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Abel Wolman papers

Identifier: MS-0105

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Scope and Contents

The papers trace Abel Wolman's active career as teacher, consulting engineer and advisor to local, national, and international agencies. There are materials from his long tenure on the Johns Hopkins University faculty teaching courses in sanitary engineering and later international health planning. His consulting assignments numbered at least 65, and the most well-documented in his papers are his work with the City of Baltimore including his work as Maryland Director of the federal Public Works Administration from 1935-1937. For many years Wolman was a consulting engineer for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, and there is a great deal of information on the Potomac River. Farther from home were projects for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a survey of pollution on the Ohio River and work for the Miami (Ohio) Conservancy District among others.

Throughout his career Wolman's expertise was called upon by local, national and international commissions and agencies. His papers contain material on his work with the National Resources Planning Board's Water Resources Committee, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Agency for International Development as well as committees of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. Wolman was also quite active in the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization. The safe use of atomic energy was an interest of Wolman's, and his papers reflect his advisory work with the Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Public Health Service on this topic.


  • Creation: 1901 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Abel Wolman was trained as a civil engineer and spent his career merging engineering with hygiene and public health issues. His areas of expertise were water treatment and water supply.

He was born in Baltimore in 1892, the son of Morris and Rosa Wolman. Wolman graduated from the Baltimore City College in 1909, and he earned two degrees from the Johns Hopkins University; a B.A. in 1913 and a B.S. in Engineering in 1915. He was in the first engineering class to graduate from Hopkins. He also holds five honorary doctorate degrees including two from Hopkins.

Wolman began his long career in 1913 with a job for the U.S. Public Health Service studying stream pollution in the Potomac River. The next year he went to work for the Maryland Department of Health where he was Chief Engineer from 1922 to 1939. Wolman renewed his association with the Johns Hopkins University when he returned to teach in 1937. Until retiring in 1962, he served variously as professor and chairman of the Department of Sanitary Engineering in the schools of Engineering and of Hygiene and Public Health.

Wolman's expertise was sought outside the university setting, and he was a consulting engineer on nearly 65 projects. Some of these include a pollution survey of the Ohio River, work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and water management projects for New York City, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the Miami (Ohio) Conservancy, southeastern Michigan, and New Jersey. He also advised companies such as the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company and the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. A list of Wolman's foreign travel assignments from 1942 to 1985 is in Appendix IV.

Along with his acknowledged technical expertise, Wolman was known for his skill at chairing and working with committees. He was a member, often the chair, of numerous local, national or international commissions, boards, committees, conferences and advisory councils. This included those of the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. departments of State and Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, and the National Academy of Engineering.

Wolman served his profession in a number of elected positions. He was the first elected Vice-Chairman (1928-33) of the Water Pollution Control Federation. He was President of the American Public Health Association (1939), the American Water Works Association (1942), the U.S. Section of the International Water Resources Association (1973) and the Pan-American Health and Education Foundation (1970-83).

Wolman was also a prolific writer. He wrote three books and was co-author of another. Between 1916 and 1987 he published 338 articles. Wolman's bibliography is in Appendix II. He also had a talent for editing, serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Water Works Association from 1921-37, Associate Editor of the American Journal of Public Health from 1923-27, and Editor-in-Chief (1929-35) and Editor (1955) of Municipal Sanitation.

Wolman's work and contributions to his profession were recognized with many honors and awards. The five of which Wolman was most proud were: the United States award of the National Medal of Science (1975) selected by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation; the Tyler Ecology Award (1976); the Special Award, Lasker Foundation of the American Public Health Association (1960); Environmental Regeneration Award of The Rene Dubos Center for Human Environments Inc., (1985), the dedication of the Abel Wolman Municipal Building, Baltimore, Maryland (1986); medal, World Health Organization (1988); and medal, Maryland Academy of Sciences (1988).

Abel Wolman married Anna Gordon in 1919. They had one child M. Gordon Wolman.


193.17 Cubic Feet (135 record center cartons, 25 letter size document boxes, 3 letter half-size document boxes, 15 legal size document boxes, 4 legal half-size document boxes, 1 flat box (22 x 28 x 1.5), 1 flat box (20.5 x 14.5 x 1.5 inches), 3 flat boxes (21 x 17x 1.5 inches), 2 flat boxes (15.5 x 12 x 3 inches), 1 flat box (25 x 21 x 3 inches), 2 oversize boxes (19 x 13 x 6 inches), 1 map case folder)

Language of Materials



Abel Wolman was an American inventor, scientist, professor and pioneer of modern sanitary engineering. The papers trace Abel Wolman's active career as teacher, consulting engineer and advisor to local, national, and international agencies and include correspondence, documents, and files documenting his various activities from 1901-1989.


The material has been sorted into the following series: Personal, Writings, Maryland State Department of Health, Public Works Administration, General Correspondence, Projects, Committees/Commissions, Baltimore Projects, Johns Hopkins University, Conferences, and Reference File.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Abel Wolman donated his papers to the University over a period of years. When he retired from teaching in 1962, Wolman stated that he donated his early material to the Library. Some of this material ended up in Special Collections; some in the University's Hamburger Archives. All of Wolman's personal and professional papers in the University Archives were transferred to Special Collections in January 1982. In 1982 and 1986 Wolman donated two videotapes and one cassette recording to his papers.

In 1988 Wolman moved into a new office, and at that time many of his files which had been stored in his old office were donated to the University. After Wolman's death about 50 linear feet of material in his office as well as all his early files which had been at his home were donated by his son M. Gordon Wolman.

Additional material including awards, photographs, student notebooks, diaries, passports, and other writings were added in 1994. The Accessions Numbers are 93-94.33 and 93-94.34.

Related Materials

In the early 1960s Dr. Wolman was approached by the Library of Congress to donate his papers to the Manuscripts Division. Wolman donated some of his early material, especially those relating to national projects, to the Library of Congress.


For more information on Abel Wolman see his curriculum vitae in Appendix III and the oral history by Dr. Walter Hollander entitled "Abel Wolman, His Life and Philosophy, an Oral History." This was completed in 1981. A two volume transcript and the taped interviews are in Series 9.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Cynthia H. Requardt in 1990. This collection has not been completely processed. The materials have been sorted into series, but the materials have not been completely analyzed.

Guide to the Abel Wolman papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA