Category Archives: Medicine

Dorothea Dix 4.4.13 Thought of the Day

“In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do” — Dorothea Dix

Ninth plate daguerreotype of Dorothea Lynde Dix.

Ninth plate daguerreotype of Dorothea Lynde Dix. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dorothea Lynde Dix was born on this day in Hampden, Maine, USA in 1802. Today is  211th anniversary of her birth.

She was the oldest child of Joseph and Mary Dix. Joseph was an itinerant Methodist preacher and sometime laborer. He was also an alcoholic and an abusive father. “Her mother was not in good mental health” [] so by the time her two brothers, Joseph and Charles, were born Dorothea was taking care of the house. She also cared for her brothers.

During the war of 1812 the British took control of Hampden and the family moved Vermont. She also spent much of her early life in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father taught her to read and write when she was little, “when she entered school she was way ahead of everyone else. This developed a passion for reading and teaching, as she taught her brothers how to read as well” [Ibid]

When she was about 12 it was decided that her parents could not care for the children (her mother was suffering from severe, incapacitating headaches and her father’s alcoholism was spiraling out of control) so the Dorothea, Joseph and Charles went to live with their Grandmother Dix in Boston. Madame Dix was a wealthy woman and life in the Dix Mansion was far cry from the poverty at home. But her grandmother had a very narrow vision of what well brought up young ladies did and did not do. They DID take dancing lessons and wear fine clothing. They DID NOT give food and clothing to children begging at the front gate. When Dorothea was 14 Madame Dix asked her sister, Dorothea’s great-aunt, Mrs. Duncan, to take in the girl and teach her how to be a proper young lady. That relationship fared better, but Dorothea did everything she could to get back to her brothers.

Dorothea wanted to be a teacher and with the help of an older cousin, Edward Bangs, she opened a Dame School for young ladies. “In the fall of 1816, at age fifteen, she faced her first twenty pupils between the ages of six and eight. She ran this school of sorts for three years.” [Ibid]

She continued teaching and began a formal school for older children in a cottage on her grandmother´s property. The school was named “the Hope” and it served the poor children of Boston whose parents could not afford a formal education. At this time, Dorothea wrote her first book, Conversations on Common Things. This encyclopedia for children was quite popular and sold many copies.[Learning to]

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

in 1826 she had to close the school because of health problems. It took her several years to recover, during this time she “wrote four more books including Hymns for Children and American Moral Tales for Young Persons.” [Ibid] Although she took on a governess job and later returned to teaching her bouts with illness recurred. She had tuberculosis, and had to eventually give up teaching. On advice from her doctors she took a long trip to England to recuperate. There she stayed with the Rathbone family. The Rathbones were Quakers and social reformers.

While in England she toured the York Retreat insane asylum. It was built by William Tuke in 1796 as was a state of the art facility for the mentally ill.

The idea that full recovery could be made if the mentally ill were treated and cared for compassionately was a principle Dix never forgot and brought to every aspect of her work. [Ibid]

When she came back to the U.S. she was asked to teach Sunday school at the East Cambridge Jail.

She discovered the appalling treatment of the prisoners, particularly those with mental illnesses, whose living quarters had no heat. She immediately went to court and secured an order to provide heat for the prisoners, along with other improvements. []

She embarked on a 2 year fact-finding mission, touring every facility for the mentally ill in the state. The appalling conditions she found at East Cambridge Women’s Jail (no heat, no light, scant clothing, no furniture, scarce sanitation…) was the rule rather than the exception. Much to the chagrin of those running the facilities “she compiled a detailed report and submitted it to the legislature in January 1843.” .[Learning to] A bill to remedy the abuses was quickly passed.

U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. ...

U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. Retouched photograph. date found on item. Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-9797 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dorothea set her sights on neighboring states and soon had New York and Rhode Island reforms underway. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas were next.

In 1848, Dix submitted a bill to Congress that called for five million acres to be set aside for the use of building mental institutions to care for the ill. … For the next three years, the bill was passed back and forth. Finally, in 1854, it passed both the Senate and House, but President Franklin Pierce vetoed the bill. President Millard Fillmore was a supporter of Dorothea Dix and, in 1852, signed an executive order to begin construction of a hospital that would benefit Army and Navy veterans . [Ibid]

When the Civil War broke out..

“she volunteered her services and was named superintendent of nurses. She was responsible for setting up field hospitals and first-aid stations, recruiting nurses, managing supplies and setting up training programs” []

As her health continued to deteriorate she entered the state hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, a hospital she help establish. She spent 6  year there before passing away on July 17, 1887.

In all she played a major role in founding 32 mental hospitals, 15 schools for the feeble-minded, a school for the blind, and numerous training facilities for nurses. Her efforts were an indirect inspiration for the building of many additional institutions for the mentally ill. She was also instrumental in establishing libraries in prisons, mental hospitals and other institutions. []

the Fountain for thirsty horses that Dorothea ...

the Fountain for thirsty horses that Dorothea Dix gave to the city of Boston to honor the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, located at the intersection of Milk and India Streets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Blackwell 2.3.13 Thought of the Day


“If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.”
Elizabeth Blackwell

[Image courtesy]

[Image courtesy]

Elizabeth Blackwell was born on this day in Bristol, England in 1821. Today is the 192nd anniversary of her birth.


Elizabeth was the third of nine children born to Samuel and Hannah Blackwell. She had a happy childhood growing up with her large family (four aunts also lived with them.) Her father encouraged all his children in their education. Elizabeth had both a governess and private tutors.


In 1832, when Elizabeth was 11, the Blackwells moved to America. Her father wanted to get the family away from Bristol’s chaotic atmosphere. He also wanted to move to America to help the abolitionist movement. He started a new sugar refinery but this business in New York, but it did not do as well as his Bristol refinery. They moved to Ohio in 1838 to begin again. But soon after the move west Samuel Blackwell died. He left a large family and a good deal of debt.


[Image courtesy]


Elizabeth and two of her sisters started a school, The Cincinnati English and French Academy for Young Ladies.


Blackwell later decided to pursue a career in medicine. But the road to becoming a doctor was not an easy one for her. She studied independently with a doctor before getting accepted to the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in 1847. []

Notwithstanding the opposition of fellow students and the townspeople of Geneva, New York, and despite being keep from attending medical demonstrations that were considered inappropriate for women Elizabeth Blackwell graduated in 1849…


becoming thereby the first woman to graduate from medical school, the first woman doctor of medicine in the modern era. []

She went to Europe and trained in midwifery at La Maternite in Paris. In England she “worked at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital with Dr. James Paget…and became friends with Florence Nightingale.”[Ibid]


English: u.s. postage stamp of 1974, depicting...

English: u.s. postage stamp of 1974, depicting Elizabeth Blackwell Français : Timbre des Etats-unis de 1974, portrait de Elizabeth Blackwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But on returning to the States she was unable to find a hospital willing to allow her to practice under their roof. She couldn’t get office space, “and she had to purchase a house in which to begin her practice.” [Ibid]


Her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, joined her in 1856 and, together with Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, they opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children at 64 Bleecker Street in 1857. This institution and its medical college for women (opened 1867) provided training and experience for women doctors and medical care for the poor. []

Health Education and maintaining Sanitary Conditions were core to the school. She helped establish the U.S. Sanitary Commission.


Blackwell returned to England “and served as a lecturer at the London School of Medicine for Women.” []


Cover of "Pioneer Work In Opening The Med...

Cover via Amazon

In 1877 she retired to Hastings, England. She published her biography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women in 1895.  On May 31, 1910 she died from complications of a stroke.

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell by Joseph Stan...

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell by Joseph Stanley Kozlowski, 1905. Syracuse University Medical School collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis Pasteur 12.27.12 Thought of the Day

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Louis Pasteur was born on this day in Dole, Jura, France in 1822. Today is the 190th anniversary of his birth.

Pasteur was the third child of Jean-Joseph and Jeanne-Etiennette Roqui Pasteur. His family moved to the banks of the Cuisance River in Arbois  when he was three. His father was a tanner by trade, but was also a decorated soldier in the Napoleonic War. Pasteur was an average student whose skills leaned more toward drawing and painting than science. As a child Pasteur witnessed “the treatment of several victims of bites by rabid animals;” [] the epidemic left sixteen dead “in the region, four of them in the immediate vicinity of Arbois.” [Ibid]

In  1840 he received a bachelor of arts  and was “appointed teaching assistant at the Besançon collège.” [Ibid] It was then that he began to study math and science in earnest.

He received a bachelor in science in 1842 then a doctorate in 1847 at the Ecole Normale in Paris.

Pasteur then spent several years researching and teaching at Dijon Lycée. In 1848, he became a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg, []

While in Strasbourg he met Marie Laurent (they wed in 1849 and had five children together, only two of whom survived to adulthood.)

Entrée du bâtiment de l'Institut Le Bel, à l'U...

Entrée du bâtiment de l’Institut Le Bel, à l’Université Louis-Pasteur (Strasbourg I) (France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He worked with tartaric acid, fermentation and germ theory. While on vacation he examined diseased wine and “observed the presence of germs analogous to those found in lactic fermentation.” []

he demonstrated that organisms such as bacteria were responsible for souring wine, beer and even milk. He then invented a process where bacteria could be removed by boiling and then cooling liquid. He completed the first test on April 20, 1862. Today the process is known as pasteurization.[]

Experiment Pasteur

Experiment Pasteur (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1852 he was appointed the chair of chemistry at Strasbourg University. Two years later he was given the same post at the University of Lille.

When he proved that “microbes were attacking healthy silkworm eggs” [ibid], he saved the silk industry in 1865.

In 1868 he had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, but he continued his work. He revolutionized the treatment of infectious diseases such as anthrax and chicken cholera.

In 1882, the year of his acceptance into the Académie Franaise, he decided to focus his efforts on the problem of rabies. On July 6, 1885, Pasteur vaccinated Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. The success of Pasteur’s vaccine brought him immediate fame. This began an international fundraising campaign to build the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which was inaugurated on November 14, 1888. [Ibid]

Louis Pasteur - Rabies

Louis Pasteur – Rabies (Photo credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Pasteur died in September of 1895. He is considered “the father of germ theory and bacteriology.”

Français : Statue de Louis Pasteur à Dole dans...

Français : Statue de Louis Pasteur à Dole dans le Jura (ville de sa naissance). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought of the Day 10.28.12 Jonas Salk

“I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmare because of my dreams.”
Jonas Salk

Salk in his University of Pittsburgh  lab. [Image courtesy:]

Jonas Salk was born on this day in New York City in 1914 Today is the 98th anniversary of his birth.

He was the oldest of three boys born to Russian/Jewish immigrants, Daniel and Dora Salk. He was an excellent student and he attended Townsend Harris High School, a high school for gifted students and a springboard  for boys who had the talent but not the money or social connections to get into private colleges. At Townsend Harris he read everything he could find, he studied hard and always got good grades. At 16 he started the College of the City of New York. At first he focused on Law, but he soon changed his mind and decided to study medicine.

In 1934 he enrolled in the College of Medicine of New York University, from which he graduated in 1939. Salk worked at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital from 1940 to 1942, when he went to the University of Michigan. There he helped develop an influenza (flu) vaccine. [Encyclopedia of World Biography]

The flu virus had recently been discovered and Salk worked on a way to “deprived of its ability to infect, while still giving immunity to the illness.” [Academy of Achievement]  His work in fighting the flu and in developing vaccines helped prevent a repeat of the flu epidemic like the one that ravished the country in 1919.

In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. While working there, with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, Salk saw an opportunity to develop a vaccine against polio, and devoted himself to this work for the next eight years. [Academy of Achievement] 

Photo of polio patients in iron lungs during 1...

Photo of polio patients in iron lungs during 1952 epidemic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Pittsburgh he researched the polio virus (in 1949 it was discovered that there were three types of polio viruses) and he worked on a vaccine that tackled the disease. By 1950 testing began, in 1955 the vaccine was ready for general use. Salk had developed a “killed-virus” vaccine that required three or four injections.

In countries where Salk’s vaccine has remained in use, the disease has been virtually eradicated. [Ibid]

Photo of newspaper headlines about polio vacci...

Photo of newspaper headlines about polio vaccine tests (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salk won the Lasker science award in 1956 for his work on Polio.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which focused on the autoimmune functions of the body opened in San Diego, California in 1963.  While heading up the institute Salk published Man Unfolding (1972), The Survival of the Wisest (1973), World Population and Human Values: A New Reality (1981), and Anatomy of Reality (1983).

Towards the end of his life Dr. Salk took up the fight against AIDS and searched for an effective vaccine for the disease.

He died at the age of 80 in 1995 in La Jolla, California.

Jonas Salk, American medical scientist (bust i...

Jonas Salk, American medical scientist (bust in the Polio Hall of Fame) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thought of the Day 9.20.12 Elizabeth Kenny

“He who angers you conquers you.”

–Elizabeth Kenny

“Sister” Kenny [Image courtesy: Australian War Memorial;]

Elizabeth Kenny was born on this day in Warialda, New South Wales, Australia in 1880. Today is the 132nd anniversary of her birth.

Because her father was an itinerant farmer the family moved often when Elizabeth was growing up. Her education was limited to home-schooling and a variety of small town primary schools. When she was 17 she fell off her horse and broke her wrist. Her father, Michael, took her to the town of  Toowoomba to see Dr. Aeneas McDonnell. Kenny remained in Toowoomba to recover from the injury and grew fascinated with Dr. McDonnell’s medical books, especially those on anatomy, and his model skeleton. It started Kenny on her life long journey in medicine. She made her own model skeleton to study how muscles and bone worked together in the human body.

Elizabeth Kenny as a young woman. [Image courtesy: Minnesota Public]

At 18 she became an unaccredited,  unpaid bush nurse. She later (probably) volunteered at the maternity hospital at Guyra in New South Wales.

There is no official record of formal training or registration as a nurse. She probably learned by voluntary assistance at a small maternity hospital at Guyra, New South Wales. About 1910 Kenny was a self-appointed nurse, working from the family home at Nobby on the Darling Downs, riding on horseback to give her services, without pay, to any who called her. [Elizabeth Kenny, by Ross Patrick, Australian Dictionary of Biography]

Kenny opened St. Canice’s Cottage Hospital in Clifton. She kept in contact with Dr. McDonnell and would often telegraph him when a case stymied her.

In 1911 one such case presented itself. She contacted McDonnell about a new case that stymied her.. a young girl who was crippled, but not from a fall or external trauma. McDonnell replied that it was probably “It sounds like Infantile Paralysis.  There’s no known treatment, so do the best you can.” [Sister Elizabeth Kenny. Australians Documentary Series. 1998. from] Kenny used a common sense approach. She applied hot compresses to the little girl’s spasming muscles. Hot, heavy woolen blankets were applied that help loosen the muscles and relieve the pain. Then she stretched the little girls legs and strengthened the muscles. It worked. The pain abated, the girl (allegedly) asked “Please, I want them rags that well my leg.”

Of the twenty children in the district, the six that Kenny treated survived without complications. [Sister Elizabeth Kenny. Australians Documentary Series. 1998. from]

With the outbreak of World War I Kenny, with a letter of recommendation from Dr. McDonnell, joined the Australian Medical Corps. She worked on hospital ships bringing the wounded home from Europe. She was received a shrapnel wound to the leg while at the front.

She patented her invention of a stretcher that immobilized shock patients during transport, the Sylvia Stretcher, and used the royalties  open a clinic for polio patients in Townsville, Queensland. Here she treated long-term polio and cerebral palsy patients, tossing aside the braces and concentrating on hot baths, passive movements and foments.

Sister Kenny works with a young patient as other doctors, nurses and physiotherapist observe. [Image courtesy: Sister Elizabeth Kenny: Medical Pioneer]

Her “homespun” methods for polio treatment, though effective, were controversial as the  accepted practice was to splint the affected limbs to keep them rigid. That way the stronger muscles wouldn’t pull on the weaker/paralyzed muscles and create deformities. Kenny thought that splinting the limbs would actually produce deformities and increase paralysis. She alternately dismissed, ridiculed or vilified by the medical establishment. Kenny soldiered on, buoyed by the support of parents who witnessed first hand the results her methods were having on their children. Kenny opened clinics in Brisbane and through out Queensland.

The controversy over her methods followed her to England  and the US. Kenny worked in the Minneapolis General Hospital where…

Her methods became widely accepted. She began courses for doctors and physiotherapists from many parts of the world. The Sister Kenny Institute was built in Minneapolis in 1942 and other Kenny clinics were established. [Elizabeth Kenny, by Ross Patrick, Australian Dictionary of Biography]

Kenny in 1950. {Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

She developed Parkinson’s disease and retired to Toowoomba in 1951. Kenny died there of cerebrovascular disease on 30 November 1952.

Sister Kenny’s pioneering principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy. Today, Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Services is one of the premier rehabilitation centers in the country, known for its progressive and innovative vision. [Nurses for nurse]

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