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Telford H. Work Papers

Identifier: MS C 564


The papers of Telford H. Work (1921-1995) highlight international research and teaching in the field of arbovirology and tropical disease. The collection, which spans from 1938-1990, contains material about his education, career, hobbies, and achievements.


  • 1938-1990


33.90 Linear Feet (33 boxes)


Physical Location

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

Language of Materials

Collection materials primarily in English


Collection is not restricted.

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

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Biographical Note

Dr. Telford Hindley Work was born in Selma, California on July 11, 1921. He received his primary and secondary education from Los Angeles schools. After graduating from high school, Work enrolled at Stanford University. A biology major, he spent much of his time devoted to his studies. While still an undergraduate at Stanford, he began a project studying the nesting habits of the Turkey Vulture. This project, supported by the Stanford Museum of Natural History, lead to his first publication in the journal The Condor in 1942.

Work graduated from Stanford in 1942 with his degree in biology and was accepted at Stanford Medical School, graduating in 1945. Upon graduating, he accepted a position with the U.S. Navy. After basic training, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Monongahela, an oil tanker that traveled from the Middle East to Japan. The time Work spent traveling between the two areas greatly influenced him and ultimately lead to research in the field of tropical medicine. When his service with the Navy was complete, he went to London and enrolled in the London School Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and graduated a year later with his degree in tropical medicine. Upon finishing his degree, he accompanied Sir Phillip Manson-Bahr to Fiji where he spent the next two years studying filariasis and mosquitoes. At the completion of this project, Work returned to the US where he enrolled at John Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, receiving a Master of Public Health in 1952.

Work then accepted an offer from the Rockefeller Foundation to join their arbovirus research program. He spent the first five months working in the laboratory in New York before being assigned to work with Dr. Richard Taylor in Cairo, Egypt. During this time they worked in the small village of Sindbis and were able to isolate both West Nile and Sindbis viruses from birds in the area. This was one of the first times that the role birds have in transmitting arboviruses had been documented.

In 1955, Work was assigned to Poona, India by the Rockefeller Foundation where he served as director of the Virus Research Center and oversaw the building of the facility. He also aided with the investigation of several epidemics including New Delhi hepatitis and Jamshedpur Fever, now known as Reye's Syndrome. In 1957, while working in the Mysore District of India, he isolated the Kyasanur Forest Disease, a hemorrhagic fever transmitted by ticks. His work, along with that of others, proved the relationship of the virus to several other encephalitis outbreaks.

Work returned to the New York Laboratory of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1960. He along with Dr. Taylor, started the Arbovirus Information Exchange newsletter and served as its first editor. Shortly after returning to the US, Work received a Congressional appointment to head the virology section for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). During his tenure he oversaw several investigations. These included the 1962 outbreak of Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE) among Seminoles in the Florida Everglades, the 1964 outbreak of Saint Louis encephalitis (SLE) in Texas, and the 1965 VEE outbreaks in the Mid-Atlantic. Along with his team, he was able to isolate the virus, now known as the Everglades virus, from mosquitoes in Everglades National Park. Their investigations and studies lead to the isolation of several other viruses. They also traveled to the former Soviet as part of a joint discussion between the U.S. and the USSR on tick-borne encephalitis.

Work returned to his home state in 1967 when he accepted a position as professor of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and head of the department. While he devoted himself to sharing his knowledge and experience with future generations, he continued to study tropical diseases both at home and abroad. Taking a sabbatical in 1978, Work and his wife, Dr. Martine Jozan Work, traveled to Australia to investigate an outbreak of Murray Valley Encephalitis in the Kimberley area. Work took another sabbatical in 1988 traveling Argentina during outbreaks of dengue (on the border with Paraguay) and yellow fever (Brazil). Work remained at UCLA until his retirement in 1991.

During his world travels, Work found time to participate in one of his favorite hobbies, photography. Work took a great interest in nature and the flora and fauna that he observed. He photographed and filmed many of the sites he visited. As a member of the Audubon Society, Work presented several lectures using the films he produced. He also contributed many of his photographs and reports to National Geographic Magazine.

As a leading epidemiologist, Work achieved much recognition. He was elected as a member of the American Epidemiological Society in 1962, served as the president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) from 1969-1970, and as chair of the Epidemiology Disease Control Section of the National Institutes of Health during the 1970s. In 1981, he received the Richard Moreland Taylor Award from the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses. The award was established in 1966 as a way to recognize dedication and contributions to virology and epidemiology of arthropod-borne viruses is named after Work's colleague, mentor, and friend Dr. Richard Taylor, who was the first to receive the award. Telford H. Work died in his home on February 6, 1995.

Collection Summary

Administrative material, correspondence, research files, reports, publications, audiovisual material, pathology slides, and personal items (33.5 l.f.; 1938-1990) document Telford H. Work's international research career in arboviruses, especially West Nile and Yellow fever. Topics documented include his education at Stanford University Medical School, his U.S Naval service, and his career with the Rockefeller Foundation, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and UCLA. His work in tropical medicine lead to the isolation of several viruses, how they are transmitted and by what vectors, and the better understanding of arthropod-borne viruses. The bulk of the material in the collection relates to his research projects for the Rockefeller Foundation, the CDC, and UCLA.

There are several series that might be of significant interest to researchers. The personal series (Series 1) provide some insight about his career motivations, education, his passion for nature and photography, and career highlights. Series 3-6 document the institutions for which he worked during his career and where he made his greatest discoveries. Much of his research carried over from institution to institution, so many of the same topics and research projects can be found in each of these series. For his Rockefeller Foundation career, information about the origins and management of the Virus Research Centre in Pune, India where Work isolated the Kyasanur Forest Disease and his work in Egypt on isolating the West Nile virus can be found in the Correspondence, Rockefeller Foundation, and Pathology Slides series. Much of the actual research activities information is limited to the Rockefeller Foundation series.

Work returned to the U.S. as head of the CDC's Virology Section during the 1960's and focused on tropical diseases as found within the US. His research on various strains of encephalitis is located in Series 5. He completed his active career as professor and department head of the Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of California at Los Angeles. Much of the materials in Series 6 continue to reflect his research activities and less so for his teaching work.

Work's passion for research and nature is combined in his hobby as a photographer and film-maker. Throughout his research and travel he created films in support of his research findings as well as serving as travelogues. The majority of these films were separated to the Historical Audiovisual Collection.


The papers of Telford H. Work (1921-1995) highlight international research and teaching in the field of arbovirology and tropical disease. The collection, which spans from 1938-1990, contains material about his education, career, hobbies, and achievements.

Physical Location

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


Gift, Martine Work, 1996; 1999; 2011, Accession# 1997-003, 1999-040, 2011-037.

Related films in HAV

A large number of films created by Work documenting his field work were separately donated the NLM's Historic Audiovisual Program.


Processed by
Lloyd S. Williams (History Associates, Inc.)
Processing Completed
July 2006; Sept. 2016
Encoded by
Lloyd S. Williams
Finding Aid to the Telford H. Work Papers, 1938-1990
Unverified Partial Draft
Lloyd S. Williams (History Associates, Inc.)
July 2006; Sept. 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in 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
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