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Register of the Sylvester M. Lambert Papers MSS 682
MSS 682  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content
  • Biography

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Sylvester M. Lambert Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 682
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 5.9 Linear feet 9 archives boxes, 5 card file boxes, 7 oversize folders, 1 mapcase folder
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1918-1947
    Date (inclusive): 1883-1959
    Abstract: The papers of American physician Sylvester Maxwell Lambert (1882-1947) relate primarily to his public health work for the International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation. He worked in this capacity in Oceania between 1918 and 1939, documenting the prevalence of hookworm and working to eradicate ankylostomiasis (hookworm disease). The bulk of the collection is Lambert's research materials, which comprise first-hand accounts written by both Lambert and his aides, and were used as references for Lambert’s memoir A Yankee Doctor in Paradise, co-written by Wallace Irwin. Other significant series are correspondence, Lambert's medical and personal writings, and photographs and lantern slides documenting primarily Pacific Islanders and village scenes.

    Scope and Content

    The papers of Sylvester M. Lambert relate primarily to Lambert’s experiences working as a physician for the International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation in Oceania between 1918 and 1939. Because Wallace Irwin used these materials to write A Yankee Doctor in Paradise, Irwin's notes can be found throughout the collection, particularly in the Research Materials and Diaries series. While the bulk of the papers date from 1918 to 1945, the papers themselves span from an 1883 Lambert family letter to a 1959 letter from Central Medical School officials to Lambert’s wife. The papers comprise 5.9 linear feet and are arranged in ten series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) RESEARCH MATERIALS AND DIARIES, 3) WRITINGS BY LAMBERT, 4) WRITINGS BY OTHERS, 5) MAPS, 6) NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS, 7) MISCELLANEOUS, 8) CAPTIONED ENVELOPES AND LISTS, 9) PHOTOGRAPHS, and 10) LANTERN SLIDES.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series is arranged alphabetically and includes letters from Templeton Crocker; Victor Heiser, Lambert’s supervisor at the Rockefeller Foundation; extensive correspondence dating from 1927 to 1940 with Reverend Frederick J. Paton, based in Vanuatu; and diary letters from Lambert to his wife, Eloisa Tays Lambert, dating from 1938 to 1942.
    The RESEARCH MATERIALS AND DIARIES series was originally arranged by Irwin into geographical groupings relating to chapters in A Yankee Doctor in Paradise. The processor maintained geographical groupings, arranging the series alphabetically by geography using current geographical names. This series contains Lambert’s notes, as well as handwritten and typed diaries by Lambert and others. Wallace Irwin’s handwritten notes relating to A Yankee Doctor in Paradise can be found throughout the series, both on Lambert’s original materials and on separate pages. Research materials are arranged in sixteen subseries: A) Australia, B) Cook Islands, C) Fiji, D) Kiribati and Tuvalu (Gilbert and Ellice Islands), E) Kiritimati (Christmas Island, part of Kiribati), F) New Zealand, G) Niue, H) Oceania, I) Papua New Guinea (New Guinea Territory), J) Papua New Guinea (Papua), K) Rennell Island (part of Solomon Islands), L) Samoa (including Western Samoa and American Samoa), M) Solomon Islands, N) Tonga, O) Vanuatu (New Hebrides), and P) Unidentified.
    A) The Australia subseries contains Lambert’s undated, untitled, typed recollection of his initial voyage in 1918 to Australia.
    B) The Cook Islands subseries includes Lambert’s notes covering fishing practices, Rarotonga, and the origins of Cook Islands natives, among other subjects.
    C) The Fiji subseries includes written and typed notes on the Central Medical School, leprosy, and the native medical practitioner Malakai Veisamasama, in addition to other subjects, as well as an excerpt from Lambert’s typed diary from 1942.
    D) The Kiribati and Tuvalu (Gilbert and Ellice Islands) subseries comprises Lambert’s general notes including ruminations on the anthropological differences between natives of Kiribati and those of Tuvalu, and a letter diary to Lambert’s daughter, Harriet Lambert dated March 12, 1924.
    E) The Kiritimati (Christmas Island, Kiribati) subseries contains a writing by Lambert on the establishment of government authority on Kiritimati.
    F) The New Zealand subseries contains Lambert’s handwritten daily diary dating from February 15 to March 15, 1937.
    G) The Niue subseries contains Lambert’s 1938 typed daily diary and his typed geographical and sociological notes.
    H) The Oceania subseries comprises Lambert’s typed transcriptions of published travels to Oceania.
    I) The Papua New Guinea (New Guinea Territory) subseries contains primarily typed diaries dating 1920-1921 from members of Lambert’s research team detailing hookworm treatments given to natives of New Guinea Territory. Subseries also includes Lambert’s handwritten and typed notes.
    J) The Papua New Guinea (Papua) subseries contains a 1920 typed letter diary from K. D. Fooks and another typed diary from an unidentified author, in addition to general notes on Papua and Lambert’s answers to Irwin’s queries on Papua.
    K) The Rennell Island subseries includes notes on Lambert’s first trip to Rennell Island in 1930, his second trip in 1933 with Templeton Crocker, and Lambert’s typed 1933 daily diary.
    L) The Samoa subseries comprises general notes on the Samoan Islands including the 1924 health survey conducted there and notes on a lecture on the position of women in Samoan cultures.
    M) The Solomon Islands subseries includes Lambert’s 1933 typed daily diary and notes on Lambert’s first trip to the Solomon Islands, in addition to typed excerpts from others’ reports on the Solomon Islands in 1928 and 1933.
    N) The Tonga subseries comprises typed notes on the culture and history of Tonga and includes a genealogical chart of Tongan royalty.
    O) The Vanuatu (New Hebrides) subseries includes daily diaries by Lambert and others dating from 1925 and 1929 and typed and handwritten notes on the health surveys conducted in Vanuatu.
    P) The Unidentified subseries includes notes in Lambert’s handwriting.
    The WRITINGS BY LAMBERT series is arranged in two subseries: A) Articles and B) A Yankee Doctor in Paradise.
    A) The Articles subseries includes typescripts and some published journal articles pertaining to his studies in the Pacific Islands. The subjects range from health surveys of island groups to case studies on the treatment of hookworm disease and soil sanitation issues. There are also articles written about Pidgin and some written in Pidgin.
    B) The A Yankee Doctor in Paradise subseries contains book contracts, notes from both Lambert and Irwin on items in the book, and typescript drafts of the book. Also included is correspondence with the publishers, extensive correspondence between Irwin and Lambert, and letters from readers. Lambert used a clipping service for reviews of the book that are included with his own newspaper clippings.
    The WRITINGS BY OTHERS series is arranged alphabetically by author and includes primarily articles pertaining to health and medical conditions in Oceania, some with Lambert's hand written notes on them. Also included are some International Board of Health publications dating from 1917, 1918 and 1922.
    Series 5: MAPS
    The MAPS series is arranged alphabetically by geography and contains primarily oversized maps from island groups in Oceania. The maps have handwriting indicating incidents of hookworm or malaria, location, and number of cases. Irwin used one of the maps of the Pacific Ocean Islands to trace Lambert’s journeys.
    The NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS series comprises biographical newspaper clippings, clippings dating 1917-1922 on the hookworm campaign, and articles relating to the debate about the effectiveness of vaccinations. Four folders contain unorganized loose articles primarily on events occurring in Oceania.
    The MISCELLANEOUS series is arranged alphabetically and includes autobiographical essays by Lambert, a genealogical chart of the Lambert family, and ten posters Lambert used in the hookworm disease lectures he conducted on the islands.
    The CAPTIONED ENVELOPES AND LISTS series is arranged alphabetically by geography. The captions on the envelopes describe the negatives they housed. There are also three lists with three separate series of captions. When possible, captioned envelopes and lists include the identifying number of the matching photographs contained within the PHOTOGRAPHS series.
    Series 9: PHOTOGRAPHS
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series contain approximately 2,700 black and white prints. The bulk are arranged alphabetically by geography. The photographs, taken by both Lambert and his aides, depict primarily Pacific Islanders and village scenes, with added images of medical research, health care and patients, and other subjects. 1,270 of the photographic negatives, representing about half of the total images have been digitized and are available through the California Digital Library's Online Archive of California website and the Digital Asset Management System of the UCSD Libraries.
    Series 10: LANTERN SLIDES
    The LANTERN SLIDES series contains 119 lantern slides maintained in their original order. The lantern slides were used by Lambert to to illustrate professional talks and public lectures in the United States. The slides depict primarily Rennell and Bellona Island people in 1930 and 1933, with a smaller number of slides of ni-Vanuatu, particularly Malekula people, dating from 1925. All of the lantern slides have been digitized and are available through the Online Archive of California and the UCSD Digital Asset Management System. A few of the Rennell slides are copies from the American Museum of Natural History.


    Born in New York on December 28, 1882, Sylvester M. Lambert graduated from Hamilton College in 1903 and from Syracuse University in medicine in 1908. During the summer of 1907, Lambert took a position as a medical nurse with the Southern Pacific Railroad in Mexico where he met Eloisa Tays, whom he married in 1912. After practicing medicine in Mexico until 1916, Lambert joined the United Fruit Company Medical Service in Costa Rica for two years. Twice during this time Lambert was rejected for commission in the Medical Service of the United States Government because of his poor eyesight, so he opted instead to join the Rockefeller Foundation in July of 1918.
    Sylvester Lambert spent two decades in the Pacific working as a public health doctor for the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board (which in 1927 became the International Health Commission). Lambert’s primary objective was the eradication of hookworm. In addition to administering hookworm treatments, Lambert and his team worked to reform sanitation systems and conducted health surveys encompassing malaria, leprosy, elephantiasis, yaws; and other medical conditions they encountered.
    Lambert’s initial work for the International Health Board was in Queensland in 1918-1919, where he served as acting director for Australasia. He spent 1920 in Papua (what is now southern Papua New Guinea) and the following year in New Guinea Territory and the Solomon Islands. Fiji became the headquarters from which he would work for the next seventeen years, but he continued to work throughout the Pacific, including Samoa, American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and return visits to the Solomon Islands, including Rennell and Bellona. His first visit to Rennell was made in 1930 with the Whitney South Sease Expedition. His second trip in 1933 was with Templeton Crocker, aboard Crocker’s yacht, the Zaca.
    Recognizing the advantages of training native medical practitioners, Lambert procured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for the expansion of the Suva Medical School, making it possible to enlarge its student body and allow for more students from outside Fiji. In 1928 the school reopened in new facilities under the name Central Medical School, now the Fiji School of Medicine.
    Lambert retired from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1939 and, with Wallace Irwin as his co-author, published in 1941 A Yankee Doctor in Paradise, his memoirs of his 20 years in Oceania. After his retirement, Lambert remained in Fiji for another two years before the political climate and fear for his safety forced him to return to the United States. Back in the U.S., the continued success of his book led to lecture tours throughout the country. He and his family settled in California, where Lambert died in 1947.