White, Paul Dudley, 1886-1973

Alternative names
Birth 1886-06-06
Death 1973-10-31

Biographical notes:

White (1886-1973) (Harvard, M.D. 1911) was clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, 1940-1950, and on the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass., 1911-1950. One of the early specialists in cardiology, White introduced the first electrocardiograph to Boston in 1914, and was one of the three physicians after whom the W.P.W. Syndrome was named. White's book Heart Disease (1931) established his reputation as a leading cardiologist.

From the description of Papers, 1886-1973 (inclusive), 1950-1973 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 281429699

White (1886-1973) taught medicine at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of Paul Dudley White, 1970- (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973214

The essence of Dr. White's place in history was captured in the Boston Globe on November 1, 1973. The lead editorial that day began: If anyone in the world deserved the title “Dr. Heart” it was Paul Dudley White, who died yesterday in his beloved Boston. He deserved the title for many reasons. One is that when he was born on June 6, 1886, the word cardiology did not exist. When he became an intern at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1911, cardiology was being born. They grew together and he became one of the greatest developers: teacher, physician, innovator, preacher and prophet without peer.

Paul White, New England born and bred, was the son of a physician who practiced in the Roxbury section of Boston and helped to found the New England Baptist Hospital. Young Paul attended the Roxbury Latin School, where the classical curriculum gave him a sense of history, and a vision of the future; even more, it gave him an ease of written and verbal expression that would serve him well in the years to come. Then followed what was to be a lifelong association with Harvard, first as an undergraduate at the College and student at the Medical School, and later as a member of the Medical Faculty, rising to clinical professor of medicine in 1946.

He began his affiliation with the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he spent his entire career, immediately after receiving his medical degree. In 1913, the award of a Sheldon Fellowship from Harvard allowed him to spend a year abroad, at which time he trained with Thomas Lewis in London in the newly-established specialty of cardiology. Upon his return, he was one of the first to introduce the electrocardiograph into the United States. During World War I, he served with the British and American Expeditionary Forces in France and at war's end went on to Greece as a member of a Red Cross mission to control typhus.

Back in Boston in 1919, Dr. White soon became chief of the Out-Patient Department at the MGH in addition to his continuing work as physician in charge of its Cardiac Laboratory and Clinics. His work in the hospital's clinics and wards attracted many physicians--future world leaders in cardiology--to seek training with him and collaborate in his research. Awarded a Moseley Traveling Fellowship in 1928, he used it for a sabbatical year to travel abroad and write his monumental text, Heart Disease. First published in 1931, Heart Disease went through many subsequent revised editions and became the standard work for the profession.

Dr. White's reputation continued to grow in the following decades as he published and broadcast the ever-increasing body of knowledge and his own remarkable contributions pertaining to the art and the science of cardiology. He was instrumental in developing and utilizing many of the discoveries and advances in heart care and knowledge that came out of World War II. From 1948 to 1957, he was executive director of the National Advisory Heart Council and chief adviser to the National Heart Institute of the U.S. Public Health Service. As a clinician, his care of the patient was becoming legendary; over time his encouraging and optimistic outlook would change the prognosis for thousands of patients recovering from heart attacks and give them the confidence to resume normal and productive livers.

In September 1955, Paul White became the best-know physician in America when he was called in as a consultant after President Eisenhower had a heart attack. This event, which happened when PDW was almost 70 and in his “retirement” years, immediately catapulted him into the media's limelight; his informative and authoritative news conferences set a new standard for the handling of Presidential illness. His prescription for living, simple and direct, became a crusade that fueled the health and fitness movement: eat sparingly, drink moderately, avoid smoking, and above all, exercise daily. Virtually launched on a new career as an elder statesman of medicine, he used his wisdom and experience to foster international cooperation and further the quest for world peace. When he died at the age of 87 after more than 60 years of service to mankind, the world lost a splendid physician and a fine human being.

PDW's long and distinguished career has been the subject of many articles, interviews and newspaper accounts. The April 1965 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology was devoted to a series of essays about him, edited by E. Grey Dimond and published separately as Paul Dudley White: A Portrait. In 1971 Dr. White's autobiography, My Life and Medicine, written with the help of Margaret Parton, was published. Finally, in 1986 a full-length biography appeared: Oglesby Paul's Take Heart: The Life and Prescription of Dr. Paul Dudley White. It was Dr. Paul who obtained funding in the early 1980s, mainly from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, for organizing, cataloging and preserving the Paul Dudley White Papers. Later, when the present archivist took up the work, Dr. Paul obtained further assistance with a grant from the Milton Fund.

Paul White had a long-standing interest in medical history--“the handsome eternal framework of our venerable profession” in the words of Samuel A. Levine, another eminent heart specialist--and took care to study the record of the past as well as current literature in his field. In his later years, he became a collector of major medical works published since the invention of printing, which he ultimately presented to the Boston Medical Library. It is fitting that his papers also reside in the Countway Library and that they will be available for research and study far into the future.

From the guide to the Paul Dudley White Papers, 1870s-1987., (Center for the History of Medicine. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.)


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  • Nobel prizes
  • Hypertension
  • Electrocardiographs
  • Heart disease
  • Medicine--Manuscripts
  • Blood pressure
  • Physical fitness
  • Medical education
  • Cardiology--Study and teaching
  • Kidneys--Diseases


not available for this record


  • Czechoslovakia (as recorded)