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Mark M. Ravitch Papers

Identifier: MS C 616


Collection documents Dr. Ravitch's career as a pioneering thoracic and pediatric surgeon and developer of surgical stapling techniques through correspondence, administrative records, writings, motion pictures, and editorial duties on various journals and textbooks.


  • 1932-1989


148.17 Linear Feet (115 boxes + films + oversize)


Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine

Language of Materials

Collection materials primarily in English

Access Restrictions

Collection is restricted. Portions of the collection are restricted according to HMD's Access to Health Information of Individuals policy. Contact the Reference Staff for information regarding access. For access to the policy and application form, please visit

Copyright and Re-use Information

Donor's copyrights were transferred to the public domain. Archival collections often contain mixed copyrights; while NLM is the owner of the physical items, permission to examine collection materials is not an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. It is the user's responsibility to research and understand any applicable copyright and re-publication rights not allowed by fair use. NLM does not grant permissions to publish.

Privacy Information

Archives and manuscript collections may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in any collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which the National Library of Medicine assumes no responsibility.

Biographical Note

An internationally recognized pediatric surgeon, medical educator, author, and historian, Mark Mitchell Ravitch was born on September 12, 1910 in New York City. Ravitch died in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pa. at the age of 78. He was perhaps best known as an expert on the correction of chest-wall deformities in children and as a pioneer in the use of mechanical suturing in surgery.

Ravitch received a degree in zoology at the University of Oklahoma where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1930 and determined to continue his scientific education in the medical field. After earning his M.D. at Johns Hopkins in 1934, Dr. Ravitch remained at the school studying thoracic surgery and pediatrics under Drs. Dean D. Lewis, Edwards A. Park, Warfield M. Firor, and Arnold Rich. He concluded his training as a surgical resident under Dr. Alfred Blalock in 1943; the two developed a personal and professional relationship that lasted throughout Blalock's lifetime.

Ravitch was commissioned as a major in the army during World War II where he directed a staff of surgeons at the 56th General Hospital. In 1946 he resumed his career at Johns Hopkins as surgeon and professor of surgery. During the late 1940s he developed significant new techniques in pediatric surgery. These included a non-operative method for reducing pressure from intussusception via Barium enema and the operative correction of pectus excavatum (a.k.a., funnel chest) that became known as the Ravitch procedure.

He left Johns Hopkins in 1952 for a four-year surgical professorship at New York's Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and to direct Mt. Sinai Hospital's department of surgery. He returned to Johns Hopkins in 1956 as a professor of surgery. Simultaneously, for ten years, Dr. Ravitch was also surgeon in chief for Baltimore City Hospitals. While part of a group sent to visit medical facilities in the Soviet Union in 1958, he became interested in their use of surgical staplers. He believed such devices could be a time-saving replacement in many circumstances for hand-suturing during surgery. For the next several years, in partnership with Dr. Felicien Steichen, Ravitch tested and refined designs for surgical staplers. Leon Hirsch's United States Surgical Corporation manufactured and marketed them beginning in 1967. Staplers gradually became standard surgical tools.

Dr. Ravitch joined the University of Chicago Medical School in 1966 where he taught surgery and headed the division of pediatric surgery. In 1969, he accepted a surgical faculty position at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and was appointed surgeon in chief at the university-affiliated Montefiore Hospital. Ravitch continued to teach, as an emeritus, until his death on March 1, 1989.

His surgical legacy as a founder of pediatric surgery as a specialty, as a surgical innovator, and for introducing the concept of surgical stapling in the U.S. is paralleled by his simultaneous contributions to surgical education and knowledge. Almost continually from 1957, Dr. Ravitch taught not only at his home institutions but also traveled throughout the country giving guest lectures and hosting workshops. He was an esteemed editor of surgical literature, serving on the editorial boards of nearly 20 medical journals and several textbooks. He authored A Century of American Surgery: The History of the American Surgical Association, documenting surgical developments from 1880 to 1980. Ravitch authored 453 articles, 22 books, and 101 chapters about contemporary surgery and medical history.

Collection Summary

Patient records, correspondence, administrative records, lectures, writings, and motion picture films and videos document the surgical, teaching, hospital administrative, and editorial and writing career of pediatric surgeon Mark M. Ravitch, perhaps best known as an expert on the correction of chest-wall deformities in children and as a pioneer in the use of mechanical suturing in surgery. The collection is especially rich in surgical records and patient/physician correspondence, records of his medical journal editorial work and his own writing, and films documenting his surgical procedures and technique. There is little material related to his personal life.

Biographical Information, Series 1 (1932-1989) is relatively sparse and primarily informed by personal correspondence between Dr. Ravitch and his family (1980s), cvs, and a few articles about Dr. Ravitch's work.

Administrative Records, Series 2 (1942-1987) mostly represents Dr. Ravitch's work with the University of Pittsburgh and Montefiore Hospital (1969-1989). They consist primarily of interdepartmental correspondence, subject files related to specific departments or initiatives, and sometimes committee meeting minutes and reports.

Correspondence, Series 3 (1945-1989) cover Dr. Ravitch's professional interchanges usually with physicians. The series is organized by institution, then arranged alphabetically by correspondent name which Ravitch then often organized into yearly sets. When a set of correspondence's dates overlap between institutions, it is listed with the institution to which a majority belongs.

Subject Files, Series 4 (1942-1988) are contemporary to the correspondence. They cover topics such as medical conditions and studies along with information about interactions with other medical institutions.

Dr. Ravitch was a prolific author throughout his long career. Writings, Series 5 (1930-1988) divides his contributions into three parts. Beginning in the mid-1960s he regularly contributed chapters to a variety of compiled medical textbooks (1966-1988). He wrote or co-wrote more than 450 articles on surgical technique, diseases, and medical history (1930-1988), and similarly authored or co-authored 10 books (1959-1987). These are arranged in subseries according to numbers Dr. Ravitch assigned to them in his cv. Contributions which do not appear in the cv list are listed chronologically in a separate subseries.

Editorial Activities, Series 6 (1959-1989) covers two categories in which Dr. Ravitch lent his professional expertise and guidance: journals and books. From 1963 until 1989 he served on editorial boards for several medical journals, often for longer than a decade at each. From 1959 to 1987 he contributed to editorial boards for many surgical compilations. These are arranged chronologically.

Meetings and Conferences, Series 7 (1947-1987) documents arrangements, agendas, notes, and professional activities Dr. Ravitch engaged in throughout the world and are organized chronologically. For further information about specific meetings, one might also consult Series 8, Professional and Scientific Societies, the files of which often contain meeting programs among the correspondence. Though many of the meetings involved annual attendance at medical society functions, Dr. Ravitch often maintained a separate series of files devoted to individual professional and scientific societies organized as Series 8 (1947-1989).

Ravitch was as prolific a teacher and lecturer as he was a surgeon. Series 9, Teaching, Lectures, and Speeches (1950-1989) is divided into specific coursework and student records at the University of Pittsburgh (1970-1985), speeches given at certain occasions, and lectures and workshops he conducted during his travels to medical schools and hospitals throughout the United States.

Research, Series 10 (1952-1981) is generally defined to include both medical and educational activities. There is a relatively small series consisting of material on experimental surgical studies and also records of site visits conducted by Dr. Ravitch on behalf of educational committees (1970-1973). Grants, Series 11 (1964-1971), and Litigation, Series 12 (1981-1989), also form a minor part of the collection and were not subjects which Dr. Ravitch comprehensively documented.

Most of the Audiovisual Materials, Series 13 (1951-c.1982) are undated except for a 1963 audio tape of an Alfred Blalock lecture at NIH. Along with his pediatric work, they document the wide variety of operations and conditions Ravitch treated as a general surgeon. Two videocassettes contain surgical demonstrations by Dr. Ravitch's research partner, Felicien Steichen. Several audiocassettes record Dr. Ravitch dictating correspondence, probably from the 1980s.

Patient Files, Series 14 and other restricted material consist primarily of extensive files maintained, by name, of Dr. Ravitch's patients at Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pittsburgh. There are also letters discussing particular patients interspersed through his entire career correspondence. Access is restricted according to HMD's Access to Personally Identifiable Health Information Policy.


Collection documents Dr. Ravitch's career as a pioneering thoracic and pediatric surgeon and developer of surgical stapling techniques through correspondence, administrative records, writings, motion pictures, and editorial duties on various journals and textbooks.

Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine


Gift, Mrs. Irene Ravitch, June 8, 1992, Accession #723.


Processed by
Jim Labosier
Processing Completed
August, 2016
Encoded by
Jim Labosier
Finding Aid to the Mark M. Ravitch Papers, 1932-1989
Unverified Partial Draft
Jim Labosier
August, 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English English
Edition statement

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection Collecting Area

8600 Rockville Pike
Bldg 38/1E-21, MSC 3819
Bethesda MD 20894 US
1-888-FINDNLM (1-888-346-3656)