Fonds P142 - Wilder Penfield Fonds

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Wilder Penfield Fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the documents in the fonds.

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  • 1809-1991; predominantly 1919-1991 (Creation)
    Penfield, Wilder, 1891-1976

Physical description area

Physical description

44.7 m of textual records.
Approximately 35.3 m of graphic material (11,797 photographs, 3,885 illustrations, 2,638 glass slides).
29 objects (25 medals, 3 draft medals, 1 pin).

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Born in Spokane, Washington, Wilder Penfield received his B.Litt. from Princeton University in 1913 and was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford (B.A.1916). He received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1918. Studying under Sir Charles Sherrington at Oxford, Penfield became interested in the brain. From 1921 to 1928 he engaged in research and neurosurgery at the Presbyterian Hospital and served on the Medical Faculty of Columbia University. Appointed to the Medical Faculty of McGill University in 1928, he was Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery from 1934 to 1960. An endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled him to establish the Montreal Neurological Institute (M.N.I.), which opened in 1934. At the M.N.I. Penfield made many innovations in neurosurgery including a surgical treatment for epilepsy. He devoted much of his research to the study of the physiology of the brain, speech memory and sensation. Besides his numerous scientific publications, Penfield wrote two novels and participated in a large number of professional organizations. Dr. Penfield was a member of the Board of Curators of the Osler Library.

Custodial history

Transferred by literary executors Dr. Theodore Rasmussen and Dr. William Feindel to the Osler Library in 1987. Officially donated to the Osler Library in 2011.

The Wilder Penfield Archive was established after Dr. Penfield's death in 1976. In his will, Penfield designated Drs. Theodore Rasmussen and William Feindel as his literary executors. Drs. Rasmussen and Feindel later served as Directors of the Montreal Neurological Institute. The Archive was subjected to thorough archival processing for the next decade at the Montreal Neurological Institute, notably under the supervision of Althea Douglas and her team. The contents of the Penfield collection at The Montreal Neurological Institute were summarized in the Guide to Archival Resources at McGill University, published in 1985 under the general editorship of Marcel Caya, the McGill University Archivist. In 1987 the Penfield Archive was transferred to the Osler Library under an agreement between the Board of Curators of the Osler Library and the Literary Executors of the Estate of Wilder Penfield. At that stage reprints, institutional records and duplicate material were separated from the Penfield Archive. In 2011 the Penfield Archive was formally donated to the Osler Library by the Literary Executors of the Estate of Wilder Penfield.

Scope and content

The Penfield fonds consists of over eighty metres of Penfield's personal and professional records dating from his childhood up until his death in 1976, including during his career at the Montreal Neurological Institute. The materials in the fonds include photographs, correspondence, manuscripts and drafts of publications and speeches, research notes, glass slides, bound reports, films, and academic gowns.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


The series are largely arranged as they were when the archive was first catalogued in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This arrangement is partially based upon Dr. Penfield's own filing system, and partly upon the organization, function, chronological periods, places and subjects of the file units. Most of the series are composed of individual file units, which contain materials that relate to the same subject or transaction, or that have the same form. The files may vary in size and form, but they are typically found in a sequential order which was imposed by Dr. Penfield's original filing system.

Several of the series are identified according to initials or abbreviations. These series titles were part of the original archival labeling system imposed on the Penfield Archive in the late 1970s and early 1980s according to the principles of T.R. Schellenberg's 1956 text, Modern Archives: Principles and Technique. While the letter titles of the series were originally supposed to be indicative of their nature or arrangement, explanations as to the meanings of most of these series titles are provided on this page.

Series which were not part of the original archival arrangement have been assigned more descriptive titles.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script note

The documents are in English

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Digital surrogates of many items available in the Wilder Penfield Digital Collection

Restrictions on access

Case files restricted.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Items can be requested for consultation online via the Library Catalogue or by email at Advance notice is recommended.

Associated materials


General note

A finding aid was only created to list material which has been determined to be of a personal nature, or which was created or received by Dr. Penfield as part of his research, writing, or professional relationships. Most of the material which has not been incorporated into this finding aid includes administrative records, published material, or material about Dr. Penfield which was added to the fonds after Dr. Penfield's death. In particular, these excluded materials include:

· 6 m of textual and photographic material assembled by Penfield's grandson Jefferson Lewis in preparation of his biography of Penfield, Something Hidden: a Biography of Wilder Penfield, Doubleday, 1981.
· Series A/M (Administration/McGill), found in boxes 1 to 5, consisting of 47 cm of textual records.
· Most of Series A/N (Administration/Neuro), found in boxes 5 to 23 and box 207, consisting of 2.51 m of textual records.
· Reprints of some of Dr. Penfield's published articles, found in boxes 122b, 122c, and 122d, consisting of 39 cm of textual records.
· Rockefeller Foundation reports, found in box 184, consisting of 24 cm of textual records.
· MNI Annual Reports, found in boxes 184, consisting of 14 cm of textual records.
· Books and Periodicals, found in boxes 196a, 196b, and 196c, consisting of 51 cm of textual records.
· Various reprints of articles not written by Dr. Penfield, found in boxes 173 and 200, consisting of 67 cm of textual records.
· Restricted case files, found in boxes 228a and 228b, consisting of 34 cm of textual records.
· Research files concerning Dr. Penfield, found in boxes 234 and 235, consisting of 65 cm of textual records.
· Photographs and negatives, found in box 241 and the negative drawer, consisting of 50 cm of graphic materials.
· Several diaries and scrapbooks, found in boxes 411 to 415, consisting of 72 cm of textual records and graphic materials. While included on the finding aid's Archive Series Descriptions page, this material is labelled "restricted" and is not included in file and item level descriptions.

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