Stuart M. Sessoms Records

Calling all researchers: the Duke University Medical Archives is pleased to announce that the Stuart M. Sessoms Records are processed and open to researchers. This collection is rich with the history of Duke Medical Center during the Civil Rights Era. It illustrates how a large institution in the South adapted to extreme, rapid social changes withStuart M. Sessoms grace and dignity. I don’t think you will be disappointed. There are juicy bits. 

The materials date from 1952 to 1980 with the bulk of the records dating to Sessoms’ tenure, which also happened to be the socially turbulent period between 1968 and 1976. These materials provide evidence of how the institution adapted to national and state legislation and litigation, shifting views of patients and staff, and technological changes. Issues addressed directly and in chronological order include but are not limited to:  

  • 1963-1976: changing perceptions on the role and status of nurses in a hospital setting
  • 1965: a proposal for voluntary prisoner organ donation
  • 1968: building of a “Helistop” (heliport)
  • 1969: the Pharmacy ceased dispensing medicinal alcohol
  • From the 1969 Provost Group Minutes: pickets, protestors, and the ROTC; the establishment of an Afro-American Society; “proposed experiments” in “mixed [sex] housing arrangements;” a search for “black faculty;” a proposed “black week”; and a consortium on air pollution
  • 1970: Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (more stringent policies for narcotics)
  • 1970: implementation of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines (by 1975 a job description changed from “male attendant” to “patient care assistant”)
  • 1970: endearing patient brochure states that “The interview conducted by the computer is an enjoyable part of your hospital visit”, and a January 1971 memo declares “The 21st Century is here. Card computers are part of it.”
  • 1971: Griggs v. Duke Power (Duke eliminated all pre-employment and promotional testing other than typing and shorthand tests)
  • 1973: Roe v. Wade (abortion; sterilization is also mentioned)
  • 1973: Emergency Commitment Statute of North Carolina (limited involuntary commitment and addressed patient rights)
  • 1974-1975: The War on Drugs (policies were implemented to better safeguard cocaine and opiates)

While that list is not inclusive, those were the major subjects that jumped out at me while processing this collection. I am certain there are more topics worth exploring included in the files about Duke Hospital, Duke Hospital departments, clinics, business and finance, Duke University School of Medicine, Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, Sea Level Hospital, Lincoln Hospital, Highland Hospital, the VA Hospital, Methodist Church Hospital and Homes, Hillhaven Convalescent Center, and State agencies and boards. 

This collection has a story to tell about how Duke University Medical Center navigated the changing social landscape of the mid-twentieth century. I invite you to come see it for yourself.


An Archivist

To learn more about these materials, visit the finding aid or contact the archives staff.

This blog post was contributed by Archives Volunteer Elizabeth DuRocher.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.