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The Three Authors
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John Littlefield, seated, Henry Seidel, left, and Larry Wissow with their book on the Harriet Lane Home.

Three physicians closely associated with the old Harriet Lane Home, Johns Hopkins’ first children’s hospital, feared its rich history soon would be forgotten. “Those who knew it,” says John Littlefield, “were dying off.”

Littlefield, now 81, was chief of pediatrics and director of Harriet Lane from 1974 to 1985. About a decade ago, as the clock continued its relentless ticking, he enlisted his friend and erstwhile colleague, pediatrician Henry Seidel, 84, School of Medicine dean of students from 1977 to 1990, as a collaborator on a book about the Harriet Lane Home. Together, Littlefield and Seidel persuaded Lawrence Wissow, a child psychiatrist on the faculty of the School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, to join them. 

The result of their efforts is The Harriet Lane Home: A Model and a Gem. Richly illustrated with archival photos, it tells the story of the birthplace of American pediatrics.

From the start, Littlefield, Seidel and Wissow were determined to produce not “a hagiography of famous people,” as Wissow puts it, but a forthright account of the triumphs as well as the turmoil in the Harriet Lane’s history. “We didn’t want to cover anything up,” says Littlefield. “As soon as you descend into that, a book becomes second-rate.”    

The trio met regularly, devised an outline and divvied up chapter assignments. Littlefield was interested in recounting the story of how the Harriet Lane Home was founded and formed, especially during the 1912–1926 leadership of its second director, the charismatic but autocratic John Howland.

Seidel, a 1946 School of Medicine graduate and Harriet Lane resident, was eager to write about his mentor, Edwards Park, Howland’s successor as chief of pediatrics and director of Harriet Lane from 1927 to 1946.

Wissow, who at 54 calls himself the “spring chicken” among the authors, was on the Harriet Lane house staff from 1979 to 1982. He was best suited to write about the dynamic, sometimes controversial directorship of Robert Cooke, who headed Harriet Lane from 1955 to 1973 and created what now is the Kennedy-Krieger Institute.

Cooke granted Wissow access to his papers in the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives and gave interviews. The result is a candid account of that director’s prickly relationship with Russell Nelson, then head of Hopkins Hospital, and other controversies, including the dilapidated condition into which the 1912 Harriet Lane building had fallen by that time. (It was demolished in 1974.)

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The Harriet Lane Home, shown here in a 1920s photograph, stood near where the Wolfe Street Circle is today. Phipps is in the background.

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Park’s descendants—a son, daughter and granddaughter—allowed Littlefield to quote liberally from extensive drafts on the Home’s early history written by Park. (Park was given posthumous credit as a co-author.) Also providing invaluable cooperation was the daughter of Park’s immediate successor, Francis Schwenker.

Howland, Park and Cooke had decidedly different personalities, as well as a profound impact on pediatrics—not only at Hopkins but ultimately worldwide. “Each of them fitted their times and built on the other,” says Littlefield. Howland’s focus on research was enhanced by Park’s concern about the social forces affecting Harriet Lane patients. Cooke further broadened the Home’s impact with publication of the first paperback edition of The Harriet Lane Handbook, the best-selling bedside reference compiled by senior pediatrics residents and published every three years. Cooke also concentrated on the problems of intellectually disabled children.

“Writing the book was just so much fun,” says Seidel. “It was my first experience of going into the archives and reading about personal stuff. And it was just a delight to be able to meet folks, hear their points of view, and do the reading.”

Despite the occasional friction that can accompany any collaboration, the relationship between Littlefield, Seidel and Wissow prospered. Says Seidel: “We ended up just as friendly with each other as when we began.”

—Neil A. Grauer


The Harriet Lane Home: A Model and a Gem is available at Mathews Johns Hopkins Bookstore and can be ordered online through the Department of Pediatrics.

 

 

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