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John Franklin Enders papers

Call Number: MS 1478

Scope and Contents

The John Franklin Enders Papers consist of correspondence and topical files, writings, photographs, and laboratory notebooks which document Enders's research and teaching in the field of bacteriology and virology. The papers were donated by Mrs. Enders in 1988 and 1990. The 56 linear feet of material are arranged in three series: I. Correspondence and Topical Files, II. Writings, III. Laboratory Notebooks.

Series I, Correspondence and Topical Files, consists of materials relating to Enders's professional and personal activities. During his career Enders corresponded with former students and work associates; members of the academic community, both at Harvard and at universities throughout the United States and abroad; members of the international health and scientific community; and individuals who sought professional advice and information. Individual correspondents include Sumner Berkovich, Thomas E. Frothingham, D. Carleton Gajdusek, Ion Gresser, Maurice R. Hilleman, Monto Ho, Samuel L. Katz, Donald N. Medearis, George Miller, Kiarash Naficy, Michael Oxman, Frederick C. Robbins, Albert Sabin and Harvey M. Shein.

Corporate correspondents include research institutions and government and health agencies for and with whom Enders and his staff gathered and compared data, tested blood and tissue specimens, and conducted research projects. Prominent among these files are those of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the National Institutes of Health, the National Research Council, the Plasma Fractionation Commission, the American Type Culture Collection, and the World Health Organization.

The Harvard University files contain routine administrative correspondence; correspondence and reports relating to Enders's activities as a member of university and Medical School committees; lecture schedules for the department of bacteriology and immunology; and correspondence, reports, and printed material relating to the New England Regional Primate Research Center on whose scientific Advisory Committee Enders served from the Center's establishment in 1963. Files relating to the Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Research Division of Infectious Diseases contain administrative correspondence, annual reports, and correspondence and reports which document grant projects funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the U. S. Public Health Service.

Enders's activities as a member of professional organizations and national committees, as a participant in conferences and symposia, and as editorial board member and contributor to professional journals are documented in this series by files containing correspondence, reports, and printed material. Files of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Philosophical Society, the Infectious Diseases Society, the International Poliomyelitis Congress, the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, the Journal of Immunology, the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and the New England Journal of Medicine are included in this series. However, some correspondence relating to specific articles written by Enders is included in the files within Series II, Writings.

The topical files document Enders's professional interests and research. Files on specific viruses including measles, mumps, and poliomyelitis contain correspondence, data, printed material, and photographs relating to the experiments, testing, vaccine studies and trials, and to information sharing activities associated with the investigation of these viruses. The chronologically arranged files of "Materials received for testing" and "Materials sent out" consist of correspondence and data relating to sera, specimens of virus strains, etc., exchanged between Enders's laboratory and the laboratories of hospitals, departments of health, and universities involved in virological research.

Correspondence and printed material relating to the honors and awards Enders received are filed under the name of the award. Materials relating to his receipt of honorary degrees are filed under the names of the conferring universities.

Throughout his career, Enders received invitations to speak at meetings of social organizations, to attend and present papers at professional conferences, to give newspaper, radio, and television interviews, and to write articles for a variety of publications. Correspondence and other materials relating to accepted requests are filed under the name of the individual, organization, or institution. The requests which Enders declined are filed chronologically under "Invitations."

Correspondence listed under "Personal files" is arranged chronologically and includes a small amount of correspondence with family members and friends; letters relating to personal financial and legal affairs; letters from elementary, high school, and college students requesting information on his life and research; queries from individuals regarding health problems; and letters of congratulations for his numerous awards and achievements. Enders classified letters from individuals with unusual questions about or suggestions for the cure of various diseases as "Nuts letters," and these are filed under that heading. With few exceptions Enders responded personally to all of his correspondents.

Acknowledgments of donations to Harvard University and many other institutions and charitable organizations, and notes relating to Enders's club membership activities are also filed chronologically within the personal correspondence files. Additional personal materials include biographical sketches and curriculum vitae, bibliographies, and Enders's student notebook from a biology course at Yale College. Six folders of requests for autographs and photographs are arranged chronologically.

The majority of photographs within this series illustrate accompanying reports and letters relating to virological research. Individual and group photographs of Enders, as well as miscellaneous scientific photographs which were not accompanied by textual material, are filed under "Photographs."

Series II, Writings, consists of two subseries, Articles and Papers, and Lecture and Presentation Notes. The files within the Articles and Papers subseries may contain correspondence, manuscripts, typescripts, illustrative photographs, galleys, and reprints of Enders's articles, chapters, papers, and lectures. Of particular interest is his Nobel lecture in box 93, folder 85, and a 1967 paper describing his career at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in box 99, folder 218.

Lecture and Presentation Notes files contain Enders's Harvard Medical School lecture notes, and notes relating to miscellaneous club and medical personnel presentations.

Series III, Laboratory Notebooks, consists of notebooks containing data on experiments conducted by Enders and his laboratory colleagues. The notebooks are titled by topic and by individual name. Volume numbers listed were transcribed from the notebooks; in some cases volume series are incomplete. Dates listed are approximate, based on information contained in each volume. An index of experiments (box 102, folder 1), dated ca. 1949-1950, contains listings of experiments categorized by type and followed by a code for the specific laboratory notebook and page number. For example, EII, page 40 denotes Enders's notebook volume II, page 40. Not all volumes referred to in the index are included in the Enders papers.


  • 1916-1988


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

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

Gift of Carolyn Enders (Mrs. John F.), 1988 and 1990.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence and Topical Files, 1916-1988. II. Writings, 1930-1972. III. Laboratory Notebooks, 1947-1976.


56 Linear Feet (135 boxes)

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, topical files, writings, and laboratory notebooks which document John Enders's research and teaching in the field of bacteriology and virology.

Biographical / Historical

John Franklin Enders (1897-1985) was born on February 10, 1897, in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was the son of John Ostrom Enders, a banker in Hartford, and Harriet Goulden Whitmore Enders. Enders attended the Noah Webster School in Hartford, and St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. He attended Yale University from 1915 until 1917, when he enlisted in the Navy and became a flight instructor in the U. S. Naval Reserve Flying Corps. He returned to Yale after World War I and received the A.B. in English in 1919.

After working in the real estate business from 1920 to 1921, Enders enrolled in Harvard University, where he studied English literature. He received a master's degree in English in 1922, and continued his studies in pursuit of the Ph.D. Through his roommate, H. K. Ward, Enders met Hans Zinsser, the head of the department of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard. Enders's association with Zinsser, Ward, and other medical students at Harvard, and his longstanding interest in biology, led him to the decision to discontinue his study of literature and begin the study of bacteriology and immunology in 1927.

From 1929 to 1930 Enders was an assistant in the department of bacteriology and immunology of the Harvard Medical School, and in 1930 he received the Ph.D. He continued his career at Harvard as an instructor (1930-1932), faculty instructor (1932-1935), assistant professor (1935-1942), associate professor (1942-1956), professor (1956-1972), and professor emeritus (1967-1985). In 1962 he was appointed to the Higgins University Professorship, one of the highest honors Harvard can confer on one of its faculty.

Enders's early research focused on pneumococci and the distemper virus. In the late 1930s, he began to develop tissue culture models in which viruses could be grown and studied. He successfully cultured cowpox, influenza, and measles virus. In 1940, he and his research team achieved the first successful prolonged roller tube culture of a virus. During World War II he was a civilian consultant on epidemic diseases to the secretary of war. With his team Enders developed diagnostic tests and a vaccine for mumps, a virus which was common among members of the U. S. armed services.

In 1946, Enders was asked to establish the Infectious Disease Research Laboratory at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston. In 1948, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins joined him at the laboratory, and in 1949, the three began a new series of viral culture studies. It was this team that first successfully cultured the poliomyelitis virus in non-neural, nonembryonic cells in 1949. They subsequently discovered that polio could survive in the intestinal walls of infected individuals. The team also observed cellular changes in the cultures that offered clear evidence of viral replication. Enders coined the term "cytopathogenic" to describe the altered cells. The team was able to provide large quantities of the virus by refining their culture methods and to neutralize it with specific antibodies. These classic experiments formed the basis for many diagnostic and vaccine applications, as well as contemporary viral culture techniques. In 1954 Enders, Weller, and Robbins were awarded the Nobel Prize for their successful propagation of poliomyelitis viruses in cultures of non-nervous tissue cells.

The poliomyelitis research of Enders and his associates provided the materials and techniques essential for the development of inactivated and attenuated polio vaccines. Similar procedures were used by Enders and Thomas C. Peebles to isolate and grow the measles virus. The adaptation of a strain of measles virus to growth in chick embryo cells by Enders, M. V. Milovanovic, and Samuel Katz, resulted in the development of an attenuated vaccine.

Following his measles research Enders studied cancer and the elucidation of the transformation mechanisms of cells infected with simian virus 40, which then became oncogenic, giving birth to tumors. During the last four years of his life Enders studied acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Enders officially retired in 1967, but he continued to work at Harvard and in his laboratory at Children's Hospital until he was eighty. He was appointed Chief of the Virus Research Unit at Children's Hospital in 1972, and held that position until his death.

Throughout his career Enders was actively involved in numerous professional organizations including the Society of American Bacteriologists; the American Association of Immunologists (for which he served as president); the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine; the American Public Health Association; and the Massachusetts Medical Society. He also served as a member of the Commission on Virus and Rickettsial Diseases (later called the Commission on Viral Infections), Armed Forces Epidemiological Board; the Committee on Growth of the National Research Council; the Scientific Advisory Board of Consultants, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Panel on Virus Diseases, the Panel on Viruses and Cancer, National Advisory Cancer Council, National Institutes of Health; the Massachusetts Advisory Committee on Poliomyelitis, Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Enders was a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Bacteriology, the Journal of Virology, the Journal of Infectious Diseases, Virology, and the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. His articles were published in the Journal of Immunology, the Annual Review of Microbiology, the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Science, the American Journal of Hygiene, The New England Journal of Medicine, as well as in the journals noted above. Enders contributed chapters to Viral and Rickettsial Infections of Man, Diagnostic Procedures for Virus and Rickettsial Diseases, Nelson's Loose Leaf Medicine, and Viral Infections of Infancy and Childhood.

In addition to the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine (1954), Enders received numerous honors and awards including the Passano Award (1953), the Lasker Award (1954), the R. E. Dyer Lectureship Award, U. S. Public Health Service (1954), the Dieselmedaille in Gold, Germany (1962), the Scientific Achievement Award, American Medical Association (1963), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), and the National Human Relations Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews (1967). Enders was an honorary member of the Society for General Microbiology; the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health; the Académie Royale de Medécine de Belgique; and the Royal Society. He was a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences; the American College of Surgeons; the American Pediatric Society; the College of American Pathologists; the Royal Society of Medicine; and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He received honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, Northwestern, Western Reserve, Tufts, Tulane, Duke, and Oxford Universities, Trinity College, the University of Ibadan, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1967 the John Franklin Enders University Professorship was established at Harvard to honor him, and in 1976 the Children's Hospital Medical Center named a major pediatric research building for him. The Yale University Medical School established the John Franklin Enders Professorship of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in 1979.

Enders married Sarah Frances Bennett, of Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1927. They had two children, John Ostrom II and Sarah. Mrs. Enders died in 1943. In 1951 Enders married Carolyn B. Keane of Newton Center, Massachusetts. John Enders died in Waterford, Connecticut on September 8, 1985.

Guide to the John Franklin Enders Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Susan Brady with Michael Gerber, Eleanor Lim, and Amy Shine
June 1991
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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