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Dr. Harvey Cushing

Dr. Harvey Cushing

Harvey Cushing, a major figure in neurosurgery, was born on April 8, 1869 in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from Yale University in 1891, studied medicine at Harvard Medical School and received his medical degree in 1895. In 1896, he moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he trained to become a surgeon under famed surgeon William S. Halsted. By 1899 Cushing became interested in surgery of the nervous system and began his career in neurosurgery. During his tenure at Johns Hopkins, there were countless discoveries in the field of neuroscience.


In 1913, Cushing relocated to Harvard as the surgeon-in-chief at the new Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. Cushing continued to operate on several hundred patients a year with remarkable results and in addition he was relentless in his recording of patient histories and continued his careful attention to the details and documentation of each surgery.


According to Cohen & Gadal,

“For Cushing to achieve the dream of establishing and spreading his specialty through his disciples, he needed to first prove the safety of his methods. His patients therefore became the center of his career and their stories, which he carefully recorded, became the diary of neurological surgery in its infancy.”


In 1932 Harvey Cushing retired and in 1933 he agreed to join the staff at Yale University, his alma mater, as the Sterling Professor of Medicine in Neurology. Although his bibliophilic enthusiasm never left him throughout his work at Harvard, it was at Yale at the age of 64 that this enthusiasm was revitalized following in his father’s footsteps; Henry Kirke Cushing was a fervent bibliophile as well.

It was during the years 1934 to 1938, Cushing and Dr. Louise Eisenhardt worked diligently to gather complete photographic copies of each and every history for which he had a pathological specimen and complete the final part of his trilogy on intracranial tumor growths. After the book was finally published, Cushing turned his interests to the plans to build the Yale Medical Library. He insisted that a separate building be constructed for use by faculty and students of the medical school and hospital. He used his rare book collection and encouraged his colleagues John F. Fulton and Arnold C. Klebs to join forces by donating their rare book collections to Yale to begin a rare book collection in the new library. But by 1938 it became clear the plans needed to be revised to add on a Y-shaped wing to the existing building instead to save on building costs.

Harvey Cushing suffered a myocardial infarction and died on October 7, 1939 just days after he received word that the funds had be allocated to build the Medical Library. The Yale Medical Library was completed and dedicated on June 15, 1941. In 1939, after Cushing’s death, the Brain Tumor Registry received endowment funds with a gift from Howard M. Hannah of Cleveland to Yale which meant the registry would stay here at Yale. Dr. Eisenhardt curated the collection for the next twenty years.