Collection ID: FA047

Collection context


Knowles, John H. (1926-1979) and Rockefeller Foundation
50.17 Cubic Feet and 118 document cases
English .


Scope and Content:

The John H. Knowles papers consist of professional and personal correspondence, reports, manuscripts, scrapbooks, appointment calendars, information files, photographs, slides, tapes, and a film relating to his administrative posts at Massachusetts General Hospital and The Rockefeller Foundation, and to his medical career. Most of the papers date from his tenure at Massachusetts General Hospital. There is very little concerning The Rockefeller Foundation or his personal life.

Biographical / Historical:

Physician, medical administrator, author, and president of The Rockefeller Foundation. John Hilton Knowles was born May 23, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of James and Jean Trumbull Knowles. Dr. Knowles received his A.B. from Harvard College (1947) and his M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine (1951). On June 13, 1953, he married Edith M. LaCroix; they had six children.

Dr. Knowles began his medical career in 1951 when he was appointed intern at Massachusetts General Hospital. From 1953-1955 he served as Officer-in-Charge of the Cardiopulmonary Laboratory at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He returned to Massachusetts General Hospital as a resident, specializing in diseases of the heart and lungs, leaving a year later to do postdoctoral work with the United States Public Health Service at the Universities of Rochester and Buffalo. In 1958 he became Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The following year he was named Chief of the Pulmonary Disease Unit.

In 1962, Dr. Knowles was appointed General Director of Massachusetts General Hospital, the youngest director in the hospital's history. During the next ten years he upgraded working conditions and wages of the hospital staff, established a medical station at Logan International Airport that was connected to the hospital via television, approved the creation of nine intensive-care units including one for the diagnosis and care of cancer patients, and won better rates for hospitals from Blue Cross. He developed a strong interest in social issues of medicine and supported comprehensive federal health insurance and advocated preventive medicine. He was one of a team of doctors sent to Vietnam by President Johnson in 1967 to review and make recommendations concerning the health of the civilian population. In 1969 President Nixon nominated him for the post of Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. The nomination was withdrawn six months later because of violent conservative opposition led by Senator Everett Dirkson and the American Medical Association. Prior to leaving Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Knowles was censured by the Massachusetts Medical Society for writing an article asserting that many physicians charged exorbitant fees and performed unnecessary operations.

Dr. Knowles left Massachusetts General Hospital in December 1971 and assumed the presidency of The Rockefeller Foundation in July 1972. Among his activities as Foundation president, he established an international relations program to focus on common global problems and set up the Foundation's publishing division to distribute reports on various Foundation-funded conferences. Dr. Knowles also remained active in the field of medicine; New York University Medical Center appointed him professor of medicine. He was a member of Nelson A. Rockefeller's Commission for Critical Choices (1974), editing the commission's final report "Doing Better and Feeling Worse." In 1975 he visited China with the National Committee on United States-China Relations, Inc., a group of "key United States leaders of world affairs," for a first-hand experience of China.

Dr. Knowles died of cancer on March 6, 1979.

A prolific writer and speaker, Dr. Knowles had over 60 articles and 4 books to his credit, including "Vietnam: Medicine and Politics," "Doing Better and Feeling Worse," and "Respiratory Physiology and its Clinical Application," a textbook still used by medical students. He also left two incomplete manuscripts: "Dr. Knowles' Journal" describing the HEW appointment controversy, and "Essays on Medicine and Health."

For a full list of activities, organizations, and honors, see "Who's Who in America," 40th edition, volume 1, 1978-1979, p. 1812, and the RAC biography file.

Acquisition information:
Edith L. Knowles donated the papers of John H. Knowles to the Rockefeller Archive Center in 1980.

The John H. Knowles papers are divided into six series:

Series 1 - Early Career

Series 2 - Massachusetts General Hospital

Series 3 - Interim

Series 4 - The Rockefeller Foundation

Series 5 - Miscellaneous

Series 1049 - Photographs

Original order has been maintained as far as possible.

Indexed Terms

Medical research
Medical education



Open for research with select materials restricted are noted. Brittle or damaged items are available at the discretion of RAC.


Rockefeller Archive Center has title, copyright, and literary rights in the collection, in so far as it holds them, and has authority to grant permission to cite and publish archival material from the collection.

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