Wiley D. Forbus Records, 1849-1979

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

This collection contains materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, including the Health Insurance...
More about accessing and using these materials...


Forbus, Wiley Davis
Contains the professional records of Dr. Wiley Davis Forbus (1894-1976), MD, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at Duke University from 1930 to 1964; Area Consultant in Pathology for the Veterans Administration from 1948 through the 1960s; "chief mover" (Baker, 1959) of the North Carolina Medical Examiner's System; and Medical Education Consultant in Europe and the "Far East" from 1953 to the 1960s. Major subjects include the Department of Pathology, the Duke University School of Medicine, nursing and medical education, autopsies, the early history of Duke University, the Veterans Administration, Duke Pathological Services, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, medical education in the "Far East" in the 1950s and early 1960s, race relations in North Carolina, small hospitals in North Carolina, Medico-Legal concepts and practices, history of medicine in North Carolina, and early Hodgkin's disease research. These records include but are not limited to abstracts, accounts, annual reports, budgets, committee files, correspondence, course outlines, curriculum, curriculum vitae, lectures, manuscripts, memoranda, minutes, monographs, photographs, plans, proceedings, programs, protocols, publications, recommendations, reports, and schedules. An effort was made to cross reference when possible and list the contents and major topics within each folder on the folder tab for easy use. Materials date from 1849 to 1979 with the bulk of the materials dating from 1923 to 1979.
56.85 Linear Feet (30 cartons, 4 roll storage boxes, 3 map folders, 1 manuscript box, 1 flat box, 1 map tube, 1 flat box folder, 1 book box)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Organized into 16 series. The first 13 of the series were created by topic derived from the original folder titles. The topic related series include: Pathology Department Records; Duke Pathological Service (DPS) Records; Autopsy Records; Medico-Legal Case Records; Veterans Administration Records; Pathology Teaching Material; Duke University Committees; Organizations; Conferences; Manuscripts, Addresses, Speeches, Lectures; Hodgkin's Disease Brucella Research Materials; Correspondence; and Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals. The last 3 series: Printed Materials, Photos, and Restricted were created because of storage, formatting, or legal considerations. There are numerous types of materials found in the collection including but not limited to documents, reports, photos, reprints and correspondence. Care was made to detail at an item level the types of materials and some of the topics found in each folder. This information is written on the folder tab for quick identification. Please note that whenever possible the terms used for groups of people and places in the records were used in the folder descriptions and may appear outdated.

The strength of the collection is found within the Pathology Department Records Series, 1923-1966; Duke Pathological Service (DPS) Records Series, 1924-1960; Veterans Administration Records Series, 1946-1960; Pathology Teaching Materials Series, 1930-1962; Duke University Committees Series, 1927-1969; Organizations Series, 1928-1973; and Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals Series, 1948-1971. These series provide a historical overview of the inception and development of the Pathology Department and teaching program at Duke, the formation of Duke University, its School of Medicine, Duke Hospital and its affiliations with other North Carolina Hospitals. The development of the Veterans Administration Hospital network, its processes and procedures, and the relationship between Duke Hospital and the Durham VA Hospital are also evident. The Organizations series illustrates the power and interconnectivity of medical professional organizations throughout the South and nationally. For example, the MSNNC's committee on the Coroner System conceived of and lobbied for the legislation that created the Medical Examiner's System in the state. The Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals series provides evidence and context for the midcentury influence of the United States of America over the development of medical teaching facilities in Asia and Europe and the decline of that influence. Some societal issues included in records are the tensions associated with establishing an institutional reputation, race and gender relations, Segregation, and procuring qualified staff and students during WWII.

Contains abstracts, accounts, agendas, agreements, announcements, annual reports, awards, ballots, bills, budgets, bulletins, certificates, charts, clippings, committee files, contracts, correspondence, course outlines, curriculum, curriculum vitae, diagrams, diaries, drawings, greetings cards, itineraries, journals, lectures, ledgers, letters, lists, maps, manuscripts, memoranda, minutes, monographs, newsletters, notes, organizational charts, outlines, photographs, plans, postcards, proceedings, programs, protocols, publications, recommendations, recordings, registers, regulations, reports, reprints, schedules, scrapbooks, shorthand notes, specifications, building, tables, telegrams, tickets, time records, transcriptions, and travel vouchers regarding the professional career of Wiley D. Forbus. Languages include English, French, German, Japanese, Chinese (unspecified), Italian, and Indonesian among others. Materials date from 1849 to 1979 with the bulk of the materials dating from 1923 to 1979.

Biographical / historical:

Dr. Wiley Davis Forbus (1894-1976), MD, "a charming man to meet socially...takes great interest in most any subject.... Members of the pathological societies know him well for his ability to present highly scientific papers and yet do it in a most interesting and literary fashion." (Oklahoma City Clinical Society, 1947) Forbus was a pathologist and educator, inventor, administrator, author and investigator: an aggressively enterprising person, with consummate social skills and compassion, and an avid interest in bettering the world. At Duke, he arrived each morning, put down his briefcase, and walked through the department, greeting each person. He gave each employee, at every level, a feeling of importance to the organization. "He had the wisdom and foresight to use each person on his faculty and harness the strong points of each." (Race, 1976) An early adopter of newest technology, he had a Dictaphone installed in his Pathology Department at Duke in 1930. If he did not find an existing solution to a problem at hand, he developed one on his own. This trait is evident in both his design of custom autopsy tables and the design of North Carolina's Medical Examiner's System.

A Southerner, and man of his time, Forbus was born in Zeiglerville, Mississippi, March 14, 1894. His parents were William Peyton, a planter, and George-Ellen (Birdie) Davis Forbus. (Baker, 1959; Hanford, 1924) He was sent from the Nitta Yuma plantation to Greenville, Mississippi, each fall for the school year to attend High School. (Race, 1976; Hanford, 1924) He graduated in 1912 in Laurel, Mississippi. He received his AB degree at Washington and Lee University in 1916, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and, during his last year, an assistant in chemistry. From 1916 to1918, he taught general sciences at the National Cathedral School for Boys. In 1919, he taught at the Friend's School in Washington, D.C. and enlisted in the US Army Air Service. He accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the US Air Service Reserve in 1923 and served in that capacity for ten years. (Baker, 1959) Forbus entered the Johns Hopkins University Medical School and received an MD degree in 1923. (Baker, 1959; Race, 1976; Green, 2020) At Johns Hopkins, he met Assistant Dean, Dr. Wilburt C. Davison, studied under Chairman and Dr. William George MacCallum who used case method teaching, and studied with Dr. Arnold Rice Rich known as great experimenter. (Baker, 1959) These relationships had a profound effect on the rest of his career.

After graduation, he remained at Johns Hopkins as assistant instructor and associate in pathology and as assistant resident and associate pathologist for seven years. In 1928 he was guest assistant at the Pathologisches Institut de Ludwig Maximilians Universitat, Munich, Germany, (Green, 2020) Forbus read and spoke German and read French. During his tenure at these institutions he further developed his unique viewpoint of pathology not as a compartmentalized description of the moment of death, but, rather the systematic study of the entirety of the process life of the individual. This was a revolutionary approach to pathology. In order to revolutionize the profession as a whole Forbus had to develop and train pathologists. He was given this opportunity by his Johns Hopkins associate, Wilbert C. Davison in 1930.

Davison invited Forbus to be Professor and Chairman at the new Duke University School of Medicine and Pathologist in Chief to the Duke Hospital, a position he held for 30 years. Davison said, "I hired Dr. Forbus because he was the most intensely interested man in pathology I had ever contacted. I went to Dr. MacCallum to confirm my impression, and Dr. MacCallum stated that Dr. Forbus could in no way be diverted from his study and devotion to general pathology." (Race, 1976) When Forbus arrived, Duke was a brand-new school. He was entrusted with a well-funded program that could be designed carefully with new ideas, tools, practices, and curriculum. The collaboration between Davison and Forbus was such that Davison appointed Forbus Acting Dean of the School of Medicine in the Summer of 1956. When Forbus officially retired in August of 1964, he was given life tenure as professor and chairman emeritus of the department of pathology. (Green, 2020; Collections Folder Letter 3 Nov 1972, Wiley D. Forbus Records)

Forbus' professional activities were not limited to Duke University. At one time or another he was a consultant to most North Carolina hospitals and some in neighboring states, including those within the Veterans Administration network, and he helped to reorganize the pathology department at the large Charlotte Memorial Hospital in North Carolina. In addition, Dr Forbus acted as a consultant in medico-legal cases throughout the state.
Dr Forbus was a prolific writer. His most noted work was "Reaction to Injury, Pathology for Students of Disease", published in two volumes the first in 1943, the follow up in 1952. This text was used for thirty years after publication. In 1949, he published a second book, "Granulomatous inflammation: Its nature, general pathological significance, and clinical character". He contributed more than sixty scholarly articles and reviews to professional journals and collections of essays. He acted as associate editor of the "National Archives of Pathology" for sixteen years. He authored over twenty series of scholarly lectures. Many of the lecture series he delivered in other countries were published in those countries. (Green, 2020; Series: Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals, Wiley D. Forbus Records) At the end of his career he contributed to the North Carolina Medical Society's two-volume publication "Medicine in North Carolina, Essays in the History of North Carolina Medicine".

Forbus was a member of many professional organizations. Some of the most notable were the American Medical Association; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and National Board of Medical Examiners; the Durham-Orange Medical Society; and the North Carolina Pathological Society where he served on the Medico-Legal Affairs Committee and was author of the first North Carolina medical examiner law enacted in 1955. He was chairman of the joint committee of the North Carolina Medical Society where his served as chairman of the section on pathology and a member of the committee on the coroner system. He served in the Pathology Study Section, Division of Research Grants and Fellowships for the National Institutes of Health and was a consultant to the Committee on Clinical Fellowships of the American Cancer Society. He was President of the American Association of Pathologists and Bacteriologists in 1947, a member of its Editorial Board, and received the coveted Gold Headed Cane Award from that association in 1975. (Race, 1976)

As his career developed, he expanded his influence internationally. He directed or was a consultant to a series of foreign medical missions under the US State and Defense Departments. (Race, 1976) He lectured and/or consulted for the Secretary of War, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Division of Biology and Medicine (medico-legal) of the Atomic Energy Commission, Veterans Administration (branch section chief in pathology as well as a consultant), Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, Walter Reed Army Hospital, Foreign Operations Division Mission to China, and the Surgeon General to the Army regarding the Far East Command and US Army in Europe, acted as external examiner in pathology at the British Colonial University Medical School in Hong Kong, adviser on medical education at Keio University, Tokyo, through the Rockefeller Foundation, and evaluated and consulted medical education in the Far East under the auspices of the China Medical Board. (Baker, 1959) His last major overseas project was in collaboration with the University of California and Airlangga University (Indonesia) in 1961 and 1962. He was clearly pleased with his contributions overseas and was dismayed when social and geopolitical changes suddenly reduced the influence of US institutions on the Far East. (Green, 2020)

Forbus' personal life seemed a happy one. In addition to his parents, he had five siblings: Lady Willie (attorney), Sample B. (physician); Edward L.(agriculturalist); Bess (government service); and Juanita (government service). (Hanford, 1924) Forbus married Elizabeth Knox (Libby) Burger of Baltimore on September 25, 1926. Libby, an adventurous and personable woman, was the daughter of Louis John and Elizabeth Rogers Terry Burger of Baltimore, Maryland. (Green, 2020) The Forbus' raised three daughters: Georg'Ellen Davis Betts, Elizabeth Terry Adams, and Martha Caroline Suski. Wiley and Libby had ten grandchildren. Forbus died at Duke Hospital on March 3, 1976 from a terminal illness diagnosed in 1971. He remained active until a month before his death. His ashes were deposited behind a bronze plaque in the Memorial Wall in the foyer of the Duke University School of Medicine, a Memorial Wall he helped organize. (Green, 2020)

Reference List
Baker, R. D. (1959) Department of Pathology, Duke University School of Medicine, 1930-1959. An appreciation of Wiley Davis Forbus. Series: Pathology Department Records, Reunion Honoring WD Forbus, 1959, Wiley D. Forbus Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives.
Collections Folder Letter 3 Nov 1972, Wiley D. Forbus Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives.
Green, C. S. (2020, April 18). Forbus, Wiley Davis. Retrieved from https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/forbus-wiley-davis
Hanford, C. H. (1924) Seattle and Environs, 1852-1924. Vol 2. Chicago and Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co.
Oklahoma City Clinical Society (1947, October) Daily Bulletin
Race, G. J. (1976) Wiley Davis Forbus, MD 1894-1976. American Journal of Pathology, 85(3), 523-530
Series: Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals, Wiley D. Forbus Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives.

Acquisition information:
Accession A1965.0146 (gift, February 1965), Accession A1965.0147 (gift, January 1965), Accession A1965.0148 (gift, February 1965), Accession A1965.0149 (gift, January 1965), Accession A1966.001 (gift by Wiley D. Forbus, April 1966), Accession A1966.002 (gift, February 1966), Accession A2003.027 (acquired, May 2003)
Processing information:

Processed by Emily Glenn: August 2003; updated by Dawne Howard Lucas: August 2013; reprocessed by E. Durocher and Lucy Waldrop: January 2018-March 2021

Organized into the following series: Pathology Department Records, 1923-1966; Duke Pathological Service (DPS) Records, 1924-1960; Autopsy Records, 1925-1959; Medico-Legal Case Records, 1931-1967; Veterans Administration Records, 1946-1960; Pathology Teaching Materials, 1930-1962; Duke University Committees, 1927-1969; Organizations, 1928-1973; Conferences, 1931-1963; Manuscripts, Addresses, Speeches, and Lectures, 1926-1973; Hodgkin's Disease Brucella Research Materials, 1931-1957; Correspondence, 1924-1978; Foreign Medical Education Sabbaticals, 1948-1971; Printed Materials, 1937-1974; Photos, 1849-1979; Restricted, 1924-1965.
Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Rules or conventions:


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


This collection contains 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. Records that have been processed may be consulted with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist.
Materials in box 31 are restricted and can only be accessed with the permission of the Medical Center Archivist.

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], Wiley D. Forbus Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives.