Online Exhibits@Yale

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and War Service

In the first decade of the twentieth century Cushing received many offers of professorships and chiefs of surgery, including one from Yale, but he chose to stay at Hopkins where he had ample opportunity to expand his knowledge of neurosurgery. He hoped he might eventually be able to return to Harvard. Finally in 1910, he received an offer to become chief of surgery in Harvard's new Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. For two years Cushing stayed on in Baltimore until the hospital was built. He and his family moved to the Boston area in 1912, and even then it wasn’t ready.

Not long after Cushing settled in at the P.B.B.H., war was declared abroad. Cushing went to France twice to oversee a surgical unit and to operate on the wounded, especially those with head wounds. The first was in 1915 when he headed a Harvard unit for a three-month stint at the Ambulance américain in Paris. In 1917, he took charge of U.S. Base Hospital No. 5, composed of Harvard staff, and remained in Europe until the end of the war.

The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital

The Peter Bent Brigham Hospital was built by Harvard, in cooperation with the private Brigham trustees, adjacent to the Harvard Medical School. The school had far closer ties to the Brigham than it previously had to Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Unofficial Opening of P.B.B.H., 30 April 1913."

Unofficial Opening Celebration, 1913

When the Cushing family arrived in the Boston area in 1912, the hospital building still wasn’t ready for occupation. On the occasion of a visit by William Osler to Boston, an unofficial opening took place in February, 1913, the event captured in this photograph. It was not until November 1914, however, that the official opening took place.

Harvey Cushing's War Diary, 1915 Military tents from a page of Cushing's war journals

War Diary, 1915

In 1915, the United States was not yet in the war. However sympathizers with the plight of the French and British sought to obtain medical aid from medical schools in the U.S. Cushing volunteered to head a unit from Harvard to take over a French hospital, called the Ambulance américain and housed in the Lycée Pasteur, for three months. The Harvard unit was preceded and followed by units from other medical schools.

Tumors of the Acoustic Nerves (Harvey Cushing, 1917)

Tumors of the Acoustic Nerves, 1917

In 1916, Cushing began to study tumors of the acoustic nerves (nervus acusticus), nerves that originated in the hindbrain. Cushing had developed a surgical approach to these tumors, and was thus able to obtain far more experience with them than anyone before. Twenty-nine cases are reported in this book. Michael Bliss writes, "He had learned how to correlate verified acoustic tumors with patient histories to the point where he understood the unique symptomology of this kind of growth and thus could set out criteria for a differential diagnosis."

Harvey Cushing, Tumors of the Nervus Acusticus and the Syndrome of the Cerebellopontile Angle. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1917.

Harvey Cushing and His Surgical Team, 1917

Cushing and His Surgical Team, 1917

Cushing returned to France in 1917 as surgical head of Harvard’s Base No. 5. At the time of this photograph in 1917, Cushing was stationed at the at No. 46 Casualty Clearing Station to care for the immediate needs of the wounded at Passchendale.

Harvey Cushing in Uniform, 1917

Cushing in Uniform, 1917

Cushing was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army and was later promoted to lieutenant colonel. One of his army uniforms is on display in the case in the corridor leading to the Historical Library.

Cushing’s War Diary, July 1918

Cushing’s War Diary, July 1918

This is just one of several volumes filled by Cushing from his diary notes and memorabilia collected in World War I. On this page he describes operating on wounded “heads” from the Battle of the Marne in July 1918.

From A Surgeon's Journal

From a Surgeon’s Journal

Cushing compiled the official history of Base Hospital No. 5 soon after the war ended. Despite many entreaties, only much later, after his move to New Haven, was he able to edit his war diaries for a popular book, From A Surgeon’s Journal: 1915-1918, published by Little, Brown in Boston in 1936, and since then reprinted in the Classics of Medicine series in 1990.

Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and War Service