Embryology History - Charles Minot

From Embryology


Charles Sedgwick Minot (1852–1914)

Charles Sedgwick Minot (1852–1914) was an American anatomist and embryologist. In 1883 he was appointed instructor in histology and embryology in the Harvard Medical School.

His embryological collection, The Harvard Embryological Collection (the Minot Collection) now forms part of the Carnegie collection.

Minot Links: Harvard Collection | 1889 Uterus And Embryo - Rabbit | 1905 Harvard Embryological Collection |1897 Human Embryology | 1903 A Laboratory Text-Book of Embryology | 1905 Normal Plates of Rabbit Embryo Development | Category:Charles Minot
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Related Histology Researchers  
Santiago Ramón y Cajal | Camillo Golgi

Harvard Collection

Minot microtome (1888)
Harvard collection.jpg

Harvard collection storage cabinet[1]

The collection of serial sections of embryos in the Embryological Laboratory of the Medical School has now grown to sufficient size to render clear the scope of the collection, and to enable us to form some estimate of its usefulness in facilitating study and promoting research. At this date it comprises nine hundred and thirty-seven series. The plan which has been followed was drawn up in 1895, and its execution was begun in January, I896, and since that time work on the enlargemeent of the collection has been unremitting, although, of course, many other duties had to receive attention in the laboratory; the preparation of serial sections being only one of the things to be attended to in the course of the regular work. Our means have not hitherto permitted us to employ assistance which should be devoted exclusively to the development of the collection. In spite of these difficulties, however, the actual achievement may, I think, be regarded as encouraging.

(Text from The Harvard Embryological Collection (1905),

Links: Harvard Collection

Human Embryology (1897)

Human Embryology: Introduction | The Uterus | General Outline of Human Development | The Genital Products | History of the Genoblasts and the Theory of Sex | The Germ-Layers | Segmentation | Primitive Streak | Mesoderm and the Coelom | Germ-Layers General Remarks | The Embryo | The Medullary Groove, Notochord and Neurenteric Canals | Coelom Divisions; Mesenchyma Origin | Blood, Blood-Vessels and Heart Origin | Urogenital System Origin | The Archenteron and the Gill Clefts | Germinal Area, the Embryo and its Appendages | The Foetal Appendages | Chorion | Amnion and Proamnion | The Yolk Sack, Allantois and Umbilical Cord | Placenta | The Foetus | Growth and External Development Embryo and Foetus | Mesenchymal Tissues | Skeleton and Limbs | Muscular System | Splanchnocoele and Diaphragm | Urogenital System | Transformations of the Heart and Blood-Vessels | The Epidermal System | Mouth Cavity and Face | The Nervous System | Sense Organs | Entodermal Canal | Figures | References | Embryology History

"The following attempt to present a comprehensive summary of Embryology, as it bears upon the problems of human development, is the result of ten years' labor. I have endeavored to become familiar with the principal facts by my own observation, and with the results of the principal numerous investigations, working over the material into satisfactory form. The reader will find, nevertheless, imperfections of which I am conscious, and perhaps errors, for which I must be responsible. There is probably not a page which might not be enriched with facts already recorded by investigators; certainly not a page which would not be improved by further revision. Notwithstanding these defects, I have the hope that the book will be a useful contribution toward that final and exhaustive collation of embryological facts which the future alone can give us."
Human Embryology (1897) title page
Human Embryology (1897) title page

A Laboratory Text-Book Of Embryology (1903)

Minot CS. A Laboratory Text-Book Of Embryology. (1903) Philadelphia:P. Blakiston's Son & Co.
A Laboratory Text-Book of Embryology: 1. General Conceptions | 2. Early Development of Mammals | 3. Human Embryo | 4. Pig Embryos | 5. Chick Embryos | 6. Blastodermic Vesicle and Ovum Segmentation | 7. Uterus and the Foetal Appendages in Man | 8. Methods | Figures | Second edition | Category:Charles Minot

"The accompanying volume is intended primarily for the use of students, taking a practical laboratory course in Embryology. The author's experience has led him to believe that the study of carefully selected sections of embryos, accompanied by directions and explanations of the significant structures in each section, offers many advantages. This conviction has determined the arrangement of the book. Attention is given chiefly to such points as serve to explain adult anatomical relations, to illustrate general biological principles, and to afford insight into pathological processes."
A Laboratory Text-Book Of Embryology (1903) title page

Charles Sedgwick Minot Memorial

Charles Sedgwick Minot (1852–1914)
Address before the Boston Society of Natural History at a memorial meeting held on March 17, 1915.[2]
(See also National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America - Biographical Memoirs Part Of Volume IX Biographical Memoir of (Charles Sedgwick Minot 1852-1914))

I wish to dwell in this paper not on the scientific attainments and successes of Charles Sedgwick Minot, but on the mental and moral qualities which his career illustrates and which made him what he was.

Young Minot did not follow the traditional course of education for the son of a well-to-do Boston lawyer. He did not go to Harvard College, but to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his first degree, that of bachelor of science, was obtained from that technical school. His major subject in that school was not the common one of engineering, but the uncommon one of natural history. He later pursued his studies in this unusual subject at Leipzig, Wiirzburg and Paris. Then, returning to Boston, he took the degree of doctor of science at Harvard University in 1878, again in the subject of natural history. His education, therefore, showed his determination in following his bent, and his independence in parting from his boyhood associates and his family's habitual practise in regard to the education of sons.

Then, as now, the only career open to students of natural history was a professorship in some branch of that subject, but this was not the career to which Minot looked forward. His studies were all histological and embryological, and their most practical and useful applications seemed to him to lie somewhere in the field of medical science and education.

Two years later he accepted two appointments in connection with Harvard University ; one an appointment as lecturer in embryology in the medical school; the other an appointment as instructor in oral pathology and surgery in the dental school.

These appointments were procured for him with some difficulty, for he was not a doctor of medicine, and it was an unwelcome idea for the medical faculty that any instruction whatever should be given in the medical school by a person who had never taken the degree of doctor of medicine.

He accepted both these appointments with alacrity, although dentistry was not recognized then as a medical specialty, and immediately showed himself to be a competent lecturer and laboratory teacher in subjects which depended on the facile use of the microscope by both teacher and students. The place he took in the dental school had, just previously, been filled by Arthur Tracy Cabot, who had shown by his acceptance of that appointment his sympathy with the efforts of the university to lift and improve the dental school and the dental profession, and his prophetic belief that the relations between dentistry and clinical medicine were to become much more intimate than they had been.

In 1883, Minot was advanced to the position of instructor in histology and embryology, and this subject was given a satisfactory place in the curriculum of the medical school. There was still resistance to the appointment of a teacher who did not hold the degree of doctor of medicine, but Minot had, in three years, proved not only that he was the vigorous teacher, but that he had business qualities which would make him a remarkably good director of a laboratory for the instruction of medical students. He devised an excellent method of buying microscopes for the whole class and loaning them to students for a term fee which was sufficient to keep every microscope in repair and in time to repay their whole cost.

He studied every detail of the furniture and fittings of a medical laboratory and decided on the shape and the size of the desk room which each student needed. He made highly intelligent use of the card catalogue for his growing collection of embryological specimens, for his library and for his student records. He became expert in everything relating to the conduct of a laboratory and set a good example to all the other teachers who were conducting laboratories in the medical school. As the school was then in the process of changing from a school in which the lecture predominated to a school in which the laboratory predominated, Minot became more and more useful to the medical school as a whole.

In the year 1887, it was possible to appoint him to an assistant professorship of histology and embryology. At the expiration of the usual term for an assistant professor (five years) he was made professor of histology and human embryology, and in this appointment, with its new title, Minot 's special subjects and his high merits both in teaching and in research were fully recognized.

Between 1881 and 1883, the medical faculty planned and erected a new building for its own use on Boylston Street, at the eorner of Exeter Street — a building in which laboratories occupied a large part. Minot obtained for his courses an excellent laboratory of his own planning. There, in twenty years, he built up his unique embryological collection; a monument to his insight, skill, industry and power of inspiring others with his own zeal. In less than twenty years this building became inadequate for the best development of the medical school, and the new buildings of 1905 began to be planned. The fundamental consideration in planning and constructing the new buildings was to adapt them thoroughly to the new method of instruction in medicine— a method which relied chiefly on individual instruction and laboratory work. Minot's careful study of the best laboratory conditions for small sections, in welllighted and well-ventilated rooms, with a desk for each student, was taken up again and contributed much to the final success of the architect's plans. The accommodations for the department of histology and human embryology conformed to Minot's conception of the present and future needs of his department and served as a type for the laboratories of other departments in the school.

It became possible to enlarge the number of teachers employed in the department, and its intimate connection with the teaching of anatomy was recognized. When Dr. Thomas Dwight, professor of anatomy since 1883, died in 1911, the school was fully prepared to recognize the fact that anatomy and histology belonged together. In the mean time, the James Stillman professorship of comparative anatomy had been endowed and to that Professor Minot had been transferred in 1905. No professor of anatomy was appointed to succeed Dr. Dwight, but in 1912 Minot was made director of the anatomical laboratories in the Harvard Medical School. This action of the faculty and the corporation crowned Minot 's professional career as a student and teacher of natural history, applied in medical education. By clear merit he had made his way and the way of his department in the school and without a medical degree had become the head of anatomical teaching in a medical school. Under him in the anatomical department were two assistant professors, one of whom was called assistant professor of anatomy and the other of histology. Fourteen other teachers were employed in the department of anatomy and histology, three of whom bore the title of histology and embryology, Minot 's original subjects in the medical school.

Minot's advance through the medical school was not facilitated by a yielding or compromising disposition, or any practise of that sort on his part. On the contrary, he pursued his ends with clear-sighted intensity and indomitable persistence ; suavity and geniality were not his leading characteristics in discussion or competition and he often found it hard to see that his opponent had some reason on his side. Like most independent and resolute thinkers, he had confidence in the soundness of his own reasoning, and in the justice of the cause or movement he had espoused.

He was upright in every sense of that word. His loyalty was firm and undeviating, whether to an ideal or a person or an institution, and affection and devotion, once planted in his breast, held for good and all.

His book on "Human Embryology" published in 1892 made him famous throughout the learned world, so that he was elected to learned societies in Great Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Belgium; as well as to all appropriate American societies. He also received honorary degrees from the universities of St. Andrew's (Scotland), Oxford (England), Toronto (Canada), and Yale. He enjoyed calmly and simply the honours thus paid to his scientific attainments and services by well informed and impartial judges.

In 1913" he was Harvard exchange professor at the universities of Berlin and Vienna, where he gladly availed himself of many opportunities to expound to his German colleagues the advances in natural history, including medicine, which were due to American investigators.

His hair and beard were now whitening, but he felt all the ardors of youth, and among them, fervid patriotism. In scientific investigation Minot showed imagination, penetration and eagerness, but also caution. In 1907 he gave a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute on "Age, Growth and Death" and made them the basis of a book published the following year. For him, the subject meant cell metamorphosis, with which he had been familiar through all his studies in histology and embryology, but what he sought in this subject of "Age, Growth and Death" was a scientific solution of the problem of old age which should have — I quote his words— "in our minds, the character of a safe, sound and trustworthy biological conclusion." He ventured to think that some contemporary students of the phenomena of longevity had failed to exercise sufficient caution in forming their conclusions. Nevertheless, Minot was a scientific optimist; full of hope for perpetual progress and for useful results at many stages of the long way. These characteristics appeared clearly in the following passage, taken from the first lecture of that course at the Lowell Institute :

I hope before I finish to convince you that we are already able to establish certain significant generalizations as to what is essential in the change from youth to old age, and that in consequence of these generalizations now possible to us new problems present themselves to our minds, which we hope really to be able to solve, and that in the solving of them we shall gain a sort of knowledge which is likely to be not only highly interesting to the scientific biologist, but also to prove in the end of great praetieal value.

There spoke the cautious, modest, hopeful scientist, expectant of good. Such is the faith which inspires the devoted lives of scientific inquirers.

Charles W. Eliot


  1. Minot CS. The Harvard embryological collection. (1905) J Med Res. Aug;13(5):499-522.1. PMID 19971684 | PMC2099155 | PDF
  2. C W Eliot CHARLES SEDGWICK MINOT. Science: 1915, 41(1063);701-4 PubMed 17813343

Minot CS. Origin of mesoderm. (1883) Science 2(47);815-8 . PMID 17776824

Minot CS. Primitive streak of vertebrates. (1883) Science 2(25);105 . PMID 17733855

Minot CS. Development of the thyroid and thymus glands and the tongue. (1884) Science 3(71);725-6. PMID 17806512

Minot CS. Uterus And Embryo - I. Rabbit II. Man. (1889)

Minot CS. Human Embryology. (1897) London: The Macmillan Company.

Minot CS. The study of mammalian embryology. (1900) The American Naturalist, 34(408): 913-941.

Minot CS. The embryological basis of pathology. (1901) Science 13(326);481-98. PMID 17791097

Minot CS. A Laboratory Text-Book Of Embryology. (1903) Philadelphia:P. Blakiston's Son & Co.

Minot CS. Implantation of the human ovum in the uterus. (1904) Trans. Am. Gynec. Soc., Philadelphia, 29: 395-402.

Minot CS. The Harvard embryological collection. (1905) J Med Res. Aug;13(5):499-522.1. PMID 19971684 | PMC2099155 | PDF


Charles Sedgwick Minot ON THE SOLID STAGE OF THE LARGE INTESTINE IN THE CHICK, WITH A NOTE ON THE GANGLION COLI. J Boston Soc Med Sci: 1900, 4(7);153-164 PubMed 19971291

Charles S Minot CLASSIFICATION OF TISSUES. J Boston Soc Med Sci: 1899, 4(3);43-46 PubMed 19971266

C S Minot LITERARY EMBRYOLOGY. Science: 1897, 6(146);595-6 PubMed 17801166

C S Minot COMPOSITION OF THE MESODERM. Science: 1883, 2(22);11 PubMed 17782174

C S Minot EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF REPTILES. Science: 1883, 1(18);511-2 PubMed 17735427

Search PubMed: Minot CS

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  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs Charles Minot (1920)

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