Online Exhibits@Yale

Cushing's Legacy

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library Rotunda

Cushing Rotunda

The rotunda of the Yale Medical Library (now the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library) is decorated in honor of Harvey Cushing and was the gift of Cushing's Class of 1891 which was celebrating its 50th reunion. The architect was Grosvenor Atterbury, Cushing's classmate friend since college. The words below the balcony read "This Rotunda is Dedicated to Harvey Cushing Inspiring Teacher Pathfinder in Neurosurgery Master of the Science and Art of Healing." The seals just below the balcony are of universities that awarded Cushing honorary degrees. The Library was dedicated in conjunction with the reunion on June 15, 1941.

Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, 1941

Medical Historical Library

This photograph from 1941 shows the Historical Library in use by students and researchers.

Madeline Stanton working in the Historical Library office.

Madeline Stanton

Madeline Stanton, who had been Harvey Cushing's secretary, was the Librarian of the Historical Library from 1949-1968.

Tumor Registry and the Cushing Center

The Cushing Brain Tumor registry, as it is known today, is an immense archival collection of over 2,200 case studies which includes human whole brain specimens, tumor specimens, microscopic slides, notes, journal excerpts and over 15,000 photographic negatives dating from the late 1800s to 1936. Even though Harvey Cushing decided to retire to Yale and New Haven, he presumed that his collection would stay in Boston. But due to unforeseen circumstances, Cushing decided to move the specimens to Yale in 1934.

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. Louise Eisenhardt curated the collection for the next twenty years, and the collection was housed in the Brady Museum sub-basement until 1967. When Dr. Elias Manuelidis took over curation, space became an issue as well as waning use of the collection, it became necessary to find a new location. It wasn’t until 1979 that a new space was found in the sub-basement of the medical student dormitory, ES Harkness Hall. The entire collection was moved with the help of faculty and students. 

Harkness Sub-Basement "Brain Room" Specimen from Cushing Tumor Registry in Harkness sub-basement

"Brain Room" in the Harkness Sub-Basement

In the early 1990s, the collection was discovered by some adventurous medical students who had to sneak through dark crawl spaces to arrive at the "brain room." The students would then sign a white board and become members of the "Brain Society" to show they too make the trek to see the brains. The shelving shown here on the right wall previously held the glassplate and film negatives of patient photos.

Construction on the new Cushing Center in the Medical Library basement Work in progress: the new Cushing Center in the Medical Library basement

Finding a New Home in the Medical Library

After considering several new locations for the Cushing collection, in the fall of 2008 Dr. Dennis Spencer, Chairman of the Section of Neurosurgery and R. Kenny Marone, the Library Director agreed on the utilization of sub-basement space within the Medical Library, previously used as oversize book stacks, as a 'museum' for the Brain Tumor Registry and other Cushing Memorabilia. 

Nicole St. Pierre working with the Cushing Tumor Registry Cushing Tumor Registry specimens in white buckets for transport

Preparing and Moving the Brains

In preparation for the move, each specimen was examined carefully and cleaned by a forensic scientist, Nicole St. Pierre. Housing the specimens in the original one gallon jars, each specimen was removed and the jar filled with new formalin and placed in large white buckets for transportation.

Brain specimens in the Cushing Center
View from entrance to the Cushing Center

The Cushing Center

As we say, the rest is history. After the brain specimens were in place, the rest of the collection was brought to the room. Taking only one year for this total transformation, the old oversize books stacks opened as the new Cushing Center on June 5, 2010.

You can learn more about the history of the Cushing Center by watching this video, exploring the Cushing Center website, or making a visit to this unique collection yourself!

Cushing's Legacy