Early Medical Pioneers
Quality of life throughout American history has been greatly enhanced by medical advancements, improvements that helped people live longer with each successive generation.
Benjamin Rush (1745–1813)
One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rush founded the first public dispensary in Philadelphia and became one of the earliest doctors to characterize insanity as a medical condition rather than the influence of evil spirits. He was considered responsible for ending an epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793. Yet Dr. Rush still practiced bloodletting, an ancient and somewhat barbaric form of treating patients plagued by illness.
Crawford Long (1815–78)
Crawford Williamson Long, a Georgia physician, was the first doctor to use ether (a gas that numbs pain but leaves the patient conscious) as a general anesthetic during surgery. William T. G. Morton (1819–68) was a Boston dentist who had publicly demonstrated ether as the first truly effective surgical anesthetic, but Dr. Long was the first to use it during an actual surgery:he painlessly removed a tumor from the neck of patient James M. Venable on March 30, 1842.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809–94)
In the 1840s, Holmes brought attention to unsanitary practices as the cause of many deaths, particularly during childbirth; he also suggested the term
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910)
Elizabeth Blackwell was America's first female physician. She valiantly faced prejudice from both students and professors, and went on to earn a medical degree from Geneva College in New York. She graduated at the top of her class on January 23, 1849, the first woman to earn a degree in medicine in the United States. In spite of her accomplishments, American hospitals at the time refused to hire a woman, so in 1857 she founded her own clinic, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.
American Medical Association
Known today as the AMA, this group was formed when physicians gathered in 1847 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. They formed an organization that remains the watchdog over medical practices and lobbies for the sake of its members.
Walter Reed (1851–1902)
Major Walter Reed was a U.S. Army doctor who in 1900 confirmed the theory of Cuban scientist Carlos Finlay that certain mosquitoes spread yellow fever. This discovery saved thousands of lives during the construction of the Panama Canal (from 1904 to 1914).