Tag Archives: Public health
… the legislature is likely to establish a marine hospital at New Orleans, where we lose about 400. boatmen & seamen annually by sickness … I consider the nomination [of superintendent] to such a place as a sacred charge … I would greatly prefer those who have established a reputation by practice. I have however as yet but a single application from a Physician of any age & experience … the object of this letter is to ask your information of his [Dr. Barnwell of Philadelphia] character medical & moral, and that you will be so good as to write it to me candidly, unreservedly, and fully, assured that it shall be confined to myself alone …
To Caspar Wistar, March 22, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders need candid input on important personnel matters.
Wistar (1761-1818) was a noted Philadelphia physician and expert in anatomy, and a friend and confidante of Jefferson’s. The President expected a raft of applicants to lead the new hospital at New Orleans, but he preferred an experienced, capable doctor. He had received only one such application but didn’t know enough about the man. He sought Wistar’s opinion.
1. He needed to know about the applicant’s “character medical & moral.” Competency in medicine was not enough. He needed to be a moral man, as well.
2. He wanted Wistar to write him “candidly, unreservedly, and fully,” (emphasis Jefferson’s). His evaluation should be frank, truthful and complete.
3. He assured Wistar that his assessment would remain between the two of them only.
Wistar responded in the manner requested, but Jefferson subsequently appointed another to the position.
“Thank you again,
and please do not hesitate to use this letter as a recommendation…”
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri
Mr. Jefferson comes well-recommended.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
… inoculated two persons with the matter [cowpox vaccine] of the 24th. & 4. with that of the 26th. the latter has no effect, but the two former shew inflammation & matter. one of them complains of pain under the arm pit, & yesterday was a little feverish … we have considerable hopes he has the true infection … you shall be regularly informed of the progress & success of this business … I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, August 14, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Persistent leaders keep trying until they find something that works.
New England physician Waterhouse (1754-1846), one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, was the first person to test the cowpox vaccine in America, on four of his own children. His effort to enlist President Adams’ support for a public campaign was unsuccessful, but President Jefferson embraced the concept immediately.
This is one of several letters in 1801 where Jefferson wrote about the cowpox vaccine. Numerous attempts to induce immunity by infecting healthy people with the live vaccine had been unsuccessful. In this account, Jefferson reported the first hoped-for response at Monticello, evidence of an slight infection. Immunity to cowpox also protected against the much more deadly smallpox.
Jefferson would later have all of his family and slaves inoculated and circulated the vaccine widely among his Virginia neighbors. Some accounts credit Jefferson with conducting the first mass public health campaign in America.