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University and Educational News
187 Discussion and Correspondence:
On a Bottle which drifted from the Gulf of
187 Scientifio Books:
Youngken's Pharmaceutical Botany: Dr. H.
188 Special Articles:
Two Limestone Formations of the Cretaceous of Texas which transgress Time Diagonally: DR. ROBT. T. HILL
190 The American Mathematical Society: R. G. D. RICHARDSON
191 The American Astronomical Society: PROFESSOR JOEL STEBBINS
THE PUBLIC HEALTH WORK OF PRO
FESSOR SEDGWICK1 WILLIAM THOMPSON SEDGWICK, son of William and Anne Thompson Sedgwick, was born at West Hartford, Connecticut, December 29, 1855. His colonial ancestor was Robert Sedgwick, who settled in Boston in 1636. He studied at the Sheffield Scientific School, the Yale Medical School, and Johns Hopkins University. On his twenty-sixth birthday he married Mary Katrine Rice, at New Haven, Connecticut. In 1883 he came to Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where for thirty-eight years he was professor of biology and public health. He died at Boston, January 25, 1921, at the age of sixty-five.
These simple facts tell who Professor Sedgwick was. But what he was and what his life meant to the people of Boston, to hundreds of young students, to the science of public health, and to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can not yet be told or even estimated. His death is too recent and our thoughts are still so touched with sadness that one can not adequately picture his manifold activities or form a just appreciation of his life or his place in history. But in the various eulogies already written a few words stand out prominently and must be regarded as characteristic of the man. The words are service, public service, kindliness, serenity, inspiration, buoyant optimism, love of young men. Let these suffice. They are eulogy enough for any man.
I can not write about Professor Sedgwick's work in public health without saying more about my own relations to it than is becoming on such an occasion—but it is characteristic of his work that it was not done in the seclusion
1 A memorial address delivered at Unity House, Boston, February 6, 1921, by Professor George C. Whipple, of Harvard University. Professor Sedgwick was to have spoken at this meeting on the subject of Child Welfare.
MSS. intended for publication and books, etc., intended for review should be sent to The Editor of Science, Garrison-onHudson, N. Y.
of his study and laboratory, but involved all of solid culture media and thus made it posthose with whom he came in contact.
sible to consider bacteria in a quantitative way. I first knew Professor Sedgwick when I was In 1880, Eberth found the bacillus of typhoid a student of engineering and he professor of fever. In the same year Laveran had discovbiology at the Institute of Technology. He ered the malarial parasite. In 1883–84 Klebs was thirty-three and I was twenty-two. For and Löfiler found the germ of diphtheria. In the first time (1888–89) he was giving a course 1883 Koch found the cholera spirillum. And of lectures in bacteriology to civil engineers. it was in 1883 that Sedgwick undertook his It was an innovation. Until then sanitary work in Boston. No wonder that he saw a engineering had leaned for its support on great future for his beloved science of biolchemistry, but here was a new science coming ogy; no wonder that he gave up his intention to its aid. I have in my study the notes which of being a physician. I took of Professor Sedgwick's weekly lec- Sedgwick did not study bacteriology in Eutures. They began as follows:“ The sanitarian rope, but I remember hearing him tell how he needs a proper working theory.” Then he received what was perhaps the first batch of proceeded to develop the germ theory of dis- Dr. Koch's sterilized nutrient gelatine sent to ease as he had learned it from Pasteur and this country. Professor Nichols brought it other European scientists who were laying over and probably had not realized its physical the foundations of that science which has properties, for it had melted, had saturated done so much for the health of the world. the cotton plug of the flask, had oozed out, He showed how physicians and engineers had had become infected and nauseating and was been wrong, how they had groped in the about as far from having the required bacdark, and how, by applying the recently dis- terial purity of a culture medium as one could covered principles of biology, it was possible imagine. It was an inauspicious beginning to give to sanitary engineering new life. Of for bacteriology at the Institute. Professor course, Sedgwick was not the only American Nichols must have chuckled over it, for at to take up with the new ideas. There was that time he did not share Sedgwick's optimDr. Welch at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Biggs in ism in regard to the future of bacteriology. New York, and others who were doing the I remember those first lectures of Sedgsame thing. But these other men were in wick's. He would hold up a glass of water medical schools; Sedgwick was in the Insti- and talk for an hour about what it contained. tute of Technology where the engineering He would scare us to death by saying that it sciences predominated and therefore his in- contained enough germs of typhoid fever to fluence sanitary engineering was the give the disease to a thousand people, and greatest. Nor would it be right to ignore the then go on to show how sanitary engineers work of his colleagues in chemistry, such as could make the water safe to drink. Professor William Ripley Nichols and Dr. He started his students off on a hunt for Thomas M. Drown. It was the combination bacteria. One of them studied the bacteria of chemistry and biology with engineering found in air-especially the air of hospitals which made the profession of sanitary engi- for he was hunting for big game. Together neering what it is—a profession which we are they devised a method for straining the bacproud to think has become more highly de- iteria from the air-an aerobioscope-a method veloped in America than in any other country. still used. Another student helped him to
It is important to keep in mind certain study water—not only its bacteria, but its dates in connection with the work of these other microscopic organisms—those algæ which Massachusetts scientists. Louis Pasteur's recently caused the bad taste in the water pioneer work in bacteriology was done in the supply of Boston, when for a few weeks it was seventies. In 1876 Robert Koch discovered the necessary to draw upon the old Lake Cochigerm of anthrax. In 1882 he suggested the use tuate supply. Another new method of study
was devised—the Sedgwick Rafter method- has two advantages: my students learn what still used to-day.
has been done, and my lectures don't have to One of his students took up the study of be written over every year. Second, I teach milk; another that of food; and to-day the In- of what is going on now." His presentstitute has an important department of indus- day students knew well his habit of rushing trial biology. Several studied sewage and its into the lecture-room with a clipping from methods of treatment, and for years this con- the morning paper or a copy of the Medical tinued to be a fruitful field of research. An- Journal and talking about something which other studied the bacteriology of ice; another somebody had discovered in Chicago or the the bacteriology of soil. Then there were Fiji Islands, or about some new engineering studies of particular species of bacteria—the project. All kinds of fish were caught in his longevity of the typhoid bacillus, and so on. net, and he believed that the students should The reason for mentioning these things is study these fish while they were alive. to illustrate the breadth of the investigations Thirdly, he said, “I try to teach of what is and the fact that Sedgwick always worked likely to happen in the future. I try to make with and through his students.
He did very
the students see the problems they will be up little scientific work alone and he generally against.” History, present problems, and regave to his students more than a fair share search these were his three principles. of the credit for the work done.
His teaching was far from being exact. We hear much said to-day about research, Sedgwick did not have a mathematical mind. about the advantages of organized research. His lectures were never formally prepared and In my opinion there is danger that research as he grew older they became less methodical. may be organized to death. The compilation He cared for general principles more than for of facts by committees of learned societies is details. The opening sentence of his first all very well, tests by competent scientists in lecture to engineers, which I have already government bureaus are desirable, and research quoted, shows what he wanted most to impress conducted by the experts of great corporations upon his students. “The sanitarian needs a are necessary in order that modern science proper working theory." But it was chiefly may be applied in the most economical way to his personal magnetism and his inspiration human needs—but the highest type of research which told on his students, and this never is that which takes place in a university lab- failed him. His optimism was as strong at oratory where an inspired teacher and his sixty-five as it was at thirty-five. mature students sit down side by side and in Sedgwick will be remembered first and quiet study endeavor to search out the secrets foremost as a great teacher—yes, even as a of nature and the chemical, biological, and teacher of teachers—because his enthusiasm physical laws of God. Let the scientists of was contagious and others followed in his America not follow too much the method of
steps. One has only to mention Dr. Calkins, organized research-let them give even greater of Columbia; Dr. Jordan, of Chicago; Dr. weight to the individual method of Huxley Winslow, of Yale; Professor Gunn, and other and Pasteur and Sedgwick.
names, now well known, to realize the extent When, after a long experience as a prac- of Sedgwick's influence as a teacher upon tising engineer, I came to Harvard to teach, I teachers. But among his pupils are sanitary had many talks with Sedgwick about methods engineers, bacteriologists, health officers, labof teaching. He was no longer thirty-three oratory workers in many fields, Red Cross years old, but fifty-five. He had been teach- officials, physicians, nurses, manufacturers, ing for twenty-five years and he gave from his teachers of domestic science, housewives—men experience. He said, “I keep three things in and women, a great company of enthusiastic mind-the past, the present, and the future. followers who recognized him as Chief." First, I teach by the historical method. That Soon after Sedgwick came to Boston the