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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 236

Records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, 1848-1996


Minutes, financial records, annual reports, correspondence, scrapbook, etc., of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, which sponsored lectures on health, physiology, and related topics.


  • 1848-1996

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the records created by Ladies' Physiological Institute is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

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


2 linear feet (2 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 folio box)
This collection contains Institute and Executive Board minutes for 1850-1857, 1937-1946, and 1994, and Institute minutes for 1881-1886. Included in the minutes are annual reports which summarize the year's activities, lecture topics, lists of officers and Board members, and also occasional committee reports. Financial records are complete only for the years 1848-1859 and 1954-1966. The only financial documentation for the years between 1859 and 1930 consists of treasurer's reports in the 1881-1886 minutes; financial records between 1930 and 1954 are scattered. The earliest handbook in the collection is for the year 1910; other years are represented, the last being 1995. Lists of members, officers, and past presidents, as well as the Constitution and By-Laws, and a brief history of the club are included in each handbook; the centennial handbook of 1948 contains a longer, more thorough history. There are also announcements of meetings; material on membership and committees; non-financial correspondence; printed material by and about the Institute; photographs, citations, and memorabilia.

In April 2014, correspondence, handbooks, newsletters, citations, and a scrapbook were added to the collection. These records are found in Box 3 and Folio box 4.


The Ladies' Physiological Institute was an outgrowth of five years of meetings (1843-1848) on women's physiology led by one of Boston's first women physicians, Harriot K. Hunt. In 1848 Professor Charles P. Bronson announced a course of lectures for women "who should form themselves into a society for the promotion of useful knowledge among their own sex," offering to present such a group with his medical apparatus if they could raise $1000. Hunt's group met, adopted a constitution, and chose Eunice H. Cobb to receive Professor Bronson's donation, which consisted of a full size model of a woman; other anatomical models; bones; and French engravings. As none of the women was prepared to defy public opinion by serving as president of the new club, Professor Bronson filled that office for the first two years. Within a year of its formation, the Ladies' Physiological Institute had 454 members, in spite of the prevailing view that it was immodest and disgraceful for women to talk about the human body.

On May 6, 1850, the Institute was incorporated in Massachusetts stating its purpose as "promoting among women a knowledge of the human system, the laws of life and health, [and] the means of relieving sickness and suffering." Eunice Cobb, called "Mother Cobb," was elected president. The Institute held weekly lectures, covering such topics as "Physiology and Hygiene of Women in Middle Life," "Dress Reform and Physical Development," and "Development of Character in Schools." In 1895, the Ladies' Physiological Institute joined the Massachusetts State Federation of Women's Clubs, and in 1906 the General Federation of Women's Clubs. Over the years the scope of topics broadened, reflecting the more general interests of women's clubs in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 76-3, 81-M188, 97-M139

The records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Ladies' Physiological Institute between January 1976 and October 1997.


  1. Box 1: 1v-20v
  2. Box 2: 21-30, M1-M7
  3. Box 3: 31-40
  4. Folio Box 4: 41v

Processing Information

Processed: November 1976

By: Katherine Gray Kraft

Updated: April 2014

By: Anne Engelhart
Link to catalog
Ladies' Physiological Institute (Boston, Mass.). Records of the Ladies' Physiological Institute, 1848-1996: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
This collection was processed under a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

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