Drinker, Cecil Kent
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
10 Shattuck Street
Boston, MA 02115
3 cubic ft.
Cecil Kent Drinker (CKD) was a Professor of Physiology and Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) whose research specialized in industrial medicine and hygiene. CKD was a pioneer in industrial medicine, and established industrial hygiene and applied physiology as disciplines in preventive medicine and public health. He was an authority on the lymphatic system, tissue fluid exchange, blood circulation, industrial and work-related poisoning and hygiene, as well as methods of artificial respiration. CKD was one of the first physicians to stress the importance of the respiratory tract as the route of absorption of toxic dust and fumes, and after he completed research on manganese inhalation, became one of the leading experts in treating manganese poisoning in the United States.
CKD was born in Philadelphia on 17 March 1887 to Henry Sturgis Drinker and Aimee Ernesta Beaux. CKD received the BS from Haverford College in 1908 and MD from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School (UPMS) in 1913. While studying at the UPMS, he developed appendicitis; three subsequent operations for internal obstruction made him ineligible for military service during World War I. CKD married Katherine Livingstone Rotan (KRD), a graduate of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, in 1910.
After receiving his MD, CKD completed a residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, an experience that stimulated his career-long interest in the clinical applications of physiological research. From 1915 to 1916, CKD served as an instructor in the department of physiology at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1916 he returned to Boston to take a position as a faculty instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS) in Walter B. Cannon’s (WBC) physiology department.
Two months later, WBC was called into active military service, and CKD was named acting head of the Department of Physiology until WBC returned in 1918. CKD was subsequently appointed Assistant Professor in 1918, Associate Professor in 1919, and Professor of Physiology in 1923, a post he held at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health until his retirement in 1948. From 1924 to 1935 CKD was Assistant Dean of Harvard School of Public Health and, from 1935 to 1942, Dean of HSPH.
During World War II, CKD conducted respiratory physiological research for the United States armed forces, and contributed to the development of high-altitude oxygen masks and goggles for allied aviators. After retiring from HSPH in 1948, he lectured at Cornell Medical School from 1948 to 1949 and was a consultant to many industrial organizations, as well as the United States Navy, from 1951 to 1953.
From 1926 to 1927, CKD spent a sabbatical year in Copenhagen, Denmark in the Laboratory of Zoöphysiology at the University of Copenhagen working with Professor August Krogh on research on the lymphatic system, one of CKD's major areas of research during his career. CKD published 250 articles, textbooks, and reports during his career on topics including the circulatory system, lymphatic system, industrial hygiene, asphyxiation, and physiology. In 1954 he published the textbook Clinical Physiology of the Lungs. He was also instrumental in starting the Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology. For many years, CKD, his wife, and his brother Philip were the editors of this publication.
CKD died on 15 April 1956 in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
The Cecil Kent Drinker Papers, 1898-1958, consist of Drinker's professional and personal records, including his work as a physiologist and industrial medicine specialist at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. Records in this collection primarily consist of CKD’s personal papers, World War II research records, professional activities records, and records created while he was a faculty member and dean at HSPH. The bulk of the collection falls between 1935 and 1950, and chiefly contains CKD's research records and data, correspondence, lectures, and photographs documenting the development of high-altitude oxygen masks and goggles for aviators and divers in the Allied forces during World War II. Few materials document CKD's early pre-1945 years at HMS, his tenure as dean at HSPH, or his industrial hygiene medical research.