Jackson Laboratory Oral History Collection

Mss.Ms.Coll.53

Date: 1986 | Size: 1.5 Linear feet

Abstract

In 1929, the geneticist C. C. Little founded the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, a major center for the study of mammalian genetics, cancer, and related areas in basic biomedical research. An independent institution, the Lab has maintained a consistent scientific reputation both as a supplier of inbred strains of mice for genetic and biomedical research and for the scientific achievements of its researchers.

Conducted by Susan Mehrtens in 1986, the Oral History Collection includes transcripts of extensive interviews with fifty scientists, administrators, and staff members of the Jackson Laboratory. At greater or lesser length depending on the subject, the interviews provide a detailed picture of the operations and administration at the laboratory, the culture of research, the sometimes contentious staff relations, and the research itself.

Background note

In 1929, the geneticist C. C. Little founded the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine (now the Jackson Laboratory), a major center for the study of mammalian genetics, cancer, and related areas in basic biomedical research.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Little took an interest in studying the inheritance of coat coloration of mice, and in 1909 developed the first inbred strain of mice for use in genetic and biomedical experimentation. Continuing as a graduate student under William E. Castle, Little received his doctorate in 1914 for research on the inheritance of susceptibility and resistance to tumor transplants in mice, and began a distinguished career that led him to the presidencies of both the University of Maine and University of Michigan before his fortieth birthday. Despite his administrative duties, he remained active in research, and when he left Michigan in 1929 over political disputes with the Regents, he was soon able to secure funding to establish the Jackson Laboratories as an institution for "research in cancer and the effects of radiation."

The misfortune of opening a research center only months before the stock market crash of 1929 resulted in several years of financial hardship for the Laboratory. Yet ever charismatic and opportunistic, in 1933 Little lit upon the idea of generating income for the laboratory by selling excess stocks of inbred mice to other researchers, and two million mice and 2,500 varieties later, the Jackson remains a center for supplying genetically pure mice for research purposes.

Despite the hardships of the Depression, Little lured an impressive staff to the coast of Maine, including George D. Snell (who later won a Nobel prize for his discovery of the major histocompatibility complex), Elizabeth "Tibby" Russell, and George Woolley, and he enthusiastically encouraged a broad range of research on a number of mammalian taxa, including the introduction of behavior genetic research at Hamilton Station. During the Second World War, the Laboratory provided thousands of mice for use in investigating the effects of poison gases and for the production of encephalitis-B serum, but the relative prosperity it brought was curtailed when the laboratory and nearly all of the mouse stocks were destroyed by fire in 1947. Tibby Russell directed the efforts to rebuild the "inbred nucleus" of mouse stocks with the assistance of scientists who had purchased Jackson mice in the past, and the laboratory emerged from the episode as a stronger institution.

After 27 years as Director at the Laboratory, Little stepped aside in 1956 and was replaced by Earl Green. Very much a contrast to Little, Green brought a micro-managerial style to the position that chafed several of the scientists on staff, and he exerted his control in part by curtailing the breadth of research. Green showed little interest in exploiting new areas in genetic research, rejecting a move into biochemistry or immunology, and he attempted to shut down the successful program in behavior genetics at Hamilton Station. In short, Green's tenure brought an almost exclusive focus on mouse genetics combined with a steady deterioration of relations between the administration and the scientific and support staff.

Following Green's retirement in 1975, Richmond Prehn attempted to recraft the Laboratory into a broader center for research in the mold of Rockefeller University, downplaying mouse genetics and mouse production in favor of an emphasis on cancer research. However the alienation of the staff plagued Prehn's directorship as much as it had Green's. He added a now-major research program in molecular biology at great expense, and the financial strains placed on the laboratory combined with the tensions with the research staff led to his resignation in 1980. Subsequent directors have included Prehn's successor, Barbara H. Sanford, and Kenneth Paigen (1989-present). They currently (2003) conduct research in six major areas (bioinformatics, cancer, development and aging-related, immune system and blood disorders, metabolic diseases, and Neurological and Sensory Disorders), and are one of eight institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute as a cancer center.

Scope and content

Conducted by Susan Mehrtens in 1986, the Jackson Laboratory Oral History Collection includes transcripts of extensive interviews with fifty scientists, administrators, and staff members of the Jackson Laboratory. Not affiliated directly with any academic institution, the government, or private industry, the Lab has maintained a consistent scientific reputation both as a supplier of inbred strains of mice for genetic and biomedical research and for the scientific achievements of its researchers. At greater or lesser length depending on the subject, the interviews provide a detailed picture of the operations and administration at the laboratory, the culture of research, the sometimes contentious staff relations, and the research itself.

Because several of the first generation of scientists to work at Jackson were still alive in 1986, Mehrtens' interviews address nearly the entire history of the institution up to that time, although the emphasis inevitably falls upon the period under the directorships of Earl Green and Richmond Prehn. One of the real virtues of the project lies in the decision to include a wide slice of the laboratory community, ranging from non-professional staff to scientists, administrators, board members, and affiliated scientists from outside the institution. The conflicting perspectives offered on the history of the institution, the intellectual and cultural life there, and the personalities and activities of the directors and scientists makes for a particularly rich resource for study of the dynamics of scientific and laboratory culture during the mid-20th century.

Mehrtens compiled an extensive finding aid that includes a highly detailed three volume index to the interviews. In notes accompanying the individual interviews as well as in her finding aid, Mehrtens comments freely upon her impressions of the interviews, and whether the subject were candid, reserved, anecdotal, or precise, and whether their observations meshed with those of others.

Collection Information

Restrictions

Restrictions on Access:

The interviews with David Harrison and Robert Stanwood are closed until 2037.

Provenance

Gift of Susan Mehrtens, 1985.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Me.) Oral History Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2003.

Other finding aids

See Susan Mehrtens' "Finding aid to the Jackson Laboratory Oral History Collection," available with printed finding aids in the APS Reading Room and on the Jackson Laboratory website at http://mouseion.jax.org/oral_history/13/"

Related material

The history of mouse genetics in the papers of L. C. Dunn (B D917) and, to a degree, the J. A. Weir Papers (Ms. Coll. 92) on the history of the Bussey Institute.

The archives at the Jackson Laboratory contain the institution's complete administrative records from the time of its founding, along with the papers of many of its key scientists, including C. C. Little, George Snell, and Tibby Russell.

Indexing Terms


Genre(s)

  • Oral histories

Personal Name(s)

  • Abbott, Mary
  • Abbott, William
  • Bailey, Donald
  • Baltimore, David
  • Barker, Jane
  • Beck, John
  • Bennett, Dorothea
  • Bernstein, Seldon
  • Brilliant, Murray
  • Bunker, Helen
  • Bunker, Lester
  • Champlin, Arthur Kingsley
  • Clark, Frank
  • Coleman, Douglas
  • Compton, John
  • Crow, James F. (James Franklin), 1916-2012
  • DeLaitre, William
  • Dorey, John
  • Duran-Reynals, Marie-Louise
  • Ebert, James
  • Fahey, Eunice
  • Foley, Dale
  • Fox, Richard
  • Fuller, John
  • Gilley, Reginald
  • Glass, Bentley, 1906-2005
  • Green, Earl Leroy
  • Green, Margaret
  • Harrison, David
  • Hirschorn, Ann
  • Kandutsch, Andrew
  • Lane, Priscilla
  • Law, Lloyd
  • Lawson, Fay
  • Little, Ann
  • Little, Clarence C. (Clarence Cook)
  • Little, Richard
  • Little, Robert
  • McFarland, Roy
  • McKusick, Victor A. (Victor Almon), 1921-2008
  • Mehrtens, Susan
  • Neilson, Harry, Jr.
  • Petschek, Stephan
  • Prehn, Richmond
  • Robbins, Watson
  • Roderick, Thomas H.
  • Russell, Elizabeth Shull, 1913-2001
  • Salisbury, Allen
  • Sanford, Barbara H.
  • Scott, John Paul
  • Silver, Willys
  • Snell, George D. (George Davis), 1903-1996
  • Sprott, Richard
  • Staats, Joan
  • Stanwood, Robert
  • Stevens, Leroy
  • Waymouth, Charity
  • Winn, Henry

Subject(s)

  • Cancer -- Research
  • Genetics
  • Laboratories
  • Mice -- Genetics
  • Women geneticists
  • Women in science


Detailed Inventory

Jackson Laboratory Oral History Collection - Transcripts
19861.5 lin. feet
Abbott, Mary. Abbott, William.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 7TMsS, 60p.box 1

Long term cook and mate for summer program re: C. C. Little etc.

Baltimore, David.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 16TMsS, 22p.box 1

"Outsider's view" of current status of Jax

Barker, Jane.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 July 22TMsS, 42p.box 1

Russell's lab; Green and sexist hiring policies

Bailey, Donald.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 35p.box 1

Jackson Laboratory in 1950s and 1960s

Beck, John.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 30p.box 1

Trustee of lab under Green, Prehn, and Sanford

Bennett, Dorothea.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 22TMsS, 34p.box 1

Chair of Board of Scientific Overseers re: Green and Prehn years

Bernstein, Seldon.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Sept. 13TMsS, 47p.box 1

30 year research scientist at Jax; mouse genetics; ICG Montreal

Brilliant, Murray.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 14TMsS, 37p.box 1

Recent hire at Jax

Bunker, Helen and Lester.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 50p.box 1

Lab assistants on Jackson Laboratory in 1940s and 1950s

Clark, Frank.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 16TMsS, 51p.box 1

Long term employees at Jax; Little's retirement

Champlin, Arthur Kingsley.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 7TMsS, 38p.box 1

Students at Jax

Coleman, Douglas.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 7TMsS, 45p.box 1

"Second generation" scientist re: Green and Prehn years

Compton, John.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 21TMsS, 29p.box 1

Assessment of Jax's reputation; molecular

Crow, James F. (James Franklin), 1916-2012.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 22TMsS, 39p.box 1

Reflections on Green and Prehn years

Dorey, John.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 34p.box 1

Duran-Reynals, Marie-Louise.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 30TMsS, 18p.box 1

Re: Francisco Duran-Reynals' research on viral theory of cancer; Snell, Little

Ebert, James.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 July 22TMsS, 47p.box 1

Re: Green, Prehn, and Sanford years; current situation at Jax

Fahey, Eunice.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 36p.box 1

Green's secretary re: Green years

Foley, Dale.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 38p.box 2

Administrative assistant of Little and Green re: financial and administrative activities

Fox, Richard.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 31TMsS, 37p.box 2

Fuller, John.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 22p.box 2

Hamilton Station

Gilley, Reginald.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 7TMsS, 33p.box 2

Re: Green, Prehn, and Sanford years, Robbins; support staff

Glass, Bentley, 1906-2005.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Oct. 10TMsS, 12p.box 2

Green, Earl Leroy.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 14TMsS, 116p.box 2

Green, Margaret.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 21TMsS, 29p.box 2

Wife of Earl Green

Harrison, David.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
 TMsS,box 2

Restrictions on Access: Closed to research until 2037

Hirschorn, Ann.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 7TMsS, 34p.box 2

Summer work experience at Jax, 1950s

Kandutsch, Andrew.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 31TMsS, 47p.box 2

Little and Green years

Lane, Priscilla.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 45p.box 2

Green and women at Jax; mouse genetics

Law, Lloyd.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 26p.box 2

Jackson Laboratory in 1940s; fire of 1947; Little

Lawson, Fay.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 31TMsS, 53p.box 2

Jackson Laboratory in 1950s; Russell

Little, Richard.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 16TMsS, 77p.box 2

Jackson Laboratory in 1930s and 1940s; C. C. Little

Little, Robert and Ann.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 22TMsS, 51p.box 2

Re; father, C. C. Little

McFarland, Roy.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 July 22TMsS, 37p.box 2

Support staff at Jax

McKusick, Victor A. (Victor Almon), 1921-2008.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 July 14TMsS, 21p.box 2

Short courses at Jax

Neilson, Harry, Jr..
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Sept. 13TMsS, 23p.box 2

Trustee re: all four Jackson Laboratory directors

Petschek, Stephan.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 July 22TMsS, 26p.box 2

Former Chair of Board of Trustees re: adminstration

Prehn, Richmond.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 16TMsS, 31p.box 3

Transitions and changes in Jax

Sanford, Barbara H..
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 21p.box 3

Roderick, Thomas H..
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Sept. 13TMsS, 35p.box 3

Green, Prehn, and Sanford years

Russell, Elizabeth Shull, 1913-2001.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 7TMsS, 37p.box 3

Jackson Laboratory over 50 year career

Scott, John Paul.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 22TMsS, 40p.box 3

Hamilton Station

Silver, Willys.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 14p.box 3

Russell and other researchers

Snell, George D. (George Davis), 1903-1996.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 May 31TMsS, 39p.box 3

Early years at Jax; Little

Sprott, Richard.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Nov. 7TMsS, 49p.box 3

Green and Prehn years

Stanwood, Robert.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 7TMsS, 34p.box 3

Restrictions on Access: Closed to research until 2037

Staats, Joan.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 14TMsS, 39p.box 3

Jackson Laboratory librarian re: Little, Snell, Jackson Laboratory in 1950s and since

Stevens, Leroy.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 14TMsS, 29p.box 3

Jackson Laboratory post-World War II; Little and Green

Waymouth, Charity.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 June 21TMsS, 40p.box 3

Scientist and interim director after Prehn

Winn, Henry.
Interview by Susan Mehrtens
1986 Aug. 3TMsS, 55p.box 3

Green years

Jackson Laboratory Oral History Collection - Recordings
 56 audiocassettes