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Dorothy M. Horstmann papers

Call Number: MS 1700

Scope and Contents

The Dorothy Horstmann Papers include correspondence, writings, research data, notes, memorabilia, and photographs, which document Dorothy Horstmann's years at the Yale School of Medicine as a bio-medical researcher and teacher. The papers highlight her accomplishments in the epidemiology and conquest of poliomyelitis and rubella.

Horstmann's work as a virologist studying polio and rubella is amply documented in her writings and in extensive research data. The papers also include notes and reports from her research trips to Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, China, and Korea. While the papers contain a scant quantity of material from Horstmann's classroom teaching, they do reflect her role as a mentor to other scientists. The papers also chronicle Horstmann's involvement in professional organizations and her love of travel.

The collection includes a large quantity of materials related to John Rodman Paul, which document Horstmann's close working relationship with her mentor. This material consists of correspondence between Paul and Horstmann and with others concerning their joint projects. Evidence of her collaboration on Paul's publications is apparent in the papers, especially on her work to ensure the publication of Paul's History of Poliomyelitis. Other Paul materials in this collection include files on the preparation of a 1961 festschrift in Paul's honor and letters of condolence at his death.

Noticeably missing from the papers are materials about Horstmann's childhood or early career, and though Horstmann's appointment to an endowed chair at the university was a first, her papers contain little personal reflection on the challenges of being a woman scientist.


  • 1927-2001
  • Majority of material found within 1946 - 1995


Conditions Governing Access

While this collection as a whole is available for research, parts of it may be restricted due to law, university policy or fragility. Any restricted material will be noted as such.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Dorothy M. Horstmann has been transferred to Yale University.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

Gift of Dorothy M. Horstmann, 1995-1996; gift of Arthur Ebbert, Jr., 2002; gift of Daniel Wilson, 2020.


Arranged in seven series: I. General Files, 1927-1995. II. Writings, 1946-1994, n.d. III. Teaching, 1947-1983. IV. Research and Consultations, 1940-1990. V. Professional Meetings, 1951-1994. VI. Personal Papers, 1941-2001. VII. Photographs, 1940-1994.

Associated Materials

John Rodman Paul Papers (MS 1333), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.


17.92 Linear Feet (46 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers include include correspondence, writings, research data, notes, memorabilia, and photographs, which document Dorothy Horstmann's years at the Yale School of Medicine as a bio-medical researcher and teacher. The papers highlight her accomplishments in understanding and controlling the transmission of poliomyelitis and rubella.

Biographical / Historical

Dorothy Millicent Horstmann was internationally known for her significant contributions to the understanding and control of poliomyelitis and congenital rubella. The many tributes and honors accorded her make clear how highly she was regarded as a researcher, clinician, teacher and friend.

Horstmann was born in Spokane, Washington, on July 2, 1911. After earning both her bachelors degree (1936) and her M.D. (1940) from the University of California, San Francisco and completing residencies at San Francisco County Hospital and at Vanderbilt University Hospital, she came to Yale University in 1942 as a post doctoral Commonwealth Fund fellow in the Section of Preventive Medicine of the School of Medicine. Here John Rodman Paul, director of the Yale Poliomyelitis Study Unit, stimulated her interest in the epidemiology and pathogenesis of viral infections. In 1944, she was appointed instructor in the Section of Preventive Medicine. She spent the year 1944/1945 as an instructor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and 1947/1948 as a National Institutes of Health Fellow at the Institute of Medical Research in London. Otherwise, she served the entire remainder of her career as a faculty member at Yale. She became an assistant professor in 1948 and attained the rank of associate professorship in 1952. In 1961, she became the first woman to be appointed professor at the Yale School of Medicine. In 1969, when she became the John Rodman Paul Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, she was the first woman ever to hold an endowed chair at the university. President Kingman Brewster appointed her to the Committee on the Status of Academic and Professional Women at Yale in 1970.

Horstmann's early research focused on the pathogenesis of the poliomyelitis virus. In 1946 she discovered that the virus is present in human blood during the incubation period of the infection but disappears later, when the neurologic symptoms begin. This research breakthrough implied that if serum antibodies could be induced by vaccination, the virus in the blood could be neutralized and thus prevent the virus from affecting the central nervous system. Demonstrated through carefully conceived experimental studies in monkeys and epidemiologically based human observations, this discovery became the basis for an efficacious vaccine against polio.

From 1955 to 1961, the Yale Poliomyelitis Unit evaluated immunization against poliomyelitis with live, attenuated vaccine, the Sabin vaccine. It carried out trials of both the Sabin and the Salk vaccines in New Haven, Guadalupe village in Arizona, Costa Rica, and also in Middletown and Southbury, Connecticut. Horstmann also evaluated the oral polio vaccine program in Russia, Czechoslovakia and Poland for the World Health Organization. The resulting report helped develop acceptance of the Sabin vaccine in the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, Horstmann also did research on the clinical epidemiology of the rubella virus. Her work played a significant role in assuring the safety and effectiveness of rubella vaccine.

When John Rodman Paul died in 1971, leaving unfinished his History of Poliomyelitis, Horstmann took up the task of seeing this work through to publication and of producing a festschrift in his memory. In recognition of her scholarly contributions, Horstmann was elected to the National Academy of Science and the Royal Society of Medicine. In 1983, she chaired the Organizing Committee of the International Symposium on Poliomyelitis Control, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center. She served a term as president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (1974/1975), and the Yale School of Medicine created an annual Dorothy M. Horstmann Lectureship as a continuing tribute. Horstmann died on January 18, 2001.

Guide to the Dorothy M. Horstmann Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Bella Berson
March 2005
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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