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Detailed Record


Jefferson Lewis Collection

Jefferson Lewis Collection

Physical Description

5.1 m of textual records. -- ca. 300 photographs. -- 11 magnetic tape sound recordings. -- 6 cassette tapes.


[ca. 1860] – 1981; predominantly 1907-1981.

Biographical Sketch / Administrative History

Howard Jefferson Lewis, also known as H. Jefferson Lewis, and commonly Jefferson Lewis, was born in Montreal in 1951. He was the son of Crosby Lewis and Ruth Mary Penfield Lewis, the daughter of renowned neurosurgeon Wilder Graves Penfield. Lewis was educated in Europe and the United States, and graduated with a degree in Film Studies from Queen’s University in 1972. He worked as a journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, Southam News Service, and CBC Radio. Following the death of his grandfather in 1976, Lewis undertook writing a biography of Penfield, which resulted in Something Hidden: A Biography of Wilder Penfield (Toronto: Doubleday) published in 1981. The biography was later turned into a screenplay and a movie produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board of Canada. In subsequent years, he worked as a producer and wrote and directed short dramas, whose themes frequently revolved around Canadian subjects. Lewis married Catherine Ann Keachie in 1976. The couple had one daughter, Cleo Lewis.

Wilder Graves Penfield was born on January 26, 1891 in Spokane, Washington. He was one of three children born to Charles Samuel, the town physician, and Jean Jefferson Penfield. At the age of 8 his parents separated and he returned with his mother to her hometown of Hudson, Wisconsin where he spent the remaining years of his childhood. He attended the Galahad School, graduating in 1909 at the head of his class. Penfield received his B.Litt. from Princeton University in 1913 and was a Rhodes Scholar (B.A. 1916). He received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1918. It was while he was studying under Sir Charles Sherrington at Oxford, that Penfield became interested in the brain. From 1921 to 1928 he conducted research and practiced neurosurgery at the Presbyterian Hospital, and served on the Medical Faculty of Columbia University. Appointed to the Medical Faculty of McGill University in 1928, he was Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery from 1934 to 1960. An endowment from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled him to establish the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), which opened in 1934. While at the MNI, Penfield made many important discoveries in neurosurgery including a surgical treatment for epilepsy. He devoted much of his research to the physiology of the brain, speech memory, and sensation. Besides his numerous scientific publications, Penfield wrote two novels and participated in a large number of professional organizations, including sitting on the Board of Curators of the Osler Library. On April 5th, 1976, Penfield died of abdominal cancer at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal.

Helen Katherine Penfield (neé Kermott) was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin to Dr. Edward Kermott of Hudson, Wisconsin and Mary (neé McCorkle) Kermott of Southhampton, Long Island, on March 8, 1891. She studied at Milwaukee-Downer College, a women’s college in Wisconsin, to become a teacher. Helen married Wilder Graves Penfield on June 16, 1917 during his first year of study at John Hopkins Medical School. Several weeks after their wedding, the newlyweds sailed to France where they both worked in an American Red Cross Hospital. The couple had four children: Wilder Jr., born 1918; Ruthmary, born 1919; Priscilla, born 1926; and Amos Jefferson, born 1927. In later years, Helen traveled widely with her husband. She passed away on August 18, 1978 in Montreal.

Scope and Content

This collection is divided into material either by, or about, Wilder Graves Penfield. The material was collected by Lewis in order to write his biography. The fonds also includes materials associated with Mr. Lewis’ writing of the biography. The Penfield material is organized by family member, with the largest portion belonging to Wilder Penfield and his wife Helen Penfield. This material is largely personal in nature. It consists of originals and photocopies of diaries, as well as personal correspondence between Penfield and his wife, family photographs, and ephemera from a variety of social and professional events. There is also a small selection of personal correspondence between family members. Lewis created drafts, revisions, letters concerning the development of the screenplay, and research material. Correspondence between Lewis and the family is contained in the material covering personal family matters.

Finding Aids

Inventory list is available.

Custodial History

The materials in the collection were assembled by Jefferson Lewis for the purpose of writing his biography of Penfield, Something Hidden. The material belonging to Wilder Penfield was left in the care of his literary executors, Wilder Penfield Jr. and Ruthmary Penfield, who granted access to Jefferson Lewis (son of Ruthmary Penfield) to write an authorized biography of his life. Lewis gathered additional material directly from other members of the Penfield family. In the course of researching his biography he also solicited and received a small quantity of material from acquaintances of the Penfield family, which he added to the collection. When Lewis was finished with the material, he donated it together with the material he generated writing the biography to the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University in 1987.


Primarily English; some correspondence, news clippings, and other miscellany are in French, Chinese, and German.

Source of Supplied Title Proper

Title based on contents of the collection.

Retrieval Number




Cone, William Vernon, 1897-1959
Lewis, H. Jefferson, 1951-1978
McGill University Doctors
Montreal Neurological Institute
Penfield, Wilder, 1891-1976