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John Rodman Paul papers

Call Number: MS 1333

Scope and Contents

The John Rodman Paul Papers document Paul's career as a world renowned epidemiologist. They contain professional correspondence with colleagues and institutions, research notebooks and reports, and photographs. Paul's academic responsibilities at the Yale University School of Medicine as professor of preventive medicine and epidemiology are documented, and topical files highlight his work on the epidemiology of bacterial and viral diseases, especially poliomyelitis during the period of the 1930s through the 1960s. The papers include alternative scientific views and quack theories on the causes, prevention, and treatment of poliomyelitis. The papers contain little personal information.

Paul wrote extensively, but the papers do not include manuscripts for most of his work. The researcher can refer to the bibliography published at the time of Paul's retirement for a relatively complete list of his publications. The files do contain correspondence associated with some of these, notably A History of Poliomyelitis and An Account of the American Epidemiological Society.

In view of Paul's importance in the field of public health, there is less material in the papers than one would expect. Paul worked closely with Dorothy Horstmann during his years as administrator and researcher, and as his career was winding down and also after his death, Horstmann took responsibility for responding to some of his correspondence and publication of his remaining manuscripts. The Dorothy Horstmann Papers include additional material relating to the productive collaboration between them.


  • 1920-1992
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1971


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by John Rodman Paul has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Yale University Medical Historical Library, 1980; and from the School of Epidemiology and Public Health, 1994 and 1995.


Arranged in four series: I. General Files, 1920-1971. II. Research Files, 1935-1968. III. Writings, 1925-1971. IV. Personal Papers and Photographs, 1920-1992.

Associated Materials

Dorothy Millicent Horstmann Papers (MS 1700), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library


9.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, writings, topical files, photographs, and journals associated with the academic and epidemiological research activities of John Rodman Paul. The papers document his work on infectious diseases, principally poliomyelitis, rheumatic fever, hepatitis, and mononucleosis.

Biographical / Historical

John Rodman Paul taught at the Yale School of Medicine for more than thirty years and made critical contributions to understanding the course of viral diseases such as poliomyelitis. He also developed the concept of clinical epidemiology, which became a thriving academic discipline.

Paul was born in Philadelphia on April 18, 1893, to Henry N. Paul and the former Margaret C. Butler. He earned his A.B. in 1915 from Princeton University and his M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1919. After serving as an assistant pathologist at Johns Hopkins from 1919 to1920, he interned at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia from 1920 to 1922. He remained at the Pennsylvania Hospital until 1928 as director of the Ayer Clinical Laboratory.

In 1928, he came to the Yale School of Medicine as an assistant professor of internal medicine and rose to the position of professor and chairman of the newly created department of preventive medicine in 1940. Paul helped devise the serological test known as the Paul-Bunnell test to identify mononucleosis in 1931. While working on the epidemiology of rheumatic fever with Indian children from Canadian to the Mexican border, he established the role of hemolytic streptococcus in the infection.

In 1931, Paul and colleague Dr. James D. Trask founded the Yale Poliomyelitis Study Unit. In 1938, they received the first research grant from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was renewed annually for thirty years. They identified strains of poliovirus in human waste and found the same strains in sewage.

During World War II, Paul served as director of the Neurotropic Virus Disease Commission of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board (AFEB). In 1943, Paul headed the Virus Commission, which included Albert Sabin. The commission went to North Africa and while in Egypt confirmed the diagnosis of poliomyelitis among U.S. and British troops. The virus was unknown in the adult Egyptian population, and Paul hypothesized that young Egyptian children acquired immunity after early exposure to the virus, but that the troops who had not been exposed to the virus before contracted polio at a surprising rate. From his later study of Alaskan Eskimos (1949), he made the important discovery that a single experience with poliomyelitis resulted in lifelong immunity. This discovery provided the impetus for the development of immunizing vaccines.

By the 1950s, Paul was a recognized international figure in virology and was asked to serve on committees for the United States Armed Forces, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization and many others. He was appointed by the United States to evaluate the Salk vaccine. He also conducted many of the early tests that confirmed the effectiveness and safety of the Sabin oral vaccine. He stimulated the development of the serum banks from persons of different ages in many different countries in order to establish reference sera for the exploration of epidemiology by serum studies.

After he became professor emeritus in 1961 and until 1966, he was the director of the World Health Organization Serum Reference Bank located in the Yale Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. He was subsequently named lecturer in the history of science and medicine at Yale. His most important contribution during this period was his A History of Poliomyelitis (1971), which chronicled the scientific discoveries and dead ends that slowly led to the complete understanding of this disease.

Paul served as president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 1938 and as president of the American College of Physicians from 1955 to 1956. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American College of Physicians, and granted honorary membership in the Royal Society of Medicine. Yale created an endowed chair in Paul's name in 1967. He died May 6, 1971.

Guide to the John Rodman Paul Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Bella Z. Berson
December 2004
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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