Herbert Abrams was an emeritus professor of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, a senior research fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and a prolific author of books and scholarly articles. He contributed greatly to the Stanford community through his interests in diagnostic radiology and nuclear weapons. In this three-part interview, Abrams discussed his youth in New York, his residency and teaching experience at Stanford’s medical school, and how his interest shifted from radiology to nuclear weapons research and activism.
Abrams described his childhood in Brooklyn, centering his discussion on his family and his high school years. His family’s love of language seemingly influenced Abrams to pursue an English major and to work for a variety of newspapers and journals at Cornell University, ultimately taking a job after graduation as a newsreel media analyst for the government. Although his interest in Freudian literature prompted Abrams to apply to medical school, once enrolled at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, he quickly redirected his efforts from psychiatry to radiology.
Abrams provided valuable details about Stanford’s original medical school in San Francisco. From 1948 until 1959, Abrams served first as a resident and then as a professor at San Francisco General Hospital and Stanford Lane Hospital. Abrams found the experience both challenging and exciting because, due to the small-staff environment, faculty acted as both administrators and clinicians. Abrams also discussed the increasing importance of faculty research efforts after the medical school moved to the Stanford campus in 1959, highlighting developments in biplane imagery, catheter procedures, and radiation effect studies.
Against the backdrop of his move from Stanford to Harvard, Abrams turned his attention to his longstanding interest in social activism and growing concern regarding nuclear weapons. Although he previously worked with the Physicians for Social Responsibility group, Abrams’ efforts pivoted towards promoting a more international organization called the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. This group studied all matters related to nuclear weapons, worked to raise awareness, and educated Congress about the effects of nuclear war.
Abrams went on to discuss his return to Stanford in 1985 and his continued shift from a focus on diagnostic radiology to nuclear weapons research and activism. Increasingly, Abrams spent time at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation studying the effects of nuclear weapons exposure and the intersection of weapons access and mental health. In conclusion, Abrams addressed the need to educate the public about present-day nuclear threats and discussed the various leisure interests he pursued in this post-retirement period.
Herbert Abrams, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, medicine, and Nobel Peace Prize
June 5, 2015 - June 17, 2015
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012