The History of HMS
Established in 1782, Harvard Medical School began with a handful of students and a faculty of three. The first classes were held in Harvard Hall in Cambridge, long before the school’s iconic quadrangle was built in Boston. With each passing decade, the school’s faculty and trainees amassed knowledge and influence, shaping medicine in the United States and beyond. Some community members—and their accomplishments—have assumed the status of legend. We invite you to access the following resources to explore Harvard Medical School’s rich history.
Members of the Harvard Medical School community have been expanding the boundaries of knowledge for more than 200 years. The following entries represent just a sampling of their progress, including accomplishments made by faculty members at the school’s affiliated hospitals and research institutes.
The Early Years
Medical education in the 18th century consisted of formal lectures for a semester or two, followed by an apprenticeship with a practicing physician. No academic preparation was required, no written exams were mandatory.
“These superb buildings are an expression of the intelligence and public spirit of many generations and of the ardent hopes of the present generation for a new relief of man’s estate,” said Harvard President Charles Eliot during the 1906 dedication ceremonies for the new Longwood Campus. Harvard Medical School created a video history of the campus for the centennial celebration. For more information about the early years at HMS, click here.
Deans of the Faculty of Medicine
The first administrative organization of Harvard Medical School after its founding in 1782 took place in 1816 with the appointment of John Collins Warren as dean. He was a founder of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery and the first surgeon to demonstrate the use of ether anesthesia. Learn about Warren and other distinguished doctors who molded Harvard Medical School into its current form. Click here for a full listing of past deans.
Fifteen researchers have shared in nine Nobel prizes for work done while at HMS. Click here for other HMS facts and figures.
Harvard Medicine Magazine
Since 1927, Harvard Medicine, formerly known as the Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin, has featured doctors’ voices on topics ranging from the healing power of music to the neurology of humor. The magazine seeks to capture the work of the Harvard Medical School community and its power to make contributions to human health.
Center for the History of Medicine
The Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library is one of the world’s leading collections in the history of health care and medicine, attracting researchers from around the world to consult its rare books and journals, archives and manuscripts, photographs and prints, and art and artifact collections. The history of medicine plays a critical role in informing contemporary medicine, at the same time that it informs our understanding of the larger society within which medicine is embedded.