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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
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Isidor Schwaner Ravdin was born in Evansville, Indiana on October 10th 1894. He remained in Indiana to receive his high school and college education, earning his Bachelors of Science Degree from Indiana University in 1916. It was only a last minute decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania Medical School that brought Ravdin to the institution where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1918 Ravdin received his medical degree, becoming the fourth generation of Ravdin family physicians.
At the University, Ravdin initially served as a surgical chief resident, and in turn, as an Instructor and an Associate in Surgery. In 1921 he married Elizabeth Glenn, a colleague and a classmate at the Medical School. He spent 1927 studying at the University of Edinburgh. He began his academic ascent when he was appointed to the new chair of surgical research in 1928 at the University of Pennsylvania. He held the position of George L. Harrison Professor of Surgery in the Harrison Department of Surgery from 1935 to 1944, and in 1945 he was appointed the Surgeon in Chief at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and the John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery. During these same years, Ravdin directed the Harrison Department of Surgical Research, where he participated in, and oversaw, a tremendous amount of groundbreaking surgical research.
Ravdin's research interests were varied. His early interests focused on the systematic study of the gall bladder and resulted in the publication of fifteen papers. In the 1930's Ravdin devoted time to the study of the liver and to the problem of hypoproteinemia in the surgical patient. Immediately before the war, he initiated studies on shock. In studying shock, Ravdin was particularly interested in the use of blood substitutes to treat war casualties. As a result, he worked with the American Red Cross and the National Research Council, and in 1942, he was called on by the government to inspect and treat the casualties of the Pearl Harbor attack. It was there that albumin, a new substance, was used for the first time to treat burn and shock patients. Throughout his career, Ravdin's research often led to considerations and problems presented by the consequences of war, but after World War II his major research focus shifted to the study of cancer.
In addition to research, teaching and clinical duties, Ravdin was a much relied upon University administrator. During his Presidency, Gaylord Harnwell often relied upon Ravdin as second in command. His administrative touch spanned the highest offices of the University to the most minute personnel problems. He was called on to serve on numerous committees that dealt with the problems facing the administration of large university medical centers. To this end, Ravdin was appointed acting Vice President in charge of Medical Affairs from October 1951 until November 1952. Later, in 1959, he was appointed to this post permanently and was responsible for all aspects of medicine at the University. This included dentistry, veterinary medicine, nursing and all other allied medical fields. He was instrumental in reorganizing the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Penn and was continually called upon for advice regarding applicants for top university medical posts, both at the University and elsewhere. Not only did Ravdin make it his mission to build the University of Pennsylvania into one of the finest medical centers, but his ideas and professional consultation helped shape medical centers across the country. He was particularly active with other area hospitals such as Graduate Hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, Mercy Douglass Hospital, Jefferson Hospital and Temple. In spite of the demands placed upon him as University administrator, Ravdin continued to arrive at the operating room every morning at 7:15.
Always trying to expand the University, especially in its capacity to serve patients, Ravdin spearheaded numerous fund raising campaigns. Three of his major accomplishments at HUP include a two floor addition to the Dulles wing in 1940, a two and one-half floor addition to the Gates Pavilion in 1950, and the Ravdin Institute. Representing the overwhelming support and esteem that his colleagues and friends felt for him, the Ravdin Institute is perhaps his greatest legacy to the University. Support for the Institute was generated spontaneously by a group of his friends and was later taken up by the University, finding it more appropriate to honor this surgeon at the peak of his career rather than later. As a medical center it embodied Ravdin's goal that the University remain at the cutting edge of modern, medical technology. At a cost of six million dollars, the Ravdin Institute housed 374 beds for in-patients, four operating rooms, adjacent pathology labs and research labs with the finest equipment. In addition to the physical facility itself, the Ravdin Institute established funds for numerous research grants in the areas of cancer, cardio-vascular diseases, pulmonary problems, clinical biochemistry, physiology and nutritional problems as they related to the surgical patient. The Ravdin Institute admitted its first patients in March of 1962.
While devoted professionally to the University, Dr. Ravdin was an active member of the United States Military for forty years. He was initially called to active duty with the Indiana National Guard in 1916 during the Pershing Expedition into Mexico. Much like his academic career, his military career carried him to great heights. One such example was his service with the 20th General Hospital in Assam, India.
In May of 1942 Ravdin was called to active service as the Executive Officer and Chief of the Surgical Service of the 20th General Hospital, and by March of 1945, he was the Commanding Officer. The mission of the 20th General Hospital, a hospital unit affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, was the provision of medical care for the troops of the Services of Supply. These men were engaged in constructing a road from Ledo, Assam into North Burma to restore land communications with China. Most of the staff of this overseas hospital came from the University. One third of the nurses, for example, enjoyed an affiliation with the University. The unit spent their first seven and a half months at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana before making the trip to Assam, India. Orders to move overseas came in January of 1943.
What awaited Ravdin in India is best described in his own words. In one of his own reports dated 1943-1945 Ravdin said "The chota monsoon had begun the day before our arrival and where all before had been dust, now was mud. It was not possible to drive vehicles through the area. There were no roads, nor fires, no provision for messes, no satisfactory quarters for women. Real work lay ahead." Ravdin's work, and that of his unit, called for the clearing of a jungle and building a hospital. Their work was extraordinary enough to earn the 20th General Hospital the reputation as one of the best hospitals in the China-India-Burma theater.
The hospital ultimately occupied 289 buildings and 162 tents, and in the twenty-eight months of operation during Ravdin's command, the hospital admitted close to 50,000 patients. The ratio of American to Chinese patients was two to one. Two thirds of all admissions went to the medical service and the remainder went to the surgical service. Among some of the medical problems faced by Ravdin and his staff were, a malaria epidemic, cutaneous diphtheria, hypohydrosis, and the maintenance of a "closed" psychiatric ward without any effective locks.
In commanding the 20th General Hospital, Ravdin was responsible not only for the welfare of patients, but that of the personnel. His talents as an administrator and motivator were clearly evident in his command of the 20th General Hospital. He considered it of the utmost importance to provide his staff with the best working conditions possible. In this regard a colleague, John Paul North, recalled Ravdin as having "the tenacity of a bulldog about securing the supplies which were needed and refused to be sidetracked along the chain of command but would go to the top if necessary-as he did to obtain air conditioning equipment from the top command in New Delhi." By securing the necessary supplies and insisting upon air-conditioning, Ravdin dramatically lowered the mortality rate at his hospital. As for the personal comfort of the staff, Ravdin worked hard to keep morale up and made recreation and living quarters one of his priorities. In addition, due to the academic backgrounds of many of the doctors, the 20th General Hospital became a center for professional meeting among other medical installations in the area. By 1945 Ravdin was made a Brigadier General, and in 1956 he retired as a Major General in the Medical Corps, the first person on non-active military service appointed Major General.
Long after his active military service, Ravdin was called upon regularly as a consultant to the government and the military. He was a Senior Civilian Consultant to the Surgeon General, United States Army, as well as a consultant to the Second Army. In addition, Ravdin served as a member of the Armed forces Medical Policy Council, Department of Defense, Health and Medical and was involved with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. His Military leadership positions included the Chairmanship of the Consultants Committee to the Second Army and the Presidency of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of Reserve Affairs. In appreciation for his long service, both in his role as a soldier and as a consultant, the military awarded him the Legion of Merit and the First Oak Leaf Cluster to the Legion of Merit.
Ravdin simultaneously served non-military governmental agencies as well. At the National Institutes of Health, as chairman of the Clinical Studies Panel of the Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center, he delved deeply into the problem of cancer. The Clinical Studies Panel conducted nationwide, coordinated studies on all types of cancer. Ravdin volunteered for this position in 1956, and by 1960, seventeen clinical study groups were working out of 200 medical institutions. Ravdin also served a four year term as a member of the National Advisory Cancer Council and the National Advisory Health Council. His direct involvement with medicine and government made him the natural spokesperson on the matter of health legislation. He frequently addressed Congress encouraging a commitment of increased funds and legislation in order to secure the future of medicine and medical research.
As a recognized expert in the field of surgery with extensive experience with a host of governmental agencies, Ravdin was brought to the White House to treat President Eisenhower as a surgical patient. Officially, Ravdin was called to the White House as a Civilian Consultant, and along with three other physicians, he participated in Eisenhower's emergency operation for ileitis. Eisenhower and Ravdin remained lifelong friends.
While Ravdin devoted most of his time and energy to the University, he also engaged in a myriad of medical organizations, societies, and professional groups. He was most active in the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society. It was through the American College of Surgeons that Ravdin influenced the quality and standards of the practice of surgery. He was an outspoken opponent of fee splitting and ghost surgery. The professional network that Ravdin established through this organization was immense, and his work there stands to his collegiality. Ravdin was on the Board of Governors, the Board of Regents and Chairman of the Board or Regents, and finally President of the entire College from October 1960 until October 1961. The American Cancer Society also benefited from Ravdin's leadership. Through fund raising and lobbying for the Society, Ravdin built it into a major educational and research organization dedicated to the prevention of cancer. From 1962 to 1963, he led the society as its President.
Constantly at the forefront of medical activity, he played a pivotal role in medical leadership throughout the 20th century. Ravdin wrote and spoke prolifically, and his wide reputation, ambitious workload and expertise made him the recipient of hundreds of awards, honorary degrees, honorary fellowships and citations. He was decorated by the University, the Military, the Government, foreign governments, major universities and private institutions. In 1957 Ravdin received the prestigious Philadelphia Award, the highest honor the city could bestow for his lifelong contributions to the city.
Medicine was at the heart of Ravdin's life, but he did make time for activities of a more civic nature in his role as trustee and benefactor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and the Rosenbach Foundation. He established the Ventnor Foundation to bring German doctors to the United States for training. He enjoyed a lifelong relationship with the Mead Johnson Company in Evansville, Indiana serving as its Director and as a member on its Scientific Advisory Board.
It seems inconceivable that Ravdin had any time for personal interests. But in the small amount of leisure time he did have, Ravdin was able to develop hobbies and pursue sports. His chief sport was deep sea fishing, and his hobbies included the collection of Civil War revenue department stamps (his most prized stamps were those purchased from the collection of Franklin D. Roosevelt) and the cultivation of a holly garden. He and Elizabeth grew all varieties of holly (including English, Japanese and Chinese) at their second home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Together they had three children, Robert, Elizabeth and William. Isidor S. Ravdin died in 1972.
Ravdin was considered a giant of his own time. He was able to take on numerous responsibilities at once and approach them all with expertise, efficiency and devotion. In his typically direct manner Ravdin said of his life, "Each day is a full day but a rewarding one." His legacy to the University lives on physically in the Ravdin Institute, but he also lent something more. His colleague Sidney Farber, in the October 1964 issue of Surgery, expressed it best when he described the "Ravdinian form" -- the idea that the surgeon must be a physician and something more. As Ravdin said so often of others, he was a "tower of strength" to the University and to the wider world of medicine.
The papers, 1930-1969 of Isidor Ravdin reflect the entire range of his personal and professional interest. Although small in scope, the personal papers for Ravdin include representation of a range of Ravdin's personal interests from his charitable and civic work to his hobbies. Major correspondents, 1930-1972, include Donald C. and Elizabeth Ravdin Bergus, Dwight Eisenhower, Elizabeth Glenn Ravdin, and many individuals writing concerning Ravdin's illnesses and death in 1972. There is biographical material including sketches and data, 1938-1968. The bulk of the personal papers relate to his charitable and civic work with a variety of organizations, especially the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Ventnor Foundation. There is some material relevant to his hobbies, and in particular, to his stamp collecting.
The professional papers, 1925-1972, of Isidor Ravdin represents the bulk of a very large collection. Major correspondents include: George E. Armstrong, Frank B. Barry, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, William S. Blakemore, A.H. Bogutz, R. Morton Bolman, George V. Brindley, Robin C. Buerki, Orville H. Bullitt, C.S. Cameron, M.A. Casberg, Isadore Cohn, Fred Collier, George Crill, Loyal Davis, Michael DeBakey, Richardson Dillworth, R.D. Dripps, J.E. Eckenhoff, Dwight D. Eisenhower, W.L. Estes, Sidney Farber, W.T. Fitts, Archibald Fletcher, Cyril G. Fox, Thomas P. Fox, Charles H. Frazier, Norman Freeman, P.C. Goldmark, Malcom Goldsmith, Hyman Goldstein, Everts Graham, James D. Hardy, Paul R. Hawley, Leonard D. Heaton, Elmer Hess, John M. Howard, Robert H. Ivy, William A. Jeffers, Charles G. Johnston, Ralph Jones, Jean Julliard, Harold Kazman, Charles K. Kirby, C.E. Koop, Frederic R. Mann, Frank D. Merrill, Robert A. Moore, John J. Murphey, Frank L. Newberger, William D. Parsons, Eugene Percival Pendergrass, Lewis Andrew Pick, Donald Pillsbury, Forrest J. Pinkerton, Sir Harry Platt, Frederick R. Randall, Henry T. Randall, Peter Randall, Frank Rathauser, F.A. Raymond, H.S. Read, Howard S. Reese, Jonathan E. Rhoads, Alfred Newton Richards, Brooke Roberts, Henry Royster, Howard Rush, Harold G. Scheie, Bernard Segal, Carl Semb, P.K. Sen, Christopher Shaw, Louis Silverstein, Henry Sloviter, Julian A. Sterling, Joseph E. Strode, Walter Sussman, Timothy R. Talbot, James Charles Thompson, Oscar Harding Wangensteen, Hazel A. Wentworth, Allen Oldfather Whipple, Francis Clark Wood, Harold A. Zintel, and Robert M. Zolllinger.
The administrative career of Ravdin is well documented. There are records for his oversight of the Harrison Department of Surgical Research, 1947-1962; his work with the Department of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), 1932-1963; and the establishment and administration of the Ravdin Institute, 1952-1966. There are files for close to fifty committees on which Ravdin served at HUP, and general files covering all aspects of hospital management ranging from the physical facility to research conducted to the community of staff and patients. Ravdin's role within the University as fund-raiser for money directed to specific buildings and projects is also well documented in these records, 1936-1967. Within the general University community, Ravdin served on an additional fifty committees, 1941-1967, and these are present in these records as well. The administrative series also shed light on his tenure as Vice President of Medical Affairs, 1958-1965, and the subsequent growth of the University as a result of his total administrative effort.
Involvement in well over 200 professional organizations are found among his papers. Some of the most prominently represented of these organizations include the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, 1947-1967; the American Cancer Society, 1950-1967; the American College of Surgeons, 1941-1967; the American Medical Association, 1951-1956; the American Red Cross, 1945-1960; the American Surgical Association, 1939-1966; the College of Physicians, 1938-1967; the Halsted Society, 1939-1967; the Hospital Council of Philadelphia, 1937-1960; the International Federation of Surgical Colleges, 1954-1967; the International Society of Surgery, 1946-1967; the James IV Association of Surgeons, 1959-1967; the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, 1937-162; MEDICO, 1957-1967; National Commission on Community Health Services, 1963-1966; the National Health Council, 1948-1967; the National Society for Medical Research, 1954-1967; the Pan Pacific Surgical Association, 1951-1969; the Philadelphia County Medical Society, 1936-1967; and the Society of University Surgeons, 1942-1968. There are records of consultation work and services provided by Ravdin to hospitals across the country, as well as information on meetings attended from 1947 through 1968.
Prolific in his writing there are written speeches, manuscripts, and research materials including literature collected on a variety of topics ranging from career observations to specific medical research, and in particular cancer research.
Beginning with his active duty with the Indiana National Guard in 1916, the fullness of Ravdin's military career may be found in this collection. This is particularly true of his work during World War II and all subsequent military activity. The information on the China-Burma-India hospital represents the bulk of material which documents his military service. Ravdin's work on the consequences of war such as trauma, and the use of blood substitutes to treat war victims may be found within the collection and would certainly augment an understanding of his military service. In addition to his military duty, Ravdin's work with quasi-military organizations and governmental agencies is also fully documented. This includes his work on or with the Airforce, the Armed Forces Medical Policy Committee, the Surgeon General's Office, the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Health and the National Advisory Health Council.
His private practice with, Jonathan Rhoads and Julian Johnson -- known as Ravdin, Rhoads, and Johnson -- is well documented in the these records. There are financial record books, partnership materials, insurance information, and information on patients. Ravdin also held positions with Merk Institute from 1947 to 1958 and with Mead Johnson from 1958 to 1966. Although his work with Merk, and then Mead Johnson, constitute the strength of his interests in pharmaceutical companies, he served in an advisory capacity for a number of other smaller firms. Prestige memorabilia, newspapers, scrapbooks, photographic prints, and other miscellany supplement the records and finish out this impressively complete collection.
Transferred from VanPelt-Dietrich Library, 1985.
- Randall, Peter
- Jeffers, William A.
- Rhoads, Jonathan E.
- Johnson, Julian
- Hardy, James D.
- Heaton, Leonard D. (Leonard Dudley)
- Hess, Elmer
- Howard, John M. (John Malone)
- Fox, Thomas P.
- Frazier, Charles H. (Charles Harrison)
- Freeman, Norman
- Goldstein, Hyman
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David)
- Estes, William L. (William Lawrence)
- Blakemore, William S.
- Armstrong, George Ernest
- DeBakey, Michael E. (Michael Ellis)
- Davis, Loyal
- Casberg, Melvin A.
- Brindley, G. V. (George Valter)
- Jones, Ralph
- Eckenhoff, James E.
- Dripps, Robert Dunning
- Dilworth, Richardson
- Platt, Harry, Sir
- Pillsbury, Donald M. (Donald Marion)
- Moore, Robert A.
- Koop, C. Everett (Charles Everett)
- Pendergrass, Eugene P. (Eugene Percival)
- Pinkerton, Forrest Joy
- Scheie, Harold G. (Harold Glendon)
- Rush, Howard
- Roberts, Brooke
- Richards, Alfred N. (Alfred Newton)
- Whipple, Allen Oldfather
- Sterling, Julian A.
- Shaw, Christopher
- Segal, Bernard
- Wood, Francis C. (Francis Clark)
- Ventnor Foundation
- United States. Army. General Hospital, 20th
- United States. Army -- General subdivision--Surgeons.;
- University of Pennsylvania. Ravdin Institute
- Society of University Surgeons
- University of Pennsylvania -- General subdivision--History; Chronological subdivision--20th century.;
- University of Pennsylvania. Hospital
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- American Red Cross
- American College of Surgeons
- American Cancer Society
- Philadelphia County Medical Society
- American Medical Association
- College of Physicians of Philadelphia
- University of Pennsylvania. School of Medicine
- Cancer -- Research -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Blood substitutes
- Liver -- Diseases
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Hospitals -- India
- Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), Attack on, 1941
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Medical care
- Medicine -- Study and teaching -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Gilda S. Mann, Susan Stefanski, J.M. Duffin, and Theresa R. Snyder
- Finding Aid Date
- January 1995