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papers of joe wiseman howland


Joe Wiseman Howland (1908-1978) was Professor of Radiation Biology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry from 1947 to 1965, and was a pioneer researcher in radiation toxicity, health and safety. His papers include the administrative and research records of the Atomic Energy Project's Medical Division from 1954 to 1962; documents pertaining to the Division's health & safety activities; and a large collection of personal papers (mostly correspondence). The Howland Papers were presented to the Edward G. Miner Library in 1981 by his widow, Hazel Howland. Processing of the collection was completed on 1 March 1986. The collection is contained in sixteen boxes and occupies 8.5 linear feet.

Biographical Data

Joe Wiseman Howland was born in Plain City, Ohio on December 21, 1908. He received his undergraduate degree from Denison University (Granville, Ohio) in 1928. In 1929 he received his M.Sc. in zoology from Ohio State University, and in 1931 a Ph.D. in zoology from the same institution.

During the 1931/32 academic year he was an Instructor in Biology at St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY), returning to Ohio State in 1932/33 as an Honorary Fellow. In 1933/34 he was enrolled as a first year medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. In 1935/36 he was a Student Fellow in Pathology, and took his medical degree in 1938 aged thirty.

With the exception of the war years, JWH remained in Rochester until his resignation from the University in 1965. He interned at Strong Memorial Hospital in 1938/39; served as an Assistant in Medicine and Assistant Resident Physician in 1939; and was chosen Edith H. Gleason Fellow in Medicine in 1940. In 1941 he was appointed Instructor in Medicine at the Medical School and Resident Physician in Charge of the Medical Outpatient Department.

From 1944 to 1947 JWH was on leave with the Armed Forces. In 1944 he was invited to join the Manhattan Project of the Corps of Engineers, which had recently begun development of a fission bomb. JWH initially served as medical officer in charge of special problems-a situation which allowed him the opportunity to become one of the earliest authorities on the medical effects of radiation exposure. During this period he designed toxicity experiments and established occupational standards and emergency procedures.

In 1945 he was sent to Oak Ridge, Tennessee as Assistant Chief of Medical Research for the Manhattan Project, where he correlated information from the Project's various laboratories and work sites. The same year JWH organized the parties that went to Japan to analyze the effects of radiation poisoning, later serving as chief internist-pathologist to the Nagasaki group. They were the first Americans to investigate the effects of radiation on the casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After two months this group was replaced by the U.S. Army team led by Stafford Warren which later became the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

In 1946 JWH was appointed Chief of Medical Research for the Manhattan District during its transition into the Atomic Energy Commission. He was discharged from the military in 1947 with the rank of major, but remained a consultant with the AEC.

JWH decided to return to Rochester "convinced that there was a future in atomic medicine," and advanced to the rank of Professor of Radiation Biology and Chief of the Medical Division of the Atomic Energy Project at the Medical School.

As Chief of the AEP's Medical Division from 1947 to the mid-1960s, JWH supervised the health & safety activities of the AEP; and directed and conducted research into the pathologic physiology of exposure to ionizing irradiation, the dosimetry of radiation exposure, the effects of micro-wave irradiation, standards for radiation protection and the medical aspects of civil defense.

Under JWH's direction the University of Rochester was the first university to be licensed by the AEC to use radioisotopes in clinical procedures at hospitals. The University of Rochester Isotope Center organized and conducted teaching, diagnostic and therapy programs using radioisotopes at hospitals across central and western New York State.

In addition to his research and clinical activity at the Medical Center, JWH served as a consultant to such agencies as the Surgeon-General's Office, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, NASA, the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Office of Atomic & Space Development, etc.

JWH was the author of more than 100 articles. He also maintained a private medical practice. He was married and the father of four sons. Joe Wiseman Howland died at Chapel Hill, NC on October 12, 1978. He had moved there five years earlier after his appointment as Director of the North Carolina Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center at Butner, NC.

The Papers

The Joe Wiseman Howland Papers are divided into four subgroups:

  • Atomic Energy Project (AEP)
  • Atomic Energy Project (Medical Division)
  • Health & Safety
  • Howland (personal papers)

The bulk of these materials cover the period 1954 to 1962. They are interesting not only from the point of view of early research in radiation toxicity, but as a portrait of the operation of a medical department at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry at mid-century.

The first subgroup consists of the AEP's "Proposals for Research, Services & Education Operations" (issued annually between 1952 and 1965) and a nearly complete series of the AEP's Quarterly Review (1952-1962). [3 boxes, 1.5 linear feet]

The AEP (Med. Div.) subgroup follows closely the original order of the Division's records, and consists of administrative records (finance, personnel, equipment, etc.); research correspondence and reports; and records of the Division's educational activities. [6 boxes, 3 linear feet]

The HEALTH & SAFETY subgroup includes records describing the Division's activities regarding occupational safety of AEP employees; Dr. Howland's activities as a consultant on radiation exposure, occupational safety and civil defense with various state and federal agencies, etc. The correspondence pertaining to the University of Rochester Isotope Program is also included in this subgroup. [2 boxes, 1.5 linear feet]

Materials comprising the HOWLAND (personal) subgroup were so arranged in Dr. Howland's original files. They include correspondence of a truly personal nature as well as correspondence with colleagues which did not fit into any of the other subgroup correspondence series. This includes correspondence pertaining to membership in professional societies, participation at meetings, lectures, etc. JWH's correspondence regarding his private patients is also arranged in this subgroup. Patient correspondence is closed to researchers until the year 2000. [5 boxes, 4 linear feet]

Papers pertaining to JWH's work in Japan in 1946 are not present in the collection. According to a letter written by JWH to John Bonner dated 1/15/58, all JWH's Japan files were in the possession of Stafford L. Warren.* There are two folders of photographs from the Japan expedition among the personal papers, however.

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