The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin

Hughes (Elizabeth) Papers

Title: Hughes (Elizabeth) Papers
Physical location: Ms. Coll. 334
Dates of creation: 1907-1995
Physical Extent: 3 boxes (53 letters, 22 photos, 1 medal) (0.5 metres)
Biographical Sketch:

Elizabeth Hughes (1907-1981) was the daughter of Antoinette and Charles E. Hughes. Her father was U.S. Secretary of State (1921-1925) and later Chief Justice of the United States of America (1930-1941). Elizabeth contracted severe diabetes in 1919 at age 11. She was treated initially by Dr. F.M. Allen at his special clinic, the Physiatric Institute in Morristown, N.J. Dr. Allen put Elizabeth on a strict diet and continued to monitor her condition over the next three years while she lived at home with a private nurse.

By the winter of 1921/22 her health was deteriorating seriously. In January 1922 Elizabeth's family sent her, with her nurse, Blanche Burgess, to Bermuda to enjoy a warmer climate in the hopes that she could regain her strength. She returned to Washington in June 1922, however, in a very weakened state. Her mother then contacted F.G. Banting in Toronto and managed to have Elizabeth accepted as one of his private patients.

Elizabeth came to Toronto with her mother and her nurse in August 1922 and began receiving insulin from Dr. Banting immediately. She stayed in Toronto until November 30, 1922, making excellent progress and becoming Dr. Banting's star patient. He wrote up her case in medical journals and kept in touch with her after she returned home to Washington.

Elizabeth's health continued to improve with continued insulin treatment. She returned to school in 1923 and eventually graduated from Barnard College in 1929. In 1930 she married William T. Gossett, a young lawyer in her father's law firm. They had three children: Antoinette, Elizabeth, and W. Thomas.

William Gossett became a vice-president and general counsel of the Ford Motor Company and served for some years as president of the American Bar Association. He and his family lived in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Elizabeth Gossett was active in civic affairs in the Detroit area. She was a member of the board of trustees of Barnard College, one of the founding trustees of Oakland College, Rochester, a member of the Detroit Urban League, as well as a volunteer at the Merrill-Palmer Institute and at Michigan State University. She was best known, however, as the founder of the Supreme Court of the United States Historical Society in 1972 and served as its president until 1979.

Elizabeth Gossett died of pneumonia on April 21, 1981 at the age of seventy-three. She had lived for fifty-eight years on insulin. Her life had been full and active and she believed that few of her friends or associates knew of her diabetic condition.

Elizabeth Gossett was interviewed by Michael Bliss in the course of research for his book, The Discovery of Insulin (Toronto: 1982). Bliss quoted from several of her letters in his book. Elizabeth's story was also an important part of the Canadian television docudrama, Glory Enough for All. Her original letters remained with her family after her death until donated by her husband in 1996.

Scope and Content: Papers contain letters written by Elizabeth Hughes (1907-1981) to her mother, Antoinette (Mrs. Charles E.) Hughes, describing her activities and giving information about her health and diabetic condition. Letters dating from August to November 1922 describe Elizabeth's experiences in Toronto where she was treated with insulin by F.G. Banting. Collection includes one letter written by Elizabeth's nurse, Blanche Burgess, enclosing a letter from Dr. F.M. Allen. Papers also include 22 photographs of Elizabeth Hughes and her family, dating from 1907 to 1951, and a commemorative medal struck by the Eli Lilly Company in 1995.

The letters fall into four groups: 12 letters from Glens Falls, N.Y., summer 1921; 22 letters from Bermuda, Jan.-June 1922; 18 letters from Toronto, Aug. -Nov. 1922; 1 letter from Glens Falls, N.Y., Sept. 1923.

There are 11 original photographs of Elizabeth Hughes as a child and young girl, donated by her nephew, Theodore Hughes Waddell. 11 others have been copied for the collection from originals in the C.E. Hughes Papers in the Library of Congress and in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Several later letters written by Elizabeth Hughes and her mother to Dr. Banting are in the Library's Banting Papers together with several photographs, clippings, and charts (Manuscript Collection 76, Box 8A; Scrapbooks).

 

The collection is arranged in 4 series:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Biographical Materials (Printed)
  3. Photographs
  4. Medals
Source of title: Title based on contents of collection
Restrictions on access:

W. Thomas Gossett, Jr. should be consulted for permission to publish the letters. Some photographs of Elizabeth Hughes have been copied from originals in the Supreme Court of the United States and in the Library of Congress, no reproductions of these copy photographs can be made without permission from the institution where the originals are held.

Related groups of material: For additional information about Elizabeth Hughes and other early diabetic patients see also Banting Papers, Manuscript Collection 76, held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Source of acquisition: The letters were donated in 1996 to the Fisher Library by Elizabeth Hughes' husband, William T. Gossett, and their children: W. Thomas Gossett, Jr., Antoinette Carter (Gossett) Denning, and Elizabeth Evans (Gossett) Karaman. The original photographs were donated in 1996 by Theodore Hughes Waddell, a nephew of Elizabeth Hughes.

Accessions: 1996
Finding aids: Detailed finding aid available at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library reference desk
Arrangement: The collection arrived at the library in random order and was sorted into the above series by the Library.
Repository: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Digitized Items: