Henry Ingersoll Bowditch and Oliver Wendell Holmes:
stethoscopists and reformers

by
Felts JH.
Wake Forest University School of Medicine,
Winston-Salem, NC, USA.
jfeltsiii@triad.rr.com
Perspect Biol Med. 2002 Fall;45(4):539-48


ABSTRACT

Two Bostonians, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch (1808-1892) and Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), went to Paris for advanced medical training and came home ardent disciples of Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis, leader of the French school that derived its eminence from expert auscultation and careful correlation of bedside and autopsy findings. Both Bowditch and Holmes became leaders in 19th-century American medicine. Bowditch, a successful practitioner and prolific medical writer, wrote the first important American text on physical examination and became our first specialist in pulmonary disease. He pioneered in the public health movement, was a charter member and later president of the American Medical Association, and was an abolitionist and an advocate for equal rights for women in medicine. Holmes left practice to become a medical educator. As Dean of Harvard Medical School, he tried unsuccessfully to admit white women and free black men to the school. Although his greatest fame came as a man of letters, Holmes considered himself first a physician and medical educator, and was justifiably proud of his definitive study, "The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever" (1843). Today, Bowditch and Holmes are little appreciated as pioneers and reformers, but we remain in debt to them both.
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