Wilburt Cornell Davison Papers, 1881-1979

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Davison, Wilburt Cornell
Contains the personal and professional papers of Wilburt Cornell Davison (1897-1972), pediatrician, chair of pediatrics, and first dean of Duke University School of Medicine (1927-1960). Types of materials include correspondence, subject files, memorabilia, scrapbooks, photographs, clippings, programs, budgets, reports, deeds, poems, manuscript materials, creative writings, genealogical materials, article reprints, diplomas, and certificates and invitations. Oversized diplomas and certificates have been separated from this collection. Major correspondents include George G. Allen, Atala Davison, Jay M. Arena, F. Vernon Altvater, Bessie Baker, William B. Bell, William Preston Few, Wiley D. Forbus, Frederic Moir Hanes, Elizabeth Hanes, Julian Deryl Hart, Sir William Osler, Talmage Peele, Wilder Penfield, Watson S. Rankin, Josiah Trent, and Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans. Major groups and associations in the collection include Alpha Omega Alpha, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Lincoln Hospital, Rockefeller Foundation, and Society for Pediatric Research. Major subjects in this collection include pediatrics, medical education, Duke University School of Medicine, Duke University faculty and students, Duke Hospital, and Private Diagnostic Clinic. Materials date from 1881 to 1972.
72.3 Linear Feet (46 cartons, 2 manuscript boxes, 3 flat boxes, 1 large map folder) and 4 academic robes
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Contains materials include correspondence, subject files, memorabilia, scrapbooks, photographs, clippings, programs, budgets, reports, deeds, poems, manuscript materials, creative writings, genealogical materials, article reprints, diplomas, certificates and invitations pertaining to the career of Wilburt Cornell Davison. Materials date from 1881 to 1972.

Biographical / historical:

Wilburt Cornell Davison, was born on April 28, 1892, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to William L. Davison, D.D., and Mattie E. Cornell Davison. Davison grew up on Long Island, New York. He received an AB degree from Princeton University in 1913, a BA degree from Oxford University in 1915, a BS degree from Oxford University in 1916, a MD degree from John Hopkins University in 1917, and a MA from Oxford University in 1919. Davison attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar from 1913 to 1916, and he was a senior instructor in Magdalen College from 1915 to 1917. From 1914 to 1919, Davison served with the American Red Cross in France and Serbia and as captain in the A.E.F. Medical Corps.
Following graduate training, Davison served from 1919 to 1927 as an instructor, associate professor, acting head of the pediatrics department and assistant dean of the Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1926, Duke University president William Preston Few recruited Davison away from Johns Hopkins University. Davison's charge was to plan, organize, build, and direct the new Duke University School of Medicine and Medical Center. Davison brought with him a new approach to health care and health education; he founded the medical school and medical center with young, unproven faculty and flexible educational policies. Being a generalist, Davison believed in nurturing a small department of versatile pediatricians, sending them into the community to practice, and using them to teach the medical students. President Few had at one time told Davison to make your own policies and when you get in trouble, let me know and I shall help you. The confidence between Few and Davison contributed to the vitality of the medical school-university relationship. Davison was so effective in both education and clinical management that within five years of its founding, Duke University was considered to be in the top ten percent of medical centers in the United States.
As a result of Davison's extensive administrative experience, he concluded that there was a need for more efficient management in hospitals. In 1933, he inaugurated a formal program for the training of efficient hospital administrators. In this he anticipated the community hospital development programs being launched by the Duke Endowment in North Carolina and South Carolina and by the Hill Burton program throughout the United States--both programs required trained administrators with a comprehensive understanding of hospital and health field operations. One of Davison's lasting marks on the process of health care treatment is the concept of prepayment for services. Sensitive to the public and hospital problem of financing hospital care, he advocated for methods of prepayment as early as 1928. Unfortunately, due to the stock market crash of 1929, his early efforts were not successful. Had early efforts been successful, the Durham Hospital Association would have been the first prepaid voluntary hospital service plan in the United States. Nevertheless, as a result of his efforts, two of the earliest Blue Cross plans in the nation were established in North Carolina; one in 1932 and one in 1935.
This pioneering work of Davison's contributed to the beginnings of the national Blue Cross program. Davison authored "Pediatric Notes" (1925), "Enzymes" (1926), and "The Compleat Pediatrician" (eight editions from 1934 to 1961 and a Japanese translation in 1951). He was a member of the editorial board of many journals including "New Physician," "Quarterly Review of Pediatrics," "Pediatrics Board of Health," and "Child Family Digest," as well as writing over 250 articles for scientific journals.
Davison received honorary degrees from Wake Forest University (DSc, 1932) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ll.D., 1944).
He married Atala Thayer Scudder, also a physician, in 1917. They had three children. Davison died of leukemia on June 26, 1972.

Acquisition information:
Accession A1948.2350 (gifted, 1948), Accession A1959.0071 (transferred, 1959), Accession A1964.0043 (transferred, 1964), Accession A1964.0129 (transferred, 1964), Accession A1967.0320 (transferred, 1967), Accession A1968.0101 (gifted, 1968), Accession A1970.0234 (acquired, 1970), Accession A1974.0128 (gifted, 1974), Accession A1976.0051 (acquired, 1976), Accession A1978.0026 (gifted, 1978), Accession A2003.022 (acquired, May 2003), Accession A2005.045 (gifted, August 2005), Accession A2010.055 (transferred from Duke University Medical Center Library, September 2010), Accession A2011.082 (transferred, October 2011), Accession A2012.029 (purchased, April 2012), Accession A2012.038 (gifted from Duke University Medical Center, May 2012), Accession A2012.068 (transferred by Jay M. Arena, November 2012), Accession A2019.022 (gift by Thomas R. Kinney, March 2019), Accession A2019.075 (gift by Edward C. Halperin, August 2019)
Processing information:

Processed by Archives staff and Emily Glenn: February 2003; encoded by Emily Glenn: February 2004; updated by Cate Putirskis: March 2007; updated by Lucy Waldrop: April 2019, August 2019

Organized into the following series: Biographical and Historical Materials, 1881-1972; Academic Memorabilia, (bulk 1909-1916), 1909-1938; Correspondence, 1900-1972; Subject and Correspondence Files, 1927-1972; Commonwealth of Children Symposium, 1961; Travel and Research Files, 1948-1971; Newspaper Clippings, 1927-1972; Programs Files, 1930-1970; The Compleat Pediatrician, Manuscript Materials, 1934-1963; Appendices, 1892-1971; Articles and Writings, 1916-1969; Medicine in North Carolina Subject Files, 1916-1972; Reprints, 1915-1969; Manuscripts on Davison and Duke University History, 1950-1979; Scrapbooks and Memorabilia, 1886-1964; Honors and Testimonials, 1931, 1952, 1961; Photographs and Negatives, 1892-1972; A2004-002: Correspondence, 1964-1972; Regalia of Davison Family, undated; A2005-049: Writings and Reprints, 1926-1943; A2012-038: Construction plans, 1929; Diplomas and Awards, 1887-1969; W.C. Davison Scrapbook: Osler Correspondence, 1913-1950. Material within this collection has been organized by accession reflecting the fact that the collection has been acquired in increments over time. Researchers should note that material within each accession overlaps with/or relates to material found in other accessions. In order to locate all relevant material within this collection, researchers will need to consult each accession described in the Series Scope and Contents section. Researchers should also note that similar material can be arranged differently in each accession, depending on how the material was organized when it was received by the DUMCA.
Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Duke University Medical Center Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:


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This collection may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals or IRB approval may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Duke University assumes no responsibility.
Contains Medical Center Administrative records. These include records of the officers of the University, as defined in the Bylaws, the deans of schools and colleges, and departments, institutes, and other offices as designated by the President. For a period of twenty-five years from the origin of the material, permission in writing from the director of the office of record and the Medical Center Archivist is required for use. After twenty-five years, records that have been processed may be consulted with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist. (Issued by the Office of the Chancellor, December 1, 1975).

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Wilburt Cornell Davison Papers, Duke University Medical Center Archives.