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Papers of Lawrence Kolb Sr., Addiction Research Pioneer, Now Digitized!

The National Library of Medicine has announced the completion of its third collaborative digitization project with Gale/Cengage Learning’s Archives Unbound service. Narcotic Addiction and Mental Health: The Clinical Papers of Lawrence Kolb Sr., a searchable online collection of 15,000 images drawn from the personal and professional papers of a pioneer in the medical approach to narcotics addiction treatment, and in public health research and treatment of mental illness, is now freely available within the NLM’s History of Medicine reading room and via local libraries with subscriptions to Archives Unbound.

The National Library of Medicine’s previous collaborations with Archives Unbound, completed in 2012, include AIDS Crisis: Records of the National Commission on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 19831994 and Development of Environmental Health Policy: Pope A. Lawrence Papers 19241983. The newly-digitized Kolb collection deals chiefly with the subjects of drug addiction, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency, and mental health. Although parts of the collection were not digitized due to the patient privacy, privacy of Kolb’s coworkers, and copyright concerns around specific documents, the entire collection is available to researchers at the National Library of Medicine. The complete finding aid for the Kolb papers is available free from the National Library of Medicine, and researchers are cordially invited to visit the Library to consult the collection directly.

Dr. Lawrence Kolb was born in Galesville, Maryland, on February 20, 1881, and graduated from the University of Maryland medical school in 1908. The next year he was commissioned an Assistant Surgeon in the Public Health Service. From 1913 to 1919, he was stationed at the Ellis Island, New York Immigration Station, specializing in the mental disease and illness of incoming immigrants. During this same period, he also developed a program for the study and treatment of post-World War I patients suffering from war-caused neuroses. In 1923, Dr. Kolb came to Washington, D.C. and spent five years studying drug addiction and its relationship to crime. He was one of the first to advocate treating drug addicts as patients, not criminals. By 1934, Dr. Kolb was an international expert in the study of psychiatry and narcotics, and was appointed head of the Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky to lead the U.S. government’s first experimental unit for treating drug addicts. His final duty station was as Chief of the Public Health Service Mental Hygiene Division from 1938–1944. He was promoted to Assistant Surgeon General in 1942. His work there, along with that of Dr. Thomas Parran, led to the creation of the National Institute for Mental Health in 1946.

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