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=Elmer Belt papers 1920-1980, bulk 1958-1978
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Elmer Belt Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1920-1980, bulk 1958-1978
    Collection number: 66
    Creator: Belt, Elmer 1893-1980
    Extent: 26 boxes (27 linear ft.)
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections for the Sciences
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1490
    Abstract: Elmer Belt, M.D. (1893-1980), was an internationally recognized urologist, a book lover who built and donated several important collections to universities including an unrivaled library of scholarly materials by and about Leonardo da Vinci, and a civic activist instrumental in the founding of the UCLA School of Medicine. His interests were wide and his energy unflagging. This collection of professional and personal papers, contributed by the estate of his nephew Willard Goodwin, M.D., illustrates Dr. Belt's intellectual interests, gracious concern for people of all stations, and his contributions to the science and practice of urology. Unfortunately severe mildew had attacked seven of the original 32 boxes of the gift and these had to be discarded.
    Physical location: Southern Regional Library Facility
    Language of Material: Collection materials in English


    The collection is open for research, but access to some materials are restricted due to patient or legal confidentiality protocols. If a folder is missing from its assigned box, have staff check the Restricted Files series. All materials are stored off site and require advance notice for use. Please contact History and Special Collections for the Sciences, UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, 310.825.6940, to arrange for use.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights in the physical objects belong to the UCLA Biomedical Library. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish if the Biomedical Library does not hold the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Elmer Belt Papers (Manuscript collection 66). Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library History and Special Collections for the Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 6312334 

    Acquisition Information

    Donated by the family of Willard Goodwin, M.D. (Dr. Belt's nephew) in 1999, after Dr. Goodwin's death. Materials had been stored in a basement for many years and some materials had to be discarded because of water and mold damage.

    Biographical Note

    Elmer Belt, M.D. (1893-1980), was a Los Angeles area urologist, bibliophile, and humanist who was instrumental in the founding of the School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). An avid book collector, Dr. Belt became an expert on Leonardo da Vinci and his time, amassing a large and important collection of books and other material related to da Vinci's life and work. He donated this collection to UCLA in 1961.
    Born Arthur Elmer Belt in Chicago, Illinois on April 10, 1893, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was nine and then to a small ranch in Orange County near Anaheim. Elmer Belt (the form of name he preferred) entered Los Angeles High School in 1907 and enrolled in Latin, a medical school prerequisite. There he met Ruth Smart whom, he said, he "never subsequently permitted out of my sight." The two were married in 1918. Belt began collecting books as a student in 1909 with works by Upton Sinclair; in 1934 he become involved with Sinclair's campaign for governor of California. The Upton Sinclair collection was eventually donated to Occidental College.
    Belt attended the University of California at Berkeley, obtaining a B.A. in 1916 and an M.A. in 1917. He attended the University of California Medical School in San Francisco and was chosen as a fellow of the Hooper Institute for Medical Research, working with Dr. George Whipple and Dr. Frank Hinman. After finishing medical school in 1920 Belt continued working in urology with Hinman. Early in his medical school career, Belt signed up for a non-credit elective course in the History of Medicine taught by Dr. George Washington Corner, an anatomist who had recently come to the University of California from Johns Hopkins. It was in this class that Belt developed his fascination and devotion to Leonardo da Vinci, inspiring the vast library of Vinciana he eventually donated to UCLA. Subsequently his collecting fervor also included Silas Weir Mitchell and Florence Nightingale and in the 1930s Belt began working with Los Angeles bookseller Jake Zeitlin to fulfill these and other ambitious collecting interests.
    After a year as Resident in Urology with Dr. Hinman in San Francisco, Dr. Belt spent a year as Resident in General Surgery at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, working under Dr. Harvey Cushing. In 1923, the Belts moved to Los Angeles where he began a private practice. He soon established the Elmer Belt Urologic Group, a group practice which moved to its own building on Wilshire Blvd. in 1936; the upper floor of this structure housed his ever-expanding library. From 1939 through 1954 Belt served as the President of the State Board of Public Health, having been first appointed by California Governor Culbert Olsen and then reappointed by Governor Earl Warren for each of Warren's three terms in office. Dr. Belt had privileges as a staff, attending, or consulting urologist at many hospitals around Los Angeles County and taught as Clinical Professor of Surgery (Urology) in the UCLA School of Medicine. He was greatly instrumental in the founding of the UCLA School of Medicine and finding its first dean, and continued as its staunch supporter for his whole life.
    Elmer Belt died on May 17, 1980 at age 87.

    Scope and Content

    When evaluating the scope and content of this collection, one should keep in mind: 1. Dr. Belt had wide interests and he had a strong collecting strain, which induced him to keep everything. 2. Almost a third of the original gift had to be discarded because of severe mildew damage. The discards included materials in all the series: correspondence, professional affiliations, subjects. [Note: A list of discarded folders identified as closely as possible, with approximate dates, was compiled when the collection first came to UCLA. This list is kept in the Collection Control File. Contact the Biomedical Library History and Special Collections for the Sciences office (310/825-6940) for further information]. 3. These 26 boxes are only one part of the Belt materials available on the UCLA campus. Additional collections are listed in the next section, "Related Materials".
    Much may be missing, but much is definitely still available. These papers give a full illustration of Belt as a physician, a surgeon, a caring and giving human being, a consummate politician, a supporter of causes, a husband, father, friend, and a person with a sharp wit and lively intellect. The contents of "Autobiographical and biographical anecdotes" [Folder 23, Box 11] give a flavor of the man.
    The professional and personal sides of his life were very closely intertwined and his extensive correspondence exemplifies this fact. One folder may contain a three-page, single-spaced exposition of a surgical technique developed by the Elmer Belt Urologic Group, next to birthday and Christmas cards, discussion of a professional society meeting, comments about a recent new book and a lecture given about da Vinci, and a letter of recommendation for the correspondent's son's college application. The materials show that Dr. Belt belonged to and was active in a huge number of societies and organizations - professional, political, and cultural; in addition to urology and Leonardo da Vinci, he cared deeply about public health, whales, snowy owls, local, state, and federal government, and more, and he was willing to put money and effort behind his causes. He also cared deeply about education, and libraries and, again, these concerns are represented by the papers. The UCLA material shows clearly his investment in the University, and the extraordinary support he gave to the campus and the Urology Department.
    Much of the material that had to be destroyed stemmed from the 1950s, and a 1958 fire in the group offices also did away with many earlier files; therefore the bulk of the collection is designated as 1958-1978. The arrangement within folders is often by date, with the latest materials in front, the way the original Belt files were arranged.
    The collection is organized into the following series:
    • Series 1. Professional Activities. 161 folders
    • Series 2. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 1943-1980. 135 folders
    • Series 3. University of California, 1958-1979. 7 folders
    • Series 4. Cultural and Personal Matters, 1920-1980. 136 folders
    • Series 5. Correspondence, 1946-1980. 298 folders
    • Series 6. Subjects, 1923-1979. 97 folders
    • Series 7. Restricted Files. 44 folders

    Related Material

    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS FOR THE SCIENCES. Manuscript Collection #1: "John A. Benjamin papers". Includes reprints of articles co-authored with Dr. Belt, a 16 mm. film on prostatectomy from the Elmer Belt Urologic Group, various photographs, correspondence and other items concerning Dr. Belt
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS FOR THE SCIENCES. Manuscript Collection #43: "Collection of material about Charles Huggins and correspondence with Elmer Belt and Willard E. Goodwin". Correspondence and subject files from urologists Elmer Belt and Willard E. Goodwin pertaining to Canadian oncologist Charles Brenton Huggins, Nobel Prize winner in 1966 for his discoveries concerning hormonal treatment of prostatic cancer. Belt's files span 1956-1977.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS FOR THE SCIENCES. Manuscript Collection #56: "Charles Donald O'Malley Papers". Some correspondence between the Belt and O'Malley.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY HISTORY AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS FOR THE SCIENCES. Manuscript Collection #181: "Sir William Osler Portrait by Seymour Thomas, and other Osler-Related Papers". Documents about the original portrait and the acquisition and presentation of the replica hung at UCLA, which was obtained through Dr. Elmer Belt's initiative and support. Includes one folder of Osleriana assembled by Elmer Belt and letters to and from him and Willard Goodwin.
    UCLA ARTS LIBRARY. "Elmer Belt Collection of correspondence, articles, photographs, etc." 286 boxes. "The Elmer Belt archive: guide to the collection" available at the Art Library Reference Desk.
    UCLA ARTS LIBRARY. "Surgeon and bibliophile: Elmer Belt"; edited transcriptions of 5 interviews recorded Nov. 1974-Mar. 1975 by Esther de Ve´csey.
    UCLA CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS. Collection 334: "Jake Zeitlin Papers". Contains Belt correspondence, photographs, book lists, and appraisals from 1935 on.
    UCLA CHARLES E. YOUNG RESEARCH LIBRARY DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS. Collection 573: "Willard E. Goodwin Papers". Contains extensive correspondence with Dr. Belt dating back to 1935, which is not duplicated in the Belt papers; also photographs and an audiocassette from the Belt memorial service
    UCLA ARTS LIBRARY. The Elmer Belt Library of Vinciana.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY. Elmer Belt Florence Nightingale collection.
    UCLA BIOMEDICAL LIBRARY. Elmer Belt S. Weir Mitchell Collection.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Elmer Belt Library of Vinciana.
    Belt, Elmer, 1893-1980
    Book collectors--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
    Surgeons--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
    Univeristy of California, Los Angeles. School of Medicine--History
    Urologists--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources