in the records include Finland's work to secure steady funding for medical research in the post-war era; the growth of his Harvard Medical School research projects, as well as those at the Thorndike Medical Laboratory and Boston City Hospital; and changes that accompanied Harvard's departure from Boston City Hospital in 1973.

Also included is correspondence and records from working with colleagues George Richards Minot (1885-1950), William Bosworth Castle (1897-1990), Charles Sprecher Davidson (1910-2000), and Edward Harold Kass (1917-1990); correspondence with individual's that Finland mentored and records from his efforts to both promote their careers and continue personal associations.

Patient names and social security numbers have been eliminated from correspondence, reports, and notes accompanying unrestricted material. Photographs are listed where they belong in the collection. Restricted materials are listed where they appear in Series I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, IX and XI.


Maxwell Finland (1902-1987), A.B., 1922, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts and M.D., 1926, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, was Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services and the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, and George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts. He was an infectious diseases specialist, academic physician, and clinical pharmacologist who played a leading role in promoting the objective evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of emerging antimicrobials.

Maxwell Finland was born March 15, 1902 near Kiev, Russia, to Frank and Rebecca (Povza) Finland. His family emigrated to the West End of Boston, Massachusetts when he was four years old, and he was identified as white in the 1910 U.S. Census. Finland graduated from the Boston English High School, Massachusetts in 1918, and from Harvard College, cum laude, in 1922, after earning his way through school giving Hebrew lessons. Finland received a M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1926. Following graduation from medical school, Finland served briefly as an Assistant Resident Physician at the Boston Sanitorium, Massachusetts, before joining the staff at Boston City Hospital in 1927 as a house officer with the Second Medical Service. He became Physician-in Chief of the Fourth Medical Service in 1939, and Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services in 1963. When Finland began treating patients at Boston City Hospital in the late 1920s, nearly half of patient deaths were caused by pneumonia. Finland began treating his patients with antipneumococcal antiserum (blood serum with antibodies); a few years later he was evaluating the use of sulfonamides (antibacterial drugs), and shortly after began many years of work on penicillin and subsequent generations of antibiotics. Over the course of his career, Finland supervised the treatment of over 20,000 patients with pneumonia and other infections. Thorndike Medical Library at Boston City Hospital accommodated Finland's research projects for forty years. Finland was first appointed Assistant Resident in 1929, and he was eventually promoted to Director in 1963. While he officially retired from both Boston City Hospital and Thorndike Memorial Laboratory in 1968, he maintained an office in Boston City Hospital's Channing Laboratory, where he continued to conduct research and write professional articles until 1983. The Maxwell Finland Laboratory for Infectious Diseases at Boston City Hospital was dedicated in 1979. Finland's affiliation with Harvard Medical School spanned his entire career. He was first appointed Charles Follen Folsom Teaching Fellow in Hygiene and Assistant in Medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1928, and he was promoted through the academic ranks to become George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine in 1963. He became George Richards Minot Professor Emeritus in 1968, and that same year, the Maxwell Finland Professorship in Clinical Pharmacology was named in his honor. He was President of the Harvard Medical Alumni Association in 1971-1972, and he is credited with fundraising more than $8 million to endow professorships and support Harvard Medical School activities and research. (When pharmaceutical companies offered Finland money, he requested that it be directed to Harvard Medical School) (1). In addition, Finland became a Senior Medical Investigator for the Veterans Administration in 1972. He served as an expert adviser to many government agencies at local, state, and national levels, highlighting the dangers of indiscriminate use of antibiotics in the treatment and prevention of disease. Finland was one of the leading infectious disease researchers in the world during the most prolific period in the history of infectious disease research. Finland was a meticulous investigator who approached clinical trial methods with scrutiny. Drug companies and government agencies sought his approval for new antibiotics and their clinical application. He campaigned against both unscientific marketing of new antibiotics by drug companies, and indiscriminate use of antibiotics in prevention and treatment of disease (2, 3, 4). Finland's scientific contributions included original work on the serum treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia; treatment of respiratory injuries caused by noxious gases and/or bacteria; recognition of the importance of cold agglutinins to the clinical diagnosis of atypical pneumonia; clinical evaluations of major antibiotics such as sulfadiazine, erythromycin, tetracycline, and the myriad of semisynthetic penicillins; and exhaustive studies on how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics. Finland traveled in the United States and abroad to speak at conferences, laboratories, and professional meetings. At Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, he recruited, trained, and mentored hundreds of young scientists, many of whom came from other countries to train with him. Many would become leading members of the fields of infectious disease, preventive medicine, pediatrics, and microbiology (5).

Finland was dedicated to publishing laboratory findings as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. He was author or co-author of over 800 scientific papers for professional publication, and he edited works concerning antibiotics, bacterial infections, communicable diseases, and internal medicine. Finland's articles followed a precise structure so that fellows and coworkers could follow consistent standards. Charts Finland drew to illustrate antibiotic-drug interaction were so meticulous and unique as to be given their own name: "Finlandograms." Article topics largely resulted from his original laboratory work and therapeutic trials, and included many aspects of bacteriology, immunology, pharmacology, and virology. In addition, he co-edited the three-volume Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital with William B. Castle (1897-1990), published in 1982-1983. He was a member of the editorial boards of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Applied Microbiology, Chest, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association of Immunologists, and American College of Physicians. He was Vice-President of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1945), Vice-President of the American Epidemiological Society (1962), and first President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (1962). Finland received many awards and honors during his long career, including the Bristol Award of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (1966), the John Phillips Memorial Award of the American College of Physicians (1970), and the George M. Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians (1978). Harvard University awarded Finland a Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) in 1982. The Maxwell Finland Lectureship Fund, established at his retirement, supported an annual lecture by a distinguished physician in the general fields of infectious diseases, immunology, and preventive medicine.

Finland died at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 25, 1987. He was unmarried and had no children.

1. Cook, Joan. “Dr. Maxwell Finland, 85, Dies; Expert on Infectious Disease,” New York Times, October 27, 1987,

2. Cook, Joan. “Dr. Maxwell Finland, 85, Dies; Expert on Infectious Disease.”

3. Podolsky, Scott H. Pneumonia Before Antibiotics: Therapeutic Evolution and Evaluation in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

4. Podolsky, Scott H. The Antibiotic Era: Reform, Resistance, and the Pursuit of a Rational Therapeutics (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).

5. Podolsky, Scott H. The Antibiotic Era.

Series and Subseries Arrangement

  1. Series I. Biographical Papers and Photographs, 1916-2003
  2. ___Subseries A. Biographical and Personal Papers, 1916-2003
  3. ___Subseries B. Photographs, 1934-2003
  4. Series II. Professional Correspondence, 1929-1984
  5. ___Subseries A. Alphabetical Correspondence, 1929-1984
  6. ___Subseries B. Chronological Correspondence, Manuscripts, 1947-1959
  7. ___Subseries C. Chronological Correspondence, Alphabetical, 1956-1976
  8. Series III. Harvard Medical School Records, 1938-1983
  9. Series IV. Boston City Hospital Records, 1928-1983
  10. Series V. Drug Studies and Research Records, 1935-1975
  11. ___Subseries A. Drug Testing and Background Records, and Correspondence, 1937-1971
  12. ___Subseries B. Drug Studies, 1943-1975
  13. ___Subseries C. Laboratory Notebooks, 1958-1975
  14. ___Subseries D. Disease Research Records, 1935-1978
  15. ___Subseries E. Channing Laboratory Research Records, 1949-1965
  16. Series VI. Veterans' Administration Records, 1950-1983
  17. ___Subseries A. Veterans' Administration Site Visits, 1973-1980
  18. ___Subseries B. Veterans' Administration Committees and Projects Records, 1950-1983
  19. ___Subseries C. Veterans' Administration Booklet Photographs, 1979
  20. Series VII. Professional Activities and Associations Records, 1936-1983
  21. Series VIII. Conferences, Meetings, and Symposia Records, 1952-1984
  22. Series IX. Writings, 1942-1983
  23. ___Subseries A. Articles and Speeches, 1942-1983
  24. ___Subseries B. Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital, 1962-1983
  25. Series X. Film Reels and Videotapes, 1976-1988
  26. Series XI. Patient Records, 1935-1981

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Maxwell Finland papers were donated to the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine in 1998-1999.

Related Materials

Related collections in the Center for the History of Medicine include Maxwell Finland's faculty publications (1.Mh.1943.F) and the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital's collected publications (1.Mhl.1922.1). Additional records include:

  1. Badger, Theodore L. Papers, 1934-1981.
  2. Davidson, Charles S. (Charles Sprecher), 1910-. Papers, 1940-1910.
  3. Ingbar, Sidney H. Papers, 1926-1901.
  4. Kass, Edward H. (Edward Harold), 1917-. Papers, 1908-1990.
  5. Klein, Jerome O., 1931-. Papers, 1957-2002.
  6. Minot, George Richards, 1885-1950. Papers, 1908-1951.

For more information on related materials, consult the Public Services Librarian.

Processing Information

Processed by: Alyson Reichgott, with advice and comments by Dr. Jerome O. Klein, June 2004

Processing note: This collection includes papers formerly identified as GA 27. Approximately 2.5 cubic feet of materials were incorporated into the larger collection from GA 27, Maxwell Finland. Approximately twenty-seven cubic feet of duplicate, unmarked photocopies, reprints, form correspondence, administrative memoranda, drafts, published volumes, pamphlets, and brochures were removed and discarded, along with unduplicated material of a personal or financial nature, either to MF or others, including retirement or insurance information, receipts, invoices, travel vouchers, tax returns, pay stubs or salary information, copies of checks, and professional article reviews. Sixty-two cubic feet of material, acquired in 1999, were organized into eleven series of this collection. Although some acidic paper has been photocopied and removed, generally good paper condition and the prohibitive amount contained in the collection prevented blanket photocopying. This may be addressed more systematically as resources and time warrant.

Charlotte Lellman revised the Biographical Note in this finding aid in December 2020 to bring it into compliance with the Center for the History of Medicine’s Guidelines for Inclusive and Conscientious Description (2020). In particular, Lellman provided context for some medical terms and added citations for statements describing Finland’s impact. The previous version of the finding aid is being maintained for transparency around the descriptive process.

Finland, Maxwell. Papers, 1916-2003: A Finding Aid
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description
The Maxwell Finland Papers were processed with support from Wyeth Vaccines at the request of Jerome O. Klein.

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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