Belt, Elmer, 1893-1980

Alternative names
Birth 1893-04-10
Death 1980

Biographical notes:

George Washington Corner worked as an anatomist, endocrinologist, and medical historian.

From the guide to the George Washington Corner papers, 1889-1981, 1903-1982, (American Philosophical Society)

Biographical Note

Elmer Belt, M.D. (1893-1980), was a Los Angeles area urologist, bibliophile, and humanist who was instrumental in the founding of the School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). An avid book collector, Dr. Belt became an expert on Leonardo da Vinci and his time, amassing a large and important collection of books and other material related to da Vinci's life and work. He donated this collection to UCLA in 1961.

Born Arthur Elmer Belt in Chicago, Illinois on April 10, 1893, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was nine and then to a small ranch in Orange County near Anaheim. Elmer Belt (the form of name he preferred) entered Los Angeles High School in 1907 and enrolled in Latin, a medical school prerequisite. There he met Ruth Smart whom, he said, he "never subsequently permitted out of my sight." The two were married in 1918. Belt began collecting books as a student in 1909 with works by Upton Sinclair; in 1934 he become involved with Sinclair's campaign for governor of California. The Upton Sinclair collection was eventually donated to Occidental College.

Belt attended the University of California at Berkeley, obtaining a B.A. in 1916 and an M.A. in 1917. He attended the University of California Medical School in San Francisco and was chosen as a fellow of the Hooper Institute for Medical Research, working with Dr. George Whipple and Dr. Frank Hinman. After finishing medical school in 1920 Belt continued working in urology with Hinman. Early in his medical school career, Belt signed up for a non-credit elective course in the History of Medicine taught by Dr. George Washington Corner, an anatomist who had recently come to the University of California from Johns Hopkins. It was in this class that Belt developed his fascination and devotion to Leonardo da Vinci, inspiring the vast library of Vinciana he eventually donated to UCLA. Subsequently his collecting fervor also included Silas Weir Mitchell and Florence Nightingale and in the 1930s Belt began working with Los Angeles bookseller Jake Zeitlin to fulfill these and other ambitious collecting interests.

After a year as Resident in Urology with Dr. Hinman in San Francisco, Dr. Belt spent a year as Resident in General Surgery at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, working under Dr. Harvey Cushing. In 1923, the Belts moved to Los Angeles where he began a private practice. He soon established the Elmer Belt Urologic Group, a group practice which moved to its own building on Wilshire Blvd. in 1936; the upper floor of this structure housed his ever-expanding library. From 1939 through 1954 Belt served as the President of the State Board of Public Health, having been first appointed by California Governor Culbert Olsen and then reappointed by Governor Earl Warren for each of Warren's three terms in office. Dr. Belt had privileges as a staff, attending, or consulting urologist at many hospitals around Los Angeles County and taught as Clinical Professor of Surgery (Urology) in the UCLA School of Medicine. He was greatly instrumental in the founding of the UCLA School of Medicine and finding its first dean, and continued as its staunch supporter for his whole life.

Elmer Belt died on May 17, 1980 at age 87.

From the guide to the Elmer Belt Papers, 1920-1980, bulk 1958-1978, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections for the Sciences)


S. Seymour Thomas was born on Aug. 20, 1868 in San Augustine, Texas and died in Mar. 1956. He studied at the Art Students League (1885-88) and at the Academie Julien, Paris (1888-91); was a pupil of Jules Lefebre and Benjamin Constant; and settled in La Crescenta, CA, near Los Angeles. He won honorary mention (1895) and gold medals (1901 and 1904) at the Paris Salon, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, 1905. His memberships included the Paris Society of American Painters, the Los Angeles Art Association, Pasadena Art Society, and the Academy of Western Painters.

Elmer Belt, M.D., renowned Los Angeles urologist and bibliophile, was highly instrumental in the founding of the UCLA School of Medicine and he proved a very good friend to that institution for the rest of his life. Through his initiative the opening ceremony for the new school included the presentation of a portrait of Sir William Osler by the artist, Seymour Thomas. Mr. Thomas had exhibited the widely-lauded original in Paris in 1909 and kept it in his home until shortly before his death in 1956; but he had also painted a replica, and Belt raised the money to have that replica presented and hung at UCLA.

William E. Goodwin, M.D., also a urologist and nephew of Dr. Belt, inherited his uncle's interest in Osler. He also inherited a folder of papers relating to both the original and the replica of the portrait. and some other Osler-related material, which he gave to the UCLA Biomedical Library probably in the mid-1980s.

From the guide to the Sir William Osler Portrait by Seymour Thomas, and other Osler-Related Papers, 1946-1986, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections Division)


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  • Hormones, Sex
  • History of Nursing--19th Cent--Addresses
  • Book collectors--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
  • Nurses--Biography
  • Reproduction
  • Surgeons--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
  • Physicians--Biography
  • Medicine--Research--United States
  • Human reproduction--Endocrine aspects
  • Medicine--History
  • Univeristy of California, Los Angeles. School of Medicine--History
  • Rhesus monkey
  • Urologists--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources


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  • Great Britain (as recorded)