James Barrett Brown Papers


Reference code


Level of description



James Barrett Brown Papers


  • 1931-1945 (Creation)


1.50 Linear Feet

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Barrett Brown was a St. Louis-based plastic surgeon who revolutionized the field with his pioneering use of large split-thickness skin grafts to resurface defects. Brown is also known for his 1954 publication on radical neck dissection, Neck Dissections, and for his work on organizing high-quality plastic surgery to injured soldiers in WWII.

Brown received both his undergraduate and medical education at Washington University in St. Louis, completed in 1923. He then studied surgical training at Barnes Hospital under Evarts Graham and Vilray Blair. Blair's work with head and neck cancer inspired Brown to work in the same practice, sparking a partnership that lasted from 1925 to Blair's death in 1955. Brown focused his research on skin grafts, which had been cut freehand prior to his demonstration in the 1930s that when cut thicker and larger, skin grafts still healed well at the donor site. This revolutionized the established principles of skin graft, which required great skill to carry out, leading to wide ramifications throughout the entire field of surgery especially thermal burn surgery. When mechanical and electric dermatomes were introduced, the cutting of skin grafts became more precise and required less skill and practice for the surgeon.

Brown's research culminated in the authorship of more than 300 articles and 60 book chapters on facial surgery, plastic surgery, oral surgery, skin grafting, thermal burn care, and neck dissection. In addition to his academic career, Brown's work in soldier care was significant. He helped organize facilities for reconstructive surgery for soldiers in England during WWII, and was instrumental in establishing plastic surgery centers in the United States for returning casualties. Brown directed one center at Valley Forge, PA, where over 2,500 patients were treated. Brown's leadership also spread to the medical community, having co-founded the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and served in leadership roles for the American College of Surgeons, the American Association of Plastic Surgeons and the Western Surgical Association.

Scope and content

Correspondence of James Barrett Brown, Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, while chief of plastic surgery at the Valley Forge General Hospital, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, 1943-1945. Also contains files of photographs of patients illustrating treatments. The collection includes 20 reprints, dating from 1931 to 1942.

System of arrangement

Conditions governing access

The collection is open and accessible for research.

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Users of the collection should read and abide by the Rights and Permissions guidelines at the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives.

Users of the collection who wish to cite items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication must request, sign, and return a Statement of Use form to the Archives.

For detailed information regarding use of this collection, contact the Archives and Rare Book Department of the Becker Library (arb@wusm.wustl.edu).

Preferred Citation:

Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Custodial history

Immediate source of acquisition

Gift; Becker Library copy:Eugene M. Bricker, MD; 1995; (95-027).

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information


Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

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Specialized notes

Alternative identifier(s)

Rules or conventions

"Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS), 2013."

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Archivist's note

© Copyright 2019 Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives. All rights reserved.

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