Collection OH055 - Francis O. Schmitt Oral History


Reference code


Level of description



Francis O. Schmitt Oral History


  • 6/7/1982 (Creation)


0.05 Linear Feet

Name of creator


Biographical history

Francis Otto Schmitt was an American biologist and neuroscientist. Schmitt was born St. Louis, Missouri and received an A.B. in 1924 and a Ph.D. in 1927 from Washington University. He joined the faculty in 1929 and taught zoology until 1941. He collaborated extensively with Arthur H. Compton to develop x-ray diffraction techniques for biological macro-structures like muscles and nerves. In 1941, Schmitt was recruited to MIT to become head of the Department of Biology. Schmitt became an authority on electron microscopy and conducted innovative studies on kidney function, tissue metabolism, and the chemistry, physiology, biochemistry, and electrophysiology of the nerve. He became Institute Professor in 1955 and professor emeritus in 1973. Schmitt was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a former president of the Electron Microscope Society of America. He was the brother of Otto Herbert Schmitt.

Scope and content

Schmitt discusses his early interest in science and his decision to study physiology with Joseph Erlanger. He talks of his teachers and colleagues at Washington University, including Evarts A. Graham, Helen Tredway Graham, Herbert Gasser, George Bishop, Philip A. Shaffer, Carl Cori, and Viktor Hamburger. Schmitt describes Erlanger and Gasser’s research on action potentials that led to their receiving the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology. There is also discussion of some of Schmitt’s research on kidney function with Harvey Lester White, his research on the excitability of heart muscle, and polarization optics. Interviewed by Paul G. Anderson on June 7, 1982. OH055. Approximate Length 93 minutes.

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The collection is open and accessible for research.

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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 (

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

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"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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