Covid-19 Update: The Chesney Archives is currently in Phase 1 of its reopening plan.
Home / About Us / History of the Archives
In the 1930s, Alan Mason Chesney, then dean of the Johns Hopkins medical faculty, came across a cache of documents from the early years of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He explained that this chance finding inspired his curiosity and led to his longtime effort to research the history of these separate yet intertwined institutions. He and Margaret Streb, his longtime research assistant, embarked upon a dedicated search to locate and collect more original documentation. Ultimately, they amassed a large collection of historical records from basements, attics, and closets of the hospital and medical school. Although he successfully negotiated for safe storage of these materials in the Welch Medical Library, he was never able to gain official approval for the establishment of an archival repository.
The records Chesney gathered and studied were mainly from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Throughout his deanship (1929-1953) and well into his retirement years he reviewed this collection of primary source materials as he prepared the manuscript for his three-volume history, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: A Chronicle, publishing the first volume in 1943 and the final volume in 1963, a year before his death.
Read More >
In 1969, the trustees of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and The Johns Hopkins University moved that Thomas B. Turner be appointed as the first Archivist of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, referring to the health divisions on the East Baltimore campus including The Johns Hopkins Hospital and its school of nursing, and the Johns Hopkins University schools of medicine and hygiene and public health. Thomas B. Turner, dean of the medical faculty from 1957-1968, renewed the effort begun by Chesney to establish an institutional archives. In his new capacity as archivist, he followed the precedent set by Chesney, his longtime mentor. His first intention was to publish a continuation of the history of the hospital and school of medicine resuming where Chesney’s history had concluded in 1914. Moving forward into the twentieth century, he concentrated on the establishment of the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1918, and the impact of the two world wars on the health divisions. Turner published this expanded history, Heritage of Excellence. The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, 1914-1947, in 1974.
In 1974, at the request of Dean Russell Morgan, the Medical Planning and Development Committee appointed A. McGehee Harvey Associate Archivist. Harvey, the longtime director of the department of medicine, had published extensively on the history of basic and clinical research at Johns Hopkins. Through his research of individual contributions, he laid the groundwork for collecting personal papers of faculty and documenting the significance of their contributions.
In addition to Harvey’s many published papers, his books related to medical history include Adventures in Medical Research (1976); Two Centuries of American Medicine (with J. Bordley III, 1976); Science at the Bedside: Clinical Research in American Medicine 1905-1945 (1981); A Model of Its Kind (a two-volume centennial history of Johns Hopkins medicine, with Brieger, Abrams, and McKusick, 1989); A Century of Biomedical Science at Johns Hopkins (a two-volume collection of original research papers with commentary, edited by Harvey and others, 1993); and Osler’s Legacy: the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins 1889-1989 (with McKusick and Stobo, 1990). He also wrote the official histories of two societies, the Interurban Clinical Club (1978) and the Association of American Physicians (1986) and a history of the Commonwealth Fund (1986).
As Turner and his assistants collected primary sources for his research, the need for an archival repository became ever more apparent. After completion of his history project, he was finally able to turn attention toward establishing an archives program for the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Since Turner was highly regarded throughout Johns Hopkins community for his leadership as dean of the medical faculty and for his years of service on the faculties of both the schools of medicine and hygiene and public health, he was readily able to marshal joint institutional support for the archives’ initiative. The deans of the schools of medicine and hygiene and public health plus the president of the hospital agreed to commit funds for the establishment of the archives and fund its annual operation on a joint administrative basis.
In 1977, Turner hired Nancy McCall to assist in organizing the archives program and planning for its official dedication. In 1978, he named her as Assistant Archivist.
In 1978 the trustees of the university and the hospital moved to name the archives in honor of Alan Mason Chesney for his longstanding efforts to establish an archival program for The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
On May 17, 1978, the dedication of the newly formed archives took place in conjunction with a special meeting of the Johns Hopkins Medical History Club. Established as an administrative unit in the office of the dean of the school of medicine, the hospital and schools of medicine and hygiene and public health provided joint funding for its operation. Funding from The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the health divisions of the Johns Hopkins University, and a grant from the Commonwealth Fund of New York enabled the development of the initial archival facility in the Turner Auditorium.
Grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Library of Medicine, and the National Endowment for the Humanities provided initial funding for processing institutional records and personal papers of the faculty and staff.
In 1979, the Johns Hopkins Management Committee approved a joint policy statement for the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives and the Ferdinand Hamburger University Archives submitted by Nancy McCall and Julia Morgan, director of the Ferdinand Hamburger Archives.
Following the establishment of the archives, leadership of the hospital and the school of medicine requested that the archives staff assist in managing the fine arts collections of the medical institutions. In 1980, they moved to fund the archives for management of the institutional fine arts collections. In 1981, through a joint administrative agreement, the archives staff began operations of the fine arts program.
During this time, the Johns Hopkins Nurses Alumni Association donated the collection of records it had amassed from the former Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing to the archives. Over the years, the association contributed funding for the processing of these collections.
In 1982, after Turner stepped down as Archivist, Dean Richard S. Ross appointed A. McGehee Harvey as Archivist and Richard Shepard as Associate Archivist. Shepard, professor of physiology and biomedical engineering, had founded the first computer center for the school of medicine. He introduced principles of computerization to the archives staff.
After the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing opened in 1984, they joined The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the health divisions of The Johns Hopkins University in contributing to the archives’ joint administrative budget.
In 1987, A. McGehee Harvey stepped down as Archivist to chair the centennial committee for the hospital and school of medicine. At this time, Harvey arranged to transfer the archives from the Office of the Dean of the Medical Faculty to the Institute of the History of Medicine. Gert Brieger, director of the department of the history of medicine, appointed Nancy McCall as Archivist.
In 1990, Richard H. Shepard retired as Associate Archivist. He died in 1991.
In 1994, Nancy McCall and Lisa A. Mix published Designing Archival Programs to Advance Knowledge in the Health Field. This guide to the development of archival programs in the health fields was the outgrowth of strategic planning for the archives. In 1995, the Society of American Archivists awarded the archives its Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service and making an exemplary contribution to the archives profession.
In 2003, the archives, which was designated as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entity of Johns Hopkins, had to reorganize all divisions of its program to comply with legal requirements of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
In May 2018, J. Mario Molina, a trustee of Johns Hopkins Medicine, donated $1.25 million dollars to the archives in commemoration of its fortieth anniversary. He designated that his gift be used to transform the digital infrastructure of the archives so that collections would be more widely and easily accessible for research and education. In the announcement of his gift Molina stated, “I believe that we have an obligation to maintain the archives for the future use of historians”. Molina, who served an internship and residency in medicine at Johns Hopkins from 1984-1986, has held a longtime interest in the history of the health divisions. He has been a strong advocate for the archives program and a regular patron of the archives. The donation has allowed the archives to greatly expand its digitization efforts and make strides toward the establishment of a digital archives program.
The Chesney Archives continues to document the evolving histories of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health. Its mission remains preserving and assuring access and use of its collections for research and education.
< Read Less
Make a Gift