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Walther and Hertha Riese papers

Identifier: 1982.03.25

Scope and Contents

The materials mostly focus on Walther Riese's professional work and life after imigrating to the United States. There are also materials related to his personal life, predominantly in Series 2 and 5. Some materials of and by Hertha Pataky Riese are included, primarily in Series 4. The majority of the collection materials are in English, with some in German and French. The papers are arranged into seven series.

Series 1: Research and Writings (1939-1978, undated). Series 1 contains of the writings of Walther Riese related to his many research interests. Of particular note are his writings and research files on aphasia and neurological disorders, as well as histories of numerous medical procedures and conditions. Researchers should also consult Series 5 for more information on his research interests.

Series 2: Correspondence (1915-1975, undated. Bulk 1940-1975). Series 2 contains the correspondence of Water Riese. It covers the majority of his adult life, and includes both professional and personal correspondence. While there is some early correspondence, the majority is related to his life after moving to the United States.

Series 3: Eastern State Hospital Files (1940-1960, undated). Series 3 is comprised of case studies from Eastern State Hospital case study files. It also contains correspondence, lecture and research notes, as well as an annual report.

Series 4: Educational Therapy Center Files (1949-1968). Series 4 contains case studies from the Educational Therapy Center while it was part of the Department of Mental Hygiene, and is the bulk of the materials from Hertha Pataky Riese.

Series 5: Subject files (1912-1975). Series 5 is comprised of both research and personal files. Many of the materials relating to Walther Riese’s work as a professor at MCV, historian of medicine, and with professional organizations are located in this series. Similar materials may also be found in Series 1.

Series 6: Research Grants (1954-1967). Series 6 contains grant applications and other documents related to grants received by Riese.information on grants received and applied for.

Series 7: Publications. Series 7 is comprised of materials published by the Rieses.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1898-1975

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research, except for series 3, the majority of which is restricted under HIPAA. Please consult Special Collections and Archives staff for details.

Use restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Biographical Note

Walther Riese was born June 30, 1890 in Berlin, Germany to an affluent Jewish family. He studied medicine in Berlin, Strasbourg, and received his degree in 1915 from the University of Koenigsberg as part of an expedited program during World War I. After the war, he served as head of the Neuroanatomical Institute at the Frankfurt Clinic, where he shaped his ideas on holistic neurological function and treatment. During his tenure at the Frankfurt Clinic, he began a lifelong collaboration with neurologist and psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein. After the end of the first World War, soldiers often returned home with illnesses caused by the war. Many German psychiatrists diagnosed these veterans with conditions that could be noted as unrelated to the traumas of war, thus relieving the German National Insurance system of fiscal responsibility for their care. Riese, however, continued to work in his patients’ best interests, diagnosing them with war-related ailments and recommending treatments that treated their needs comprehensively.

Walther Riese married fellow physician Hertha Pataky in 1915. Hertha Pataky Riese was born in 1892 to a Jewish-Hungarian family. She studied in Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, obtaining her degree in 1916. After the war, she was Director of the Frankfurt Social and Sexual Counseling Center of the Federal Government for Maternal Protection, advocating for birth control and providing abortion services. Like many who were sexual health proponents in the 1920s, she promoted sterilization as a form of birth control, a view which she later abandoned. The Center provided services to both married and unwed mothers, which was unusual during this time period as most sexual health centers catered only to married women.

In January 1933, with the rise to power of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, the Rieses found themselves imprisoned for their religious, political, and medical beliefs. Upon their release, the Rieses and their two daughters fled to Switzerland, only a few days before the German government instituted their Jewish passport system. The family then moved to France with the help of a Rockefeller Foundation research scholarship, where Walther reestablished a research program on comparative neuroanatomy at the University of Lyon. When Nazis invaded France, the family fled to Canada via Morocco, before eventually entering the United States. With a letter of reference from Goldstein and a signed affidavit from birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, Walther, who had obtained another Rockefeller Foundation scholarship, and his family secured residency status in the United States.

Once in the United States, Walther obtained a position at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), where he built a neuropathology lab and served as a professor of neurology and the history of medicine. Much of his research focused on the history of disease and neurology. He became a pioneer in the field of neuroethics, neurohistory, and traumatology. During his tenure at MCV, he published The Conception of Disease and A History of Neurology in the 1950s, where he described “neuroethics,” a new concept in medicine. In 1969, in recognition of his life’s work, Riese received the honorary title of professor emeritus at Frankfurt University where he had done much of his work between the world wars. Walther Riese died in 1976 in Richmond, Virginia.

Walther’s widow Hertha lived until 1981. Her career in the United States took a different path. Despite her medical qualifications, she was unable to find a suitable professional position as a physician. In 1943 she co-founded the Educational Therapy and Day Care Center in a back room of the “colored library” in Richmond. The center focused on “extremely deprived” and neglected youth, particularly African American children. The center later changed it's name to the Educational Therapy Center and, in 1948, officially became affiliated with the State Department of Mental Hygiene. Her work as director of the center culminated in the book Heal the Hurt Child published in 1962. She retired a year later.


15.29 Linear Feet (39 5" document cases, 1 is legal sized 1 records storage box )

Language of Materials





Materials are generally arranged alphabetically and then chronologically within. Exceptions are: Series 2, Correspondence, is arranged primarily chronologically, with some correspondence arranged in separate folders by subject. Series 3, Eastern State Hospital Files, are arranged with case studies arranged alphabetically first, followed by other subjects alphabetically. Series 6,Research Grants, are arranged chronologically. Series 7, Publications, are catalogued in the VCU Libraries online catalog. Please see the Separated Materials note for more information on Series 7 materials.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Roland Villars in 1982.

Separated Materials

Materials under Series 7 has been added to the General Collection, and can be searched using the library catalog.

Processing Information

The papers were originally processed in 1989. In 2019, the collection was rehoused into new acid-free boxes and a some reprocessing occured. A DACS-compliant finding aid was written as well.

A Guide to the Walther and Hertha Riese Papers
A Collection in Special Collections and Archives, Health Sciences Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Accession number 1982.03.25
Jessica E. Johnson
2019 By Virginia Commonwealth University, All Rights Reserved
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the VCU Health Sciences Library Repository

Special Collections and Archives 509 N 12th St
Box 980582
Richmond Virginia 23298 USA US
(804) 828-9898