The Physiological Society

  • The Physiological Society
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The Physiological Society's archive documents the activities of The Society and includes administrative papers; minutes and agendas; proceedings of scientific meetings; files of individual officers; annual reports; and records relating to finance, governance, membership, animal welfare and legislation, and education.

The archive holds material from the foundation of The Society with minute books from 1876 and proposal books for candidates from 1888. However, the majority of the material is post-1939.

As there has been no particular method of sending Physiological Society material to the archives, overall its accrual has been quite patchy, often reflecting the varying retention priorities of the different officers.

The Society archive also includes The Society's photographic collection which was started by H E Lewis in his role as official photographer for the Society and further developed by Martin Rosenberg who took over this role in 1982. As well as Lewis and Rosenberg's pictures, the collection contains many photographs that were sent to The Society by Members and others.



Physical description

309 boxes, 31 oversize items (folders and boxes). Please note there is a box 37A and a 37B.


On its arrival at the Wellcome Library, the decision was made to create an arrangement for the collection which would reflect the activities of the Society and its officers. The papers were arranged by function (eg Committee business, membership, special lectures, publications). Individual officer's papers often form a sub-group within the different sections.

The arrangement by section is as follows:

A. The Grey Book, 1888-2013

B. The Committee, 1895-2002

C. Scientific meetings, 1876-2004

D. Prize lectures, symposia and events, 1955-2009

E. Membership, 1882-2005

F. Publications, 1877-2012

G. Animal welfare and research: issues, policy, and legislation, 1941-2007

H. Education, 1941-2010

J. Films and photographs sub-committees, 1951-1972

K. The Secretary's correspondence and files, 1937-1997

L. Finance, 1951-2005

M. The Foreign Secretary's files, 1955-2005

N. Grants and awards, 1968-2004

P. Archives and history, 1954-2016

Q. Relationship with other societies including IUPS, 1923-2013

R. Histories, catalogues, and other publications commissioned by the Society, 1927-2007

S. Governance (from 2001): Council and Executive Committee, 2001-2015

T. The Physiological Society's Audio Visual Collection, 1948-2011

Z. The Physiological Society's Photographic Collection, 1860s-2010

Acquisition note

In 1991, the Physiological Society archive was transferred to the library at Wellcome Collection: acc nos 390, 408, 415, 420, 435, 451, 454.

Since 1991, subsequent accessions to both the archive and photographic collection have taken place at frequent intervals: accession 455 onwards.

In March 2015 22 boxes of material were received from the Society.

In December 2016 2 boxes of material were received from the Society (Acc 2323).

Biographical note

The Founding of The Society

By the second half of the nineteenth century there was growing interest in physiology in Britain. The burgeoning of practical physiology involving work on living animals was paralleled by the emergence of an opposition to such experiments, and in 1875 a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Vivisection was established. This Commission recommended that work on living vertebrates be governed by an Act of Parliament that required experimenters to be licensed by the Home Secretary. Experimental physiologists recognised the need to have a say in any such proposals that might hinder their work: this led to the formation of The Physiological Society in 1876. On 31 March 1876, nineteen men with an interest in physiology met to discuss the Commission's proposals and the formation of 'an association for mutual benefit and protection.' A committee was formed, a constitution drafted, the society named ("The Physiological Society"), and an inaugural dinner held on 26 May. In 1876, the government passed the Cruelty to Animals Act.

For the first four years, The Society's meetings were quite informal and intimate affairs with business taking place over dinner in a hotel. Membership of The Society was officially restricted to forty members, all of whom had to be male working physiologists. Scientific meetings began in 1880 and scientific communications and demonstrations became more numerous. However, dinner remained a pivotal part of each meeting: until about 2005, the meeting minutes were read at Society dinners.

The Society's Constitution allowed for the election of 'men of distinction in science' as Honorary Members: the first two Honorary Members were Charles Darwin and William Sharpey. In 1915, women were admitted as Members, a decision that was not without some controversy.

The Modern Physiological Society

The modern Physiological Society is a learned society with over 2,600 Members (including 14 Nobel Laureates) and Affiliates (younger scientists) drawn from over 50 countries. The majority of Members are engaged in research in universities or industry.

The Society's charitable objectives are to promote the advancement of physiology and to facilitate the intercourse of physiologists both at home and abroad, thereby contributing to the progress and understanding of biomedical and related sciences and the detection, prevention and treatment of disease, disability and malfunction of physical processes in all forms of life.

To achieve its objectives, The Society supports up to five scientific meetings annually; organises international workshops; publishes two journals; awards grants to allow Members to travel to scientific meetings and to carry out research collaborations; organises and supports educational activities and resources for students (from school age through to postgraduate level); lobbies government and other organisations on issues relevant to its Members; and promotes awareness of physiology in the media. Interaction with outside bodies is encouraged through representation on various councils and committees.

Based on information from The Society's website, [accessed 26 September 2008].


1876: Report of the Royal Commission on the use of experimental animals.

1876 Mar: Formation of The Physiological Society.

1876 Apr: Rules of The Society drawn up.

1876 May: Inaugural meeting at the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly.

1876 Aug: Passage of Cruelty to Animals Act.

1876 Nov: First ordinary meeting.

1877 May: First annual meeting; statement submitted to General Medical Council about the refusal of certificates for animal experiments.

1878: M Foster founds The Journal of Physiology.

1880 Dec: First afternoon meeting for the presentation of scientific work, University College London.

1881 Jul: Report of Society's Committee on Vivisection recommends publication of articles in support of experimentation.

1881 Nov: Election of GJ Romanes as the first Treasurer; circulation of the report of the committee on the working of the Cruelty to Animals Act.

1882 Jul: Society supports D Ferrier in anti-vivisection case.

1882: Association for the Advancement of Medicine by Research founded.

1883 Dec: Publication of Proceedings of scientific meetings in The Journal of Physiology; scientific meetings changed from Thursdays to Saturdays.

1884 Jan: Abolition of the limit to the number of members.

1887: Foundation of American Physiological Society.

1889 Aug: First International Physiological Congress (initiated by the Physiological Society) held at Basel.

1890 Jul: Meeting in Edinburgh: first meeting outside London, Oxford and Cambridge.

1890 Dec: Vote against the institution of a president.

1891 Dec: Resolution deprecating the shortening of the course of physiology in the medical curriculum.

1891 Jan: Special committee appointed to approach Royal College of Surgeons concerning the Fellowship Examination in Physiology.

1893 Dec: JN Langley takes over editorship of the The Journal of Physiology.

1894 Aug: Meeting in tandem with British Association, Oxford.

1897 Jun: Financial support for L Hill and W Bayliss in anti-vivisection libel case.

1897 Dec: Resolution criticising General Medical Council's proposals for the medical curriculum.

1898 Jan: Communications limited to 20 minutes.

1898: American Journal of Physiology founded.

1904 Jan: Standing Committee to Report on Physiology in Regard to Educational Questions appointed.

1904 Jul: Support for government committee on the humane slaughtering of animals.

1904 Aug: Communications limited to 15 minutes.

1906 May: Appointment of sub-committee to liaise with other bodies for evidence to the Royal Commission on Vivisection.

1906 Jun: First attendance by women at a dinner.

1906 Sep: IP Pavlov attends meeting.

1907: Foundation of Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology.

1908 Mar: £100 grant to newly established Research Defence Society.

1912 May: Deputation to Board of Education about maintaining physiology on the public health and psychology curriculum.

1915 Jan: Women eligible for membership on the same terms as men.

1915 Jul: Election of first women members.

1918 Nov: Joint meeting with Biochemical Society.

1921 Jan: Motion criticising closure of Physiological Laboratory of the University of London.

1923 Jul: International Physiological Congress, Edinburgh.

1925 Apr: First foreign meeting, Leiden.

1926: Purchase of The Journal of Physiology by The Society.

1926 Mar: 50th anniversary of The Society, membership 385.

1926 Aug: International Physiological Congress, Stockholm.

1926 Oct: Society registered as a charity.

1926: Dismissal of anti-vivisection case against EB Verney.

1927 May: 50th anniversary banquet, London.

1927 Dec: Publication of History of the Physiology Society during its First Fifty Years, E Sharpey-Schafer.

1930: Joint meeting with Belgian Physiological Society at Louvain.

1934 Mar: AV Hill elected as first Foreign Secretary.

1935 Oct: Society incorporated as a limited liability company.

1939 Jul: Foreign Associate membership established.

1942: Memorandum presented to Interdepartmental Committee on Medical Schools (Goodenough Committee).

1942: HH Dale presents dog statuette to Society.

1943: Standing sub-committee on education appointed.

1947 Jul: International Physiological Congress, Oxford.

1950: Monographs Sub-Committee appointed.

1951 Apr: Joint meeting with Belgian Physiological Society at Brussels.

1951 Jul: 75th anniversary celebrations, Oxford.

1952: Publication of first monograph.

1954: First split session scientific meeting.

"Archival depot" established at University College, London.

1960 Jul: Joint meeting with Swedish Physiological Society at Lund.

1963: C Lovatt Evans delivers first Bayliss-Starling Lecture.

1965: Memorandum with Research Defence Society presented to Departmental Commission on Experiments on Animals (Littlewood Committee).

1966: Memorandum submitted to General Medical Council and Royal Commission on Education.

1968 Jul: WDM Paton delivers first Annual Review Lecture.

1968 Dec: Education and Information Sub-Committee appointed.

1968 Dec: Dale Fund established.

1973: Archive transferred from UCL to Churchill College Archives Centre in Cambridge.

1975 Sep: Dale Centennial Symposium.

1975 Nov: Appointment of Ethical Committee to consider questions on animal experiments.

1975: Commission on the Future of Teaching and Research in Physiology in the United Kingdom appointed by the Society.

1976: Centenary celebrations.

Benevolent Fund established.

Publication of A short history of the Physiological Society 1926-1976, WF Bynum.

1977: PF Baker delivered first GL Brown Review Lecture.

DH Steven appointed as Honorary Archivist.

1978: Laboratory Animals Protection Bill (Halsbury Bill).

1980: Animal Legislation Sub-Committee appointed.

Protection of Animals (Scientific Purposes) Bill (Fry Bill).

Council of Europe Draft Convention on the Protection of Animals used for Scientific Purposes.

Society takes over publication of Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology.

1982: Advisory group on Animal Legislation replaces Animal Legislation Sub-Committee.

Martin Rosenberg takes over as the Society's photographer.

1983: T Weisel delivers first Sharpey-Schafer Lecture.

1985: Wellcome Prize in Physiology established.

1986: Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act.

1987: First GW Harris Lecture .

1990: Undergraduate Prizes established.

Rushton Fund established.

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology becomes Experimental Physiology.

1991: Archive transferred to the Wellcome Library.

1992: The Physiological Society Newsletter changes its name to The Physiological Society Magazine.

1993: Physiological Society hosts 32nd Congress of the International Union of Physiological Sciences in Glasgow.

Photographic collection transferred to the Wellcome Library.

1995: Joan Mott Prize Lecture founded.

2001: The Physiological Society Magazine changes its title to Physiology News.

Further information

Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer, "History of the Physiological Society during its first fifty years 1876-1926," Journal of Physiology 64:3 (1927), pp 1-76 (SA/PHY/R.1/1).

Gilding, HP, "History of the Physiological Society 1926-1969," (unpublished) (SA/PHY/R.1/2).

W F Bynum, "A short history of the Physiological Society 1926-1976" Journal of Physiology 263:1 (1976), pp 23-72 (SA/PHY/R.1/3).

The Physiological Society's website, [accessed 26 September 2008].

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

Professor EB Verney's papers were deposited in the Physiological Society archive by Dr RHS Carpenter in 1988. Previously, they had been housed in Cambridge Physiological Laboratory's library. On arrival at Wellcome Collection, these papers were removed from the Physiological Society's archive, amalgamated with a small collection of Verney papers (formerly GC/71), and catalogued as a separate collection (PP/EBV).

A small amount of personal material and reminiscences had been sent to the archive by Society members. This material has been catalogued as a separate collection, "Physiological Society: Additional Deposited Papers," (GC/151).

The papers of Professor Maureen Young (1915-2013), a physiologist and member of the Physiological Society were donated to the Library by her nephew (PP/MYG).

Other collections which may contain relevant material include the Research Defence Society (SA/RDS), Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer (PP/ESS), and papers relating to International Physiological Congresses 1889-1939 (GC/71).

Papers held elsewhere:

Professor A V Hill's files from his time as editor of the Journal of Physiology are among his papers in Churchill College Cambridge.

Audio-visual and digital material

Some audio-visual material relating to this collection is also held by Wellcome Collection. Further information on these can be found on the online catalogue.

The following documents are available in in the hardcopy catalogue in the Rare Materials Reading Room:

List of Ordinary Members who have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

List of distinguished foreign physiologists elected to Honorary Membership

List of Secretaries of the Society 1876-1994

List of Treasurers of the Society 1881-1990

List of Foreign Secretaries of the Society 1935-1992

Copyright note

Permission to publish from the archive must be sought from the Society.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.

Location of duplicates

Microfilm copies are available for: SA/PHY/B.1/1, 3-4 (AMS/MF/87), SA/PHY/B.1/5-9 (AMS/MF/88), SA/PHY/C.1/1-3 (AMS/MF/88), SA/PHY/C.1/10-11 (AMS/MF/91), and SA/PHY/C.1/12-15 (AMS/MF/92). Copies of some photographs are held digitally by Wellcome Images. These can be accessed via Wellcome Collection's website. Please see catalogue entry for SA/PHY/Z for details.


It is important to note when using the collection that the titles, functions, format, and even existence of Physiological Society committees and sub-committees do not remain static. It is very common to find that committees come and go, their titles change or their functions alter. These changes have been noted in the catalogue where appropriate.

Abbreviations used in the catalogue

AGM: Annual General Meeting

ALWSC: Animal Legislation and Welfare Sub-Committee

AWSC: Animal Welfare Sub-Committee

ASE: Association for Science Education

b/w: Black and white (photograph)

BBC: British Broadcasting Corporation

BNC: British National Committee

BSI: British Standards Institute

BVA: British Veterinary Association

CD: Compact disc

CUP: Cambridge University Press

EASC: External Affairs Sub-Committee

EGM (EM): Extraordinary General Meeting

EISC: Education and Information Sub-Committee

FEPS: Federation of European Physiological Societies

FRAME: Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments

GMC: General Medical Council

HEFCE: Higher Education Funding Council for England

HoDS: Heads of Departments

IBRO: International Brain Research Organization

IoB: Institute of Biology

IUPS: International Union of Physiological Sciences

JMG: Journals Management Group

LASA: The Laboratory Animal Science Association

MBA: Marine Biological Association

MRC: Medical Research Council

MP: Member of Parliament

MTW: Molecular Techniques Workshop

OGM: Ordinary General Meeting

OUP: Oxford University Press

QAA Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

QWM: Queen Mary University

RDS: Research Defence Society

Ref: Reference

RS: Royal Society

SAM: Semi-Annual General Meeting

SIG: Special Interest Group

SM: Special Meeting

TASC: Treasurer's Advisory Sub-Committee

UCL: University College London

UFAW: University Federation for Animal Welfare

UKLSC: Life Sciences Committee

YPS: Young Physiologists' Symposia

The catalogue is available on microfiche via the National Inventory of Documentary Sources (NIDS).

Ownership note

For many years, the papers of the Physiological Society accumulated as they passed from each officer to his successor. In 1954 Professor WDM Paton suggested that an 'archival depot' be established at University College London (UCL) for non-current files; however there was still as yet no clear policy for the management of the Society's archive. Current files continued to be held in the offices of serving officers until the end of their terms of office when the files were either passed to their successors, sent to UCL, or disposed of.

In November 1973, the Physiological Society Committee agreed to transfer the material at UCL to the Churchill College Archives Centre in Cambridge. Cataloguing was undertaken by a professional archivist. In July 1977, an Honorary Archivist, DH Steven, was appointed to oversee the archive and to take care of accessions that continued to come in from serving officers and sub-committee members.

In 1991 following negotiations initiated by Dr JJ Jack and Dr EM Tansey, the archive was transferred to the Wellcome Library.

On arrival at the Wellcome Library, the papers of the Physiological Society were in a state of considerable disorder. Although they had been catalogued by a professional archivist on their deposit at Churchill College, further accruals had not been amalgamated into the catalogue but listed separately. These sections had no real logic of arrangement and were generally just listed in order of accession. There was also much duplicate material, reflecting the fact that papers had been received from different officers who dealt with the same issues, or from members of the same sub-committee.

In August 1993 the Physiological Society photographic collection was collected from Dr M Rosenberg.

Since the transfer of the Physiological Society archive and photographic collection to the Wellcome Trust, further accessions have continued to arrive from officers, sub-committee members, and The Society.


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Accession number

  • 390
  • 408
  • 415
  • 420
  • 435
  • 439
  • 451
  • 454
  • 455
  • 494
  • 498
  • 561
  • 605
  • 614
  • 629
  • 675
  • 778
  • 1047
  • 1241
  • 1298
  • 1430
  • 1646
  • 1769
  • 1824
  • 2168
  • 2229
  • 2323