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John Allison Benjamin papers, 1925-1994
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Abbreviations
  • Access Points

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John Allison Benjamin Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1925-1994
    Manuscript Collection number: 1
    Origination: Benjamin, John A. (John Allison), 1906-
    Extent: 10 cartons + 1 box (12 linear ft.): 10 storage cartons (12 1/2" x 10" x 16 1/2"): containers #1 - #10; 1 storage box (21" x3" x17"): container #11
    Repository: Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library

    History and Special Collections Division
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA 90095-1798
    Shelf location: Held at SRLF. Please contact the History and Special Collections Division of the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library for paging information.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Mae Benjamin, 1983-1997.
    Dr. Benjamin's interest in and dedication to UCLA goes back to his undergraduate days on the Westwood campus. This commitment found a most generous expression in 1962 when he conveyed to the UCLA Librarian an interest in donating a collection of rare medical books of over 700 volumes. The book collection was formally accepted in 1964, presented in honor of two of Dr. Benjamin's UCLA professors, Bennet M. Allen and Boris Krichesky. Dr. & Mrs. Benjamin maintained their support of this collection over the subsequent 30 years with an additional 200 or so volumes, plus cash contributions. The personal and professional papers followed as gifts from Mrs. Benjamin after her husband's death, with the main bulk arriving in 1993 and other deposits in 1995 and 1997. Dr. Benjamin's correspondence with booksellers concerning his purchases of rare books made up boxes 17-20 of the original deposit.
    The full cataloging and listing of the Benjamin Collection of Medical History was begun immediately upon receipt and arrangement of the volumes, starting in 1963. A printed catalog of the collection was issued in 1964, with supplements added in 1966 and 1968. Preliminary sorting of the papers relating to the book purchases was begun by library staff soon after receipt of the materials.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: Advance notice required for access.

    Restrictions on Use

    Information on permission to reproduce, quote, or publish is available from the History and Special Collections Division.

    Preferred Citation

    [identification of item], John Allison Benjamin Papers (Manuscript collection 1). Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library, History & Special Collections Division, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4235743 

    Conservation Note

    Newspaper clippings and other brittle papers have been photocopied onto permanent durable paper. Photographs, x-rays, and reproductions have been sleeved in Mylar, as have the lantern slides. 35 mm slides have been placed into archival slide pages. Microfilm and film reels are housed in acid-free boxes.


    John Allison Benjamin (1906-Dec. 25, 1992), M.D., urologist, surgeon, scientist, teacher, collector of a treasure trove of rare books in the history of medicine and science, and generous benefactor, was a self-made man. Innate capability and a driving work ethic propelled him, not privileged birth or extraordinary opportunities. His intellectual drive and ambition led to contacts with men who would act as role models, mentors, and friends until he had achieved his own renown, when he in turn became a gifted and conscientious teacher and mentor.
    Dr. Benjamin had wide-ranging curiosity, interests, and achievements. First he was, according to many statements and hints to be found in these papers, a superb and warmly caring clinician; his patients seem to have adored him, and younger urologists gave credit to his example long after leaving his wards. Second, he was a very good scientist, doing animal experiments to further basic urological understanding; his work in developing cinematography of the urinary tract, in both dogs and humans, was pioneering. And third, with little background except some school Latin, through sheer perseverance and many hours of self study, he became a good historian of urology and a superb book collector, fashioning a well-focused collection of rare medical & scientific works that became renowned in its field.
    The professional recognition Dr. Benjamin received as clinician and scientist is well documented in the papers. He was a founder and president of the Society for Pediatric Urology, prominent in the American Urological Association and several of its regional sections, editorial board member of the Journal of Urology, author of many chapters and many, many papers in the literature of urology, including its history. As a book collector and benefactor he was also widely hailed. In 1964 Dr. Benjamin presented his library of over 700 volumes of classics in medicine and science to the Biomedical Library of the University of California, Los Angeles, and for many years thereafter he added priceless volumes to that collection.
    John A. Benjamin was born in Salmon, Idaho, the oldest of six children in a poor and troubled household. He attended the small local schools and escaped as soon as he was ready for college, to the home of relatives in Santa Ana, California. Commuting by streetcar, he entered UCLA at its old downtown location, a member of the first class to graduate, with a B.A. in Zoology, from the new Westwood campus in 1930. Then he entered The Johns Hopkins University Medical School, maintaining himself with money he had saved from working during college, further part-time jobs, and help from his So. California relatives. He received the M.D. degree in 1934.
    Urology was already his primary field of interest. During the summer of 1933 he was awarded a student fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation, International Health Division, to study venereal disease in the Southern U.S. After graduation he interned in genitourinary surgery and gynecology with Dr. Hugh Young in Baltimore for a year, and spent the following year as general surgery intern with Dr. T.F. Riggs of Pierre, So. Dakota. Then followed urological residency training at the University of Rochester Medical Center, from 1936 to 1939.
    After completion of his residency, Dr. Benjamin returned to Los Angeles to join the urology practice of Dr. E. Belt, where he stayed for two years. Elmer Belt served as a major role model -- not only as clinician and educator, but he also transferred his abiding fascination with the history of medicine and the collection of rare medical books to his young colleague. Dr. Benjamin himself stated that he owed his collecting drive to Dr. Belt's example.
    Dr. Benjamin next shifted to private practice in Portland, Oregon, from 1941 to 1942. But then he received an invitation, eagerly accepted, to join the faculty of the University of Rochester School of Medicine as Assistant Professor of Urological Surgery. At this time Dr. Benjamin married his second wife, Mae McElman Benjamin, with whom he celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary a few months before his death. He continued as a full-time faculty member until 1957, then as part-time clinical professor until his retirement in 1971; during all this time he had a busy private practice.
    The Benjamins moved back to So. California after retirement, but Dr. Benjamin soon grew restless with inactivity. Fortunately a professional friend grabbed the opportunity to recruit him, and in 1971 Dr. Benjamin joined the Department of Urology of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, where he practiced for seventeen more years.
    Dr. Benjamin was survived by his wife, Mae, his four children and six grandchildren.

    Scope and Content

    The bulk of this collection documents Dr. Benjamin's research and clinical activities, the research covering the urogenital systems of both humans and animals and historical/bibliographic topics. The papers mostly span the years from 1930 to 1988 --years of professional education and working life -- with a few earlier and later items. There are also translations, photocopies and microfilm of early classic publications, dating as far back as the 15th century. Perhaps one-eighth of all the material is concerned with the John A. Benjamin Collection of Medical History, including the correspondence with rare book dealers and with UCLA librarians from which a separate provenance database has been constructed. A smaller percentage of the material can be considered personal, concerning Dr. Benjamin's background, family, and friends.
    The provenance database contains information on author, title, place and date of publication, name of the source supplying the work, the date and price of purchase, and location of the pertinent documents within the collection, for each volume for which such information could be found. This information is available from the History & Special Collections Division, UCLA Biomedical Library.
    In addition to the paper documents, the collection contains well over 500 photographs, over 600 35 mm slides, over 200 lantern slides, eleven motion pictures, nine film strips, and numerous x-rays. There is also a 45 min. videotape of an interview with Dr. Benjamin sponsored by the American Urological Association which gives a wonderful capsule biography and insight into the man.
    Dr. Benjamin apparently made an effort to save all his papers, including multiple drafts and multiple copies of drafts of publications under development. Some of the material is handwritten, often on small cards or scraps of paper, and his handwriting was typical of the physician writing stereotype -- i.e., illegible. If they carried no additional notes or editing, multiple copies of typescripts were discarded by the processor; the same held for multiple copies of reprints. Duplication was also avoided as much as possible among the non-print materials, although there is still some overlap of images between photographs, 35 mm slides, and lantern slides.

    Organization and Arrangement

    The materials were arranged by the processor into seven series:
    • I. Early Study and Research (7 folders, 1930-1936)
    • II. Research, Teaching, Patient Care -- Urogenital System (92 folders, 1939-1991)
    • III. Research -- Historical & bibliographic (48 folders, 1940-1991)
    • IV. Supporting Research Materials (73 folders, 1934-1991)
    • V. The John A. Benjamin Collection of Rare Medical Books (38 folders, 1942-1993)
    • VI. Personal Materials (22 folders, 1925-1992)
    • VII. Nonprint Materials (ca. 500 photographs, ca. 50 x-rays, 11 motion pictures, 14 film strips, 660 35 mm slides, 206 glass lantern slides, 1 phonograph record, 1 videocassette, & 2 tie tacks, no dates). Series and subseries are arranged chronologically. The contents of boxes 1-8 and 11 are identified as "folders"; of box 9 as "film" or "film strip," etc.; of box 10 as "item." The Table of Contents preceding this section affords an overview of series and subseries.


    • JAB John Allison Benjamin
    • MTG Martha Teach Gnudi
    • KESD Katharine E.S. Donahue
    • JZ Jake Zeitlin
    • F Folder
    • I Item
    • FS film strip

    Access Points

    Benjamin, John A. (John Allison), 1906-
    Urogenital System.
    History of Medicine.
    Book Collecting.
    O'Malley, Charles Donald.
    Gnudi, Martha Teach, 1908-
    Belt, Elmer, 1893-1980.
    Young, Hugh, 1870-1945.
    Goodwin, Willard E.
    Steele, Victoria.
    Donahue, Katharine E. S.
    John A. Benjamin Collection of Medical History.
    American Urological Association.