Finland, Maxwell

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Maxwell Finland (MF), Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services and the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory (TML) at Boston City Hospital (BCH), and George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), was an infectious diseases specialist, academic physician, and ethicist who studied the safety and effectiveness of antibiotics. He was born 15 March 1902 near Kiev, Russia, to Frank and Rebecca (Povza) Finland. His family emigrated to the West End of Boston when he was four years old, and he graduated from the Boston English High School in 1918. He graduated from Harvard College, cum laude, in 1922, after earning his way through school giving Hebrew lessons. MF received the MD from HMS in 1926.

Following graduation from HMS, MF served briefly as an assistant resident physician at the Boston Sanitorium, before joining the staff at BCH in 1927 as a house officer with the Second Medical Service. He became Physician-in Chief of the Fourth Medical Service in 1939, and Director of the Second and Fourth Medical Services in 1963. When MF began treating patients at BCH in the late 1920s, nearly half of patient deaths were caused by pneumonia. Finland began treating his patients with pneumonia anti-sera; a few years later he was evaluating the use of sulfanilomides, and shortly after began many years of work on penicillin and subsequent generations of antibiotics. Over the course of his career, MF supervised the treatment of over 20,000 patients with pneumonia and other infections.

TML at BCH accommodated Finland's research projects for forty years. He was first appointed Assistant Resident in 1929, and was eventually promoted to Director in 1963. While he officially retired from both BCH and TML in 1968, he maintained an office in BCH's Channing Laboratory, where he continued to conduct research and write professional articles until 1983. The Maxwell Finland Laboratory for Infectious Diseases at BCH was dedicated in 1979.

MF's affiliation with HMS spanned his entire career. He was first appointed Charles Follen Folsom Teaching Fellow in Hygiene and Assistant in Medicine at HMS in 1928, and rose steadily through the academic ranks to become George Richards Minot Professor of Medicine in 1963. He became George Richards Minot Professor Emeritus in 1968, and that same year, the Maxwell Finland Professorship in Clinical Pharmacology was named in his honor. He was President of the Harvard Medical Alumni Association in 1971-1972, and is credited with fundraising more than eight million dollars to endow professorships and support HMS activities and research.

In addition, MF became a Senior Medical Investigator for the Veterans Administration in 1972. He served as an expert adviser to many government agencies at local, state, and national levels, highlighting the dangers of indiscriminate use of antibiotics in the treatment and prevention of disease.

Finland was one of the leading infectious disease researchers in the world. He was a principal investigator and acknowledged authority during the most prolific period in the history of infectious disease research. A meticulous investigator, drug companies and government agencies sought MF's approval for new antibiotics and their clinical application. He campaigned tirelessly against both unscientific marketing of new antibiotics by drug companies, and indiscriminate use of antibiotics in prevention and treatment of disease. MF's scientific contributions included original work on the serum treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia; treatment of respiratory injuries caused by noxious gases and/or bacteria; recognition of the importance of cold agglutinins to the clinical diagnosis of atypical pneumonia; clinical evaluations of major antibiotics such as sulfadiazine, erythromycin, tetracycline, and the myriad of semisynthetic penicillins; and exhaustive studies on how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics.

Finland's presence was constantly sought at conferences and laboratories in the US and abroad. At TML, he recruited, trained, and nurtured the careers of hundreds of young scientists. Many of these fellows came from overseas, and many became prominent and prolific scientists in the fields of infectious disease, preventive medicine, pediatrics, and microbiology.

Finland was dedicated to publishing laboratory findings as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. He was author or co-author of over 800 scientific papers for professional publication, and edited works concerning antibiotics, bacterial infections, communicable diseases, and internal medicine. Finland's articles followed a precise structure so that fellows and coworkers could follow consistent standards. Charts MF drew to illustrate antibiotic/ drug interaction were so meticulous and unique as to be given their own name- "Finlandograms." Article topics largely resulted from his original laboratory work and therapeutic trials, and included many aspects of bacteriology, immunology, pharmacology, and virology. In addition, he co-edited the three-volume Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital with William B. Castle, published in 1982-1983. He was a member of the editorial boards of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Applied Microbiology, Chest, Journal of Infectious Diseases, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

MF maintained memberships in many professional societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association of Immunologists, and American College of Physicians. He was Vice-President of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1945), Vice-President of the American Epidemiological Society (1962), and first president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (1962).

Finland received many awards and honors during his long career, including the Bristol Award of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (1966), the John Phillips Memorial Award of the American College of Physicians (1970), and the George M. Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians (1978). Harvard University awarded MF a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) in 1982. The Maxwell Finland Lectureship Fund, established at his retirement, supported an annual lecture by a distinguished physician in the general fields of infectious diseases, immunology, and preventive medicine.

MF died at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 October 1987, at age 85. A memorial service was held at Levine Chapels in Brookline, Massachusetts on 27 October 1987.

From the guide to the Papers, 1916-2003., (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Papers, 1908-1990. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
referencedIn Berryhill, W. Reece (Walter Reece), 1900-1979. Walter Reece Berryhill papers, 1919-1979. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Papers, 1916-2003. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Berryhill, W. Reece (Walter Reece), 1900-1979. person
associatedWith Boston City Hospital. Harvard Medical Unit corporateBody
associatedWith Castle, William B. (William Bosworth), 1897- person
associatedWith Channing Laboratory corporateBody
associatedWith Davidson, Charles S. (Charles Sprecher), 1910- person
associatedWith Infectious Diseases Society of America corporateBody
associatedWith Kass, Edward H. (Edward Harold), 1917- person
associatedWith Lederle Laboratories corporateBody
associatedWith Minot, George Richards, 1885-1950 person
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
associatedWith Sabin, Albert B. (Albert Bruce), 1906- person
associatedWith Thorndike Memorial Laboratory corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Veterans Administration corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cross Infections
Staphylococcal infections
Nosocomial infections
Drug Evaluation
Infectious disease research
Anti--Bacterial Agents--therapeutic use
Infectious diseases and antimicrobial agents
Harvard Medical School--Study and teaching
Communicable diseases
Pneumonia, Pneumococcal
Antibiotics, Combined
Gram-negative bacterial infections
Drug Resistance, Bacterial


Birth 1902

Death 1987



Ark ID: w6675s3v

SNAC ID: 29427713