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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 453: T-141: DVD-81

Papers of Rose Kushner, 1913-1997


Writings, correspondence, and professional papers of Rose Kushner, journalist and breast cancer expert.


  • 1913-1997

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Researchers must sign a special permission form to use the collection. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Rose Kushner is held by Harvey Kushner. At the donor's death, copyright will pass to Gantt, Todd, and Lesley Kushner, Harvey and Rose Kushner's children, as stipulated in the donor's will. At the death of the last of these children, copyright will be transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


20.85 linear feet ((49 file boxes, 2 half file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 4 photograph folders, 2 audiocassettes, 1 DVD)

Rose Kushner's papers provide information on her professional career as the founder and executive director of the Women's Breast Cancer Advisory Center. Also included are family correspondence and materials related to her early career and education. The core collection (accession numbers: 83-M222, 95-M26, 95-M44) was originally processed in 1998. A copy of the original inventory is located in box #1. Additional materials received by the Schlesinger Library (accession numbers: 2006-M1, 2012-M14, 2014-M49) were added to the collection in May 2016, and are represented in the inventory in boxes 25-51, DVD-81. Folders are listed in intellectual, not sequential order in this inventory. When the finding aid was updated in 2016, the folder numbering and container list were also updated and the additional folders were incorporated within the inventory in their appropriate series. Originally, folders in the collection were numbered sequentially #1-#278, but are now numbered by box and folder number (#1.1-#24.9). All original files remain in the same order. More complete descriptions were added to the series notes or folder titles when applicable.

Series I, PERSONAL AND FAMILY, 1913-1997 (#1.1-1.16, 25.1-30.2, FD.1-FD.2, T-141.1-T-141.2, DVD-81.1), includes personal correspondence, notes, clippings, audiocassettes and partial transcript of an oral history interview, the first chapters of a memoir, and genealogical and other family data. Rose Kushner's travels to Europe in 1949 are documented by correspondence with family, with her mentor Dr. W. Horsley Gantt of the Pavlovian Society of America, and Maurice Hindus, the Russian-American writer, foreign correspondent, lecturer and authority on Soviet and Central European affairs, and a friend of Dr. Gantt. There is some correspondence written in Hebrew. Of note are materials related to Rose Kushner's memorial service in 1990; including professional and personal correspondence between Harvey and Rose Kushner's colleagues, friends, and supporters, and a DVD of the memorial at the National Institutes of Health on January 30, 1990. In addition, this series contains extensive clippings files consisting of articles published in medical journals and popular press about Rose Kushner and her interests and work in breast cancer research advocacy. A set of these clippings arrived at the library in folders by article title, and these have been retained in their original folders (#26.1-27.118). While this set of clippings contain a few articles by Rose Kushner (#27.21, 27.57, 27.82), for the majority of articles by Kushner, see Series II, Writings. This series is arranged by subject area.

Series II, WRITINGS, 1951-1990 (#2.1-8.1, 30.3-30.18), includes published articles, drafts, book outlines, forewords, and related correspondence on breast cancer. There are papers on experimental psychology, articles and an outline for a novel on Vietnam, and articles about Kushner's Jewish heritage. Her conference papers and talks, 1976-1989 (#6.5-6.8, 6.10), draw on her own experience as a cancer patient, describe the psychological and emotional aspects of the disease, emphasize the importance of the support of nurses and social workers, condemn unnecessary radical mastectomy, and testify that even radical mastectomy need not be mutilating. The expert testimonies (#6.12-8.1) given by Kushner to federal agencies, congressional and other committees, and in legal depositions illustrates her campaign to have annual mammography covered by health insurance, and her concern for patients' bills of rights. This series is arranged by category.

Series III, CORRESPONDENCE, 1973-1992 (#8.2-11.10, 30.19-50.7) contains professional correspondence primarily with Rose Kushner in her role as founder and Executive Director of the Breast Cancer Advisory Center. Correspondents include other medical professionals, concerned public, patients, advocates, teachers, journals and non-profit health centers and universities; friends; and others, including staff of the Center and Dr. Thomas Dao, a medical advisor on the Center's board. Topics in the correspondence folders include development in cancer therapies; Rose Kushner's books and other writings; publicity and speaking engagements; correspondence with doctors re: referrals of patients; Kushner's participation in symposia, lectures, speaking engagements; conferences and meetings; Kushner's television appearances; Breast Cancer Advisory Center support and funding; medical malpractice issues; Kushner's health and medical experiences; discussion of therapies and diagnoses; BreastPAC and other political topics and legislation; general requests for information and Center brochures. Of note are correspondence with William E. Colby (#8.6) about rates of cancer in the Soviet Union and Armand Hammer about Kushner's trip to China (#11.1, 12.2-12.3). Her correspondence with Representative Mary Rose Oakar (#9.5-9.7, 23.6) documents Kushner's role in developing cancer legislation.

The patient correspondence files primarily consists of letters from individuals reaching out to Kushner or the Center for support; expressing gratitude to Rose Kushner for writing her book and for being an advocate; inquiring or commenting on Rose’s writings and opinions; requesting advice about surgery, doctors, and therapies; requesting recommendations for where to get breast cancer treatment; etc. The Breast Cancer Advisory Center responded to telephone and written requests for help with free fact sheets about various aspects of breast cancer, and there are numerous letters from the public and organizations regarding requests for these informational brochures. There is a large set of patient letters, spanning multiple years that were sequentially numbered. The archivist retained this organization, although it is unclear how this numeric identification was used by the organization. There are also log sheets, which contain notes most probably taken by staff during telephone conversations with patients, as well as patient questionnaires that Kushner distributed. Mailings folders (#47.6-47.11) may include mailing labels of organizations and letters from the organizations, as well as a copy of the solicitation letter from the Breast Cancer Advisory Center, either requesting support or purchase of the Center's brochures. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series IV, ORGANIZATIONS, 1965-1990 (#11.11-24.9, 50.8-51.2), contains materials related to the organizations Rose Kushner worked with or founded. Included are information sheets of the Breast Cancer Advisory Center and Kushner's study of state laws on informed consent (#11.11-11.20). Correspondence with Chinese physicians, and her diary of and report on her trip to China in 1984, document an epidemic of breast cancer in that country (#12.1-12.9, 51.2). Minutes and correspondence with the Mammatech Co., the maker of a breast self-examination kit, illustrate Kushner's view that self-examination and early detection were key to prevention (#13.4-14.2). Additionally there are incorporation documents and other papers of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, which Kushner helped to found in 1986 (#14.3-15.1). Minutes, correspondence, and reports document her service on the National Cancer Advisory Board, 1980-1986. Reports and correspondence of many National Cancer Institute task forces and projects of which she was a member are arranged chronologically and include the Office of Cancer Communications (#18.3-18.6), the Organ System Program (OSP) (#18.7-19.3), the Protocol Data Query (#19.4-19.7), Low Fat Cancer Trials (#20.1-20.8), and Women's Health Trials (#20.9-21.5). Other task force papers include a study of silicone breast implants (#7.10, 12.10-13.3), and of DES (Diethylstilbestrol #23.4-24.1). This series is arranged by organization.

Series V, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1960-1985, n.d. (#PD.1-PD.2, #81, #172) includes publicity photographs of Rose Kushner; a photograph of Rose and Harvey Kushner with others in Vietnam(?); Rose Kushner showing a model house to an unidentified man at McCall's Third National Conference on Better Living (#81); and flow charts showing the process of discovering, diagnosing and treating breast cancer (#81). Photograph folders from the original processed collections have retained their original folder numbering (#81, 172). The photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. This series is arranged chronologically, beginning with undated folders.


Rose Kushner, journalist, breast cancer expert, and patient advocate was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 22, 1929, the fourth child of Israel and Fannie (Gravitz) Rehert. After graduating from high school she worked for animal behaviorist Dr. Horsley Gantt at the Pavlovian Laboratory of Johns Hopkins Medical School (1947-1951). She married Harvey Kushner in January 1951 and they had three children: Gantt, (born 1952), Todd (1956), and Lesley (1958). As she had always wanted to be a physician, Kushner took pre-med courses at Baltimore Junior College (1949) and Montgomery Junior College (1963), but switched to journalism and received her A.B. summa cum laude from the University of Maryland in 1972. She freelanced as a journalist in Bolivia and Vietnam (1967), wrote articles and an unpublished book, "The Peacehawks," covered the Yom Kippur war (1973), and did some medical writing.

The discovery of a breast lump which proved to be cancerous in June 1974, changed her life. Finding that there was little information available, she researched the topic in medical and technical publications and kept notes as she underwent lumpectomy and reconstructive surgery. An article based on her own experience appeared in the Washington Post and was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers. Her book Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report (1975) was revised and reprinted twice, as Why Me? (1977) and Alternatives (1984). For her books and numerous articles about breast cancer she received awards from the American Medical Writers Association (1980, 1985). She was awarded the Medal of Honor (1987) and the Courage Award (1988) by the American Cancer Society. She founded the Breast Cancer Advisory Center (1975) to provide information and support for breast cancer patients and was frequently called before Congress to testify on health and cancer topics. In June 1977, she was the only non-physician chosen to be on an National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel, which adopted a two-stage procedure instead of the Halsted radical mastectomy as the standard treatment for women suspected of having breast cancer. As a result, a biopsy that located a breast lump was no longer automatically followed by a mastectomy.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Kushner to the National Cancer Advisory Board (1980-1986), where she brought her skills as an investigative reporter and patient advocate to medical policy-making and task forces. She was a founder of the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations and served on its board from 1986 to 1989. This umbrella organization linked many local groups, published a newsletter, and lobbied for policy reform. Her report on her trip to China (1984) drew attention to the spiraling increase in the incidence of breast cancer there and the need for self-examination as a means of prevention.

In June 1982, Rose Kushner developed a second cancer when her implant ruptured and had to be reinserted. She refused aggressive chemotherapy and was treated with tamoxifen. She campaigned against aggressive adjuvant chemotherapy in 1984. She was also involved in an United States Food and Drug Administration study of silicone breast implants and a DES (diethylstilbestrol) task force to track down the health histories of women like herself who had taken DES during pregnancy.

Rose Kushner died of cancer on January 7, 1990.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. I. Personal and family, 1913-1997 (#1.1-1.16, 25.1-30.2, FD.1-FD.2, T-141.1-T-141.2, DVD-81.1)
  2. II. Writings, 1951-1990 (#2.1-8.1, 30.3-30.18)
  3. III. Correspondence, 1973-1992 (#8.2-11.10, 30.19-50.7)
  4. IV. Organizations, 1965-1990 (#11.11-24.9, 50.8-51.2)
  5. V. Photographs, 1960-1985 (#PD.1-PD.2, #81, #172)

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 83-M222, 95-M26, 95-M44, 2006-M1, 2012-M14, 2014-M49

Audiotapes and a transcript of an interview with Kushner were given to the Library by Anne Kasper in October 1983. The papers of Rose Kushner were given to the Schlesinger Library by her husband Harvey Kushner between March 1995 and April 2014.


Donor: Harvey Kushner

Accession numbers: 2006-M1, 2012-M14, 2014-M49

Processed by: Laura Peimer

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. Adventures to Motherhood: The Picture-Story of Pregnancy and Childbirth by J. Allan Offen, M.D., (Simon and Schuster; Audio Visual Education Co. of America, Inc., 1964)
  2. El Proceso de la Maternidad: Historia Grafica del Embarazo al Alumbramiento by J. Allan Offen, M.D., (Simon and Schuster; Audio Visual Education Co. of America, Inc., 1964)

Processing Information

Processed: August 1998

By: Jane S. Knowles

Updated and additional materials added: May 2016

By: Laura Peimer with assistance from Dan Bullman.

Kushner, Rose. Papers of Rose Kushner, 1913-1997: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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