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John Farquhar Fulton papers

Call Number: MS 1236

Scope and Contents

The John Farquhar Fulton Papers document John Fulton's career as a neurophysiologist, medical historian, bibliophile, and administrator. They include correspondence, writings, organizational files, personal papers, and photographs which reflect Fulton's interest in the history of early scientific and medical discoveries. The papers also highlight Fulton's passion for book collecting and his efforts to foster notable collections in the history of medicine, including the Army Medical Library. This work culminated in the founding of the Yale Medical Historical Library, and the papers trace Fulton's close association with his collaborators on this project, Harvey Cushing and Arnold Klebs. The papers also contain an extensive record of Fulton's involvement, during World War II, with the work of the National Research Council, particularly with the Committee on Aviation Medicine and Subcommittee on Decompression Sickness, and his chairmanship of a project to prepare a medical history of the war.

The papers illustrate the possible reasons for Fulton's success in various undertakings: the extensive circle of his acquaintances; his consultative approach; his ability to engage large numbers of people, spread over two continents, in projects; and his overall enthusiasm. Fulton's expertise in the arts of the book (typography, layout, book design) and his careful attention to meticulous bibliographic records are also easily discernible. The papers have only sparse information (scattered correspondence, syllabi, and fragmentary notes) on Fulton's teaching and research. The files contain neither laboratory notebooks nor other research data from his work in the Yale Laboratory of Physiology.

The papers are arranged in five series which, for the most part, reflect Fulton's own arrangement of his files. The bulk of the papers dates from the 1920s to the 1960s. Series I, the General Files, consists of individual and organizational correspondence, which comprise almost two-thirds of the papers. Series II, Special Subjects, documents organizations in which Fulton was active as well as historical and bibliographic projects on which he worked. This series also includes correspondence, in addition to memoranda, agendas, minutes of meetings, and notes. Series III, Writings, contains documentation on Fulton's long and productive career as a writer and lecturer. It includes drafts of published and unpublished works arranged with correspondence related to these efforts. Series IV, Personal and Family Papers, includes John Fulton's memorabilia and personal and financial papers, as well as the correspondence of Lucia Fulton and other members of the Fulton, Wheatland, and Wheaton families. Series V, Visual Images, contains portraits; photographs of family and colleagues, travels, and residences; and several reels of undated 16 mm. film depicting social events and the results of physiological experiments.

The arrangement and the content of each series are more fully analyzed in the series description at the beginning of the inventory of that series. Because documentation on some topics appears in more than one series, cross-references are included in the inventory to each series. These are extensive but not all-inclusive. In the series inventories, Fulton's writings are referred to by the number assigned in the last published bibliography of his writings which appeared in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, volume xvii, number 1, 1962.

Though the Fulton Papers were transferred to Manuscripts and Archives from the Yale Medical Historical Library in 1980, additional Fulton documentation, particularly that relating to the history of the Medical Historical Library, remains there. The bound volumes of Fulton's voluminous diary, collected correspondence, and additional writings and personal memorabilia are there, as are chapter drafts for Elizabeth Thomson's incomplete biography of Fulton. Fulton's diary is also available on microfilm. Where appropriate, this material has been cross-referenced with the indication "See:" or "See also: Cushing/Whitney Medical Historical Library."


  • 1892-1988
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Motion picture film in box 318 can only be viewed after consultation with the reference staff. Researchers may be required to pay for the costs of converting the original film to video cassette.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for 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, 1980-1995; gift of Mrs. Ruth Judge, 1992 and 1994; and gift of Jay B. Dean, 2006.


The John Farquhar Fulton papers are arranged in five series: I. General Files, 1910-1960. II. Special Subjects, 1892-1965. III. Writings, 1914-1960. IV. Personal and Family Papers, 1884-1988. V. Visual Images, 1899-1965.

Related Material

John Farquhar Fulton Papers, Cushing/Whitney Medical Historical Library, Yale University Library.


137.25 Linear Feet (321 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, memoranda, writings, photographs, and memorabilia, which document the career of John Farquhar Fulton as a neurophysiologist, medical historian, and bibliophile. The files also include personal and professional letters which reflect his involvement in organizations and projects including his work with the National Research Council, particularly in aviation medicine and in editing a medical history of World War II. Fulton's writings concern physiological and medical discoveries and those who made them. His close association with Harvey Cushing resulted in voluminous files on major writing and editing projects. Correspondence with family and colleagues reflects his travels, hospitality, and his collecting interests. Fulton's teaching and research are only sparsely represented in the papers.

Biographical / Historical

John Farquhar Fulton was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on November 1, 1899, son of John Farquhar Fulton, an ophthamologist, and Edith Stanley Wheaton Fulton. Fulton received his B.S. degree from Harvard University in 1921 and went as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University, receiving his B.A. degree from Magdalen College in 1923. He remained at Oxford as a Christopher Welch scholar during 1923-1925 and was granted M.A. and D. Phil. degrees in 1925. He was a demonstrator in physiology and worked closely with Sir Charles Sherrington during those two years. He then returned to Harvard to study for his medical degree.

After graduating in 1927, Fulton became an associate in neurological surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. He returned to Oxford from 1928 to 1930 as demonstrator in physiology and fellow of Magdalen College. He was appointed professor of physiology at Yale University in 1929 and, on his return to the United States the following year, was made Sterling professor of physiology. He also served as chairman of the Laboratory of Physiology. He relinquished these posts in 1952 to become the first Sterling professor of the history of medicine at Yale University. In 1960 he was named to head the new Department of History of Science and Medicine but did not live to assume the chair.

Fulton was considered an authority in comparative physiology of the primate brain, neurophysiology, aviation medicine, and medical history. He established the first primate physiology laboratory in the United States. He investigated the functional interrelations of various parts of the brain, the significance of overlapping somatic and autonomic motor functions and the effects of experimental lesions. With Carlyle Jacobsen, one of his students, he observed the effect of prefrontal lobotomy on a neurotic chimpanzee. This operation was later used on humans to alleviate certain mental disorders resistant to other types of treatment, but the most significant results of this work were the data revealed on the relationship between the brain and the intellect. Fulton was especially successful in relating neurophysiological backgrounds to modern clinical neurosurgery. He brought outstanding lecturers from around the world to enrich the educational experience of his students.

During the Second World War, Fulton served on the National Research Council as a member of the Committee on Aviation Medicine. He chaired the Sub-committee on Historical Records from 1940 to 1946, was vice-chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences in 1943, and chairman of the Sub-committee on Decompression Sickness from 1940 to 1946. He was also liaison to The British Medical Council. Fulton organized the Yale Aeromedical Research Unit to do research on physiological problems associated with aviation medicine. In addition, he created the Yale Faculty Committee for Receiving Oxford and Cambridge Children, Inc. to provide refuge for children in the United States during the bombing of Britain.

Almost from boyhood, Fulton was interested in collecting ancient books dealing with the development of science and medicine. He developed friendships with book dealers and other bibliophiles. His collection included approximately 11,000 titles dating from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Fulton brought together the collections of Harvey Cushing, Arnold Klebs, and his own to develop the Yale Medical Historical Library into one of the world centers devoted to the history of medicine and the sciences.

Fulton was considered an outstanding bibliophile. His interest in the history of early physiological and medical discoveries and in those who made them resulted in special collections and published bibliographies dealing with the works of Robert Boyle, Kenelm Digby, Michael Servetus and Girolamo Fracastoro.

Fulton wrote more than four hundred articles and nearly thirty books, including Physiology of the Nervous System, which was translated into Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French, Japanese, and German, and the much praised Harvey Cushing, a Biography. He belonged to almost sixty societies, was honored by the governments of a dozen countries, and received nine honorary degrees, in addition to many awards and decorations.

Fulton was married in Oxford, England to Lucia Pickering, daughter of Richard Wheatland of Topsfield, Massachusetts on September 29, 1923. Soon after the couple returned from England, they established their residence at 100 Deepwood Drive in Hamden, Connecticut, where they entertained students, fellows, and visitors from around the world. John Fulton died on May 29, 1960.

Guide to the John Farquhar Fulton Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Bella Z. Berson and Diane E. Kaplan
October 1996
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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