The First Dose of Insulin

August 7 is the anniversary of the first purified insulin injection in the United State.

Across from the Joslin Diabetes Center’s 170 Pilgrim Road entrance is the site of what was once Broadbeck Cottage, opened under the direction of Dr. Elliott P. Joslin as the world’s first organized teaching effort for diabetic patients. It was here that Dr. Howard Root and Dr. Elliot P. Joslin administered the first injection. This important milestone is recognized by a commemorative plaque on the façade of the building where the cottage once stood.

This plaque marks the site of the first administration of commercial insulin in the United States.

The recipient was Elizabeth Mudge — a 37-year-old nurse who at 70 pounds had lost more than half her weight and was near death. Dr. Joslin recalled that before her treatment she was “just about the weight of her bones and a human soul.”

She was restored to health less than a month after receiving treatment with insulin, and worked tirelessly to promote good health among patients with diabetes for the remaining 25 years of her life.

Elizabeth Mudge (1885-1947)
Joslin Clinic Case# 1542.    In 1922 Ms. Mudge became the first patient to be treated with insulin at the Joslin Clinic

Miss Mudge later recalled:

“This treatment had to be given with the utmost secrecy, because the supply of insulin was very limited. Naturally, there were hundreds of people like me who would have besieged Dr. Joslin, if they knew that insulin was available. Only my mother knew the purpose for which I was going to the hospital. Insulin certainly has made a new life for me and for thousands of other people.”

Fast forward 95 years — Joslin Diabetes Center has partnered with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and colleagues at several other Boston institutions to form the Boston Autologous Islet Replacement Therapy (BAIRT) program, collaborating on stem cell research with the ultimate goal of finding a cure for diabetes.

Joslin has also established a Center for Cell-Based Therapy for Diabetes (CCTD), the goal of which is to lead the development and translation of cell-based interventions to treat and cure diabetes and its complications.


  1. I found this very interesting although I am Canadian. My father and 3 of his brothers and one sister all had diabetes. Out of seven children only my Dad and one brother married. His brother had no children and my Dad had two. None of my brother’s three children or my two have had diabetes.

  2. My first physician at Joslin was Priscilla White, Elliott Joslin’s right hand woman who joined him 2 years after this. I feel very connected to the first days of insulin therapy because of my connection with Dr. White. She later passed me along to my dear friend and long time Diabetologist Donna Younger who only retired last year. If it weren’t for this work of Elliot Joslin and all the other folks at the Joslin who have dedicated their lives to treating diabetics, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here today, Thanks Dr. Joslin.

  3. Thank you, I very much enjoyed this history lesson. When I became diabetic at 13, I read everything I could find about diabetes–that was 55 years ago. My syringes and needles were boiled in a little pan on the top of the stove for sterilization. As I have lived, I have celebrated every new “tool”–and next month I will begin using a “closed loop” insulin delivery system. So, I am “the lucky one” and I truly appreciate the tremendous help I have had from wonderful physicians. I lost an beloved uncle, a terrific dad, and a sweet brother to diabetes.
    If there is interest, a friend has a poem to be published next month. It is, “To My Friend With Diabetes, On Losing Her Foot”, Hektoen International, 9(3) (forthcoming, fall2017). The poet is Anna Kander. An early draft made me laugh out loud, and reminded me that our ridiculous lives need art and humor. Thanks for listening.

  4. I have had diabetes for 70 years and am now 74. I have no complications. My son also has diabetes and was diagnosed at the age of 3 and is now 44 and has no complications. My question is this: are there variations in the diabetes gene that would explain why we do not have any complications?

  5. First dose in Indianapolis given about the same time by John and Ruth Warvel. Not sure of the patient. First dose of the insulin isolated at the University of Toronto was given to Leonard Thompson (first dose failed, second worked)

  6. How good to read this moment of history regarding the treatment of T1D. I have benefited since 1964 when I was diagnosed.

  7. My wife is a juvenile type 1 insulin dep. diabetic since age 15–now 64. She has been going to Joslin for both eye and Endocrinology since then.
    she used to also as go to teh old DTO at Joslin–3rd floor for occasional ‘tune-ups’ for her brittle diabetes. I think DR Barnett was one of her longtime original Dr’s.—-a great Dr.

    Insulin of course was a life saving med which keeps diabetics alive but unfortunately does not stop all complications–just delays them. What I do not understand is that even before stem cell technology became a new and hopeful way to cure or have a vaccine for Diabetes, there was optimism 20 + yrs. ago in the studying and possibly implanting of ISLET cells which are produced normally in a functioning pancreas into a Diabetic would produced great results–maybe a cure? But apparently that testing failed and stem cell research for Diabetes and other terminal illnesses have not produced results patients and families have hoped for.

    I hate to be cynical but I do not think a cure and/or vaccine is really wanted by the Medical, Medical equipment and Drug co. Establishment—too much money to be made from Diabetes and all other diseases, especially cancer. My view.

    Thank you

    • As someone who has lived with diabetes for 37 years I hope you are wrong about the motives of the medical business industry, but I must admit that I have had similar thoughts many, many times over the years. All we can do is support one another and have faith in human nature and the compassion and dedication of the many people who dedicate their lives to diabetes treatment and research. In my heart I fully believe that it would require a conspiracy on a level that is too large to overcome the passion and commitment that these individuals bring with them to work everyday as they look for not only a cure but also new ways to make life with diabetes easier for us all. Something as powerful as a cure would surely be too large to contain, as the human spirit just wouldn’t allow it.

      • I agree with the sentiments of both Frank and Louis. Yes, there is money to be made in Diabetes. because very few parents would let their children pass away rather than take insulin for the rest of their lives. However, I do believe a cure already exists. It’s out there. But insulin was discovered before we discovered and had a firm handle on antimicrobials/vaccines (to effectively treat TB). So sadly, insulin is seen as the panacea instead of what it is – a drug that kills children; with treatment that maims their spirit, their confidence, self-worth and freedom. The time has come to cure/

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