Avery, Mary Ellen, 1927-2011

Alternative names
Birth 1927-05-06
Death 2011-12-04

Biographical notes:

Mary Ellen Avery, 1927-, AB, 1948, Wheaton College; MD, 1952, Johns Hopkins University, was appointed Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in 1974, Thomas Morgan Rotch Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics in 1996, and Emerita in 1997. Avery served as Physician-in-Chief of Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass. from 1974 to 1985. Avery is a specialist in pulmonary disorders of the newborn infant, and was the first woman to serve as clinical chief of Children's Hospital.

From the description of Papers, 1930s-2002. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77750437

Mary Ellen Avery (1927-), A.B., 1948, Wheaton College, Illinois; M.D., 1952, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, was Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and Physician-in-Chief Emeritus at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Avery is known for discovering in 1959 that the lack of lung surfactant in premature infants caused respiratory distress syndrome. Avery was the first woman to chair a major department at Harvard Medical School, and the first female Physician-in-Chief at Children's Hospital, Boston.

Mary Ellen Avery was on born on 6 May 1927 in Camden, New Jersey. She attended Wheaton College, received an A.B. in 1948, and was awarded a M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1952. After graduating from medical school, Avery was a research fellow in pediatrics with Dr. Clement Smith at Harvard Medical School (1957-1959), and later a fellow in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University (1959-1960). At Johns Hopkins, Avery went on to become Assistant Professor in Pediatrics (1960) and the Eudowood Associate Professor of Pulmonary Disease of Children (1965). During this time, Avery was also Pediatrician-in-Charge at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After nine years at Johns Hopkins, Avery moved to Canada to become Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at McGill University, Montreal, as well as Physician-in-Chief of Montreal Children’s Hospital, Quebec province. In 1974, Avery returned to Harvard Medical School and was named the Thomas Morgan Rotch Professor of Pediatrics, as well as Physician-in-Chief at Children’s Hospital, Boston, a position she held until 1985. As Physician-in-Chief, Avery established the Joint Program in Neonatology with Beth Israel and Peter Bent Brigham Hospitals.

Throughout her career, Avery studied lung biochemistry, surface tension, and pulmonary physiology. She is known for her discovery of pulmonary surfactant while a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. She has been awarded numerous honors, including the National Medal of Science in 1991, the John Howland Medal, and the Virginia Apgar Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others. Avery served on the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and President of the American Pediatric Society.

During the course of her career, Avery authored numerous articles and book chapters, and edited several books, including, Diseases of the Newborn with Alexander J. Schaffer (later editions with H. William Taeusch, Jr.), and Born Early: The Story of a Premature Baby (1983), co-authored with Georgia Litwack. In addition to her writing and professional activities, Avery traveled across the world as an invited speaker at symposiums and conferences, and as a visiting professor.

From the guide to the Mary Ellen Avery Papers, 1929-2002 (inclusive)., (Center for the History of Medicine. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.)


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Ark ID:


  • Pulmonary Disease (Specialty)
  • Lungs--Diseases
  • Pediatrics


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