Named for Yale College graduate Dr. Harvey Cushing, regarded as the father of modern neurosurgery, the center includes more than 400 specimen jars of patients’ brains and tumors; Cushing’s surgical illustrations and personal diaries; black-and-white patient photographs; memorabilia; and historical anatomical and medical materials.
Cushing graduated from Yale College in 1891 and earned a degree in medicine at Harvard. He spent his entire professional life studying brain tumors and developing techniques to remove them.
In the early 20th century, Cushing began compiling a record of his patients’ case studies — a posthumous registry of their brains. He hoped to unlock secrets about how the brain functioned and malfunctioned, and to find a way to perform better, safer brain surgery.
In 1933, Cushing returned to Yale as Sterling Professor of Neuroscience, bringing with him his collection of several hundred brains. Upon his death in 1939, he donated the brains to Yale along with his extensive medical records and other writings, before-and-after photos of his patients, detailed anatomical illustrations, thousands of first- and second-edition medical texts dating from the middle ages through the Renaissance, and 10,000 glass-plate negatives.
The collection is now on display in the Cushing Center, located on the lower level of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library. Inside, hundreds of brain-filled jars are neatly displayed around the edge of the room. Some of the jars contain whole brains; others, partial specimens. The photos are graphic, showing patients with evident tumors and scars; many document diseases that Cushing first identified as being caused by pituitary tumors. The drawers are filled with Cushing’s journals, surgical instruments, and medical histories.