Thursday, November 27, 2014

Reimagining Education--The One World School House

Rockport Public Library
Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014

History of Public Education

Palestinian children in Jenin school

Salman Khan, The One World School House: Education Reimagined, 2012; New York: Hachette Book Group.

            “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child's natural bent.” Plato (427-347 B.C.)
            Salman Khan (1976- ), founder of the Khan Academy, wants to revolutionize education, and he shows us how we have become enslaved by a system which has long outlived its effectiveness.
            Today’s basic classroom model was first put in place in 18th century Prussia. Compulsory, tax-supported public education was seen as a political at least as much as a pedagogical tool, and no apology was made for this, Khan writes. “The idea was not to produce independent thinkers, but to churn out loyal and tractable citizens who would learn the value of submitting to the authority of parents, teachers, church, and ultimately, king.”

            Horace Mann (1796-1859), then the Secretary of Education for the State of Massachusetts, put the Prussian model, with modifications, to practice in the United States starting about 1837. 
            By 1870, all 37 states in the Union had public schools, and the United States had become one of the most literate countries in the world.

            Khan shows, piece by piece, how schools today chop learning into unconnected parts, yet it all needs to become connected in the mind of the student.  Without solid grounding in arithmetic, you will have trouble with algebra. Trigonometry flows from geometry. Calculus and physics both depend upon all the rest. Testing gives passing grades to students who have not mastered concepts, and will have trouble proceeding to higher learning.

            He shows an orderly school setting of perhaps 30 students, all listening to the teacher, all regulated by periods, bells to mark each period.  Much waste, no innovation, hard for kids to get into their learning.  Then he compares it to a room which looks like chaos.  Maybe 100 kids of various ages, with mentors. Perhaps 20 are on computers, learning deep and durable core concepts, 20 working on an economics problem using board games, 20 building robots or designing mobile apps.  Another 20 might be in a quiet corner, working on art or creative writing projects, and the final 20 working in another corner developing original music. This would recognize that children learn at different rates, and their learning may proceed in different directions. Older students may help younger.  Teachers in various areas of expertise may be all over the room, helping where it is needed. This model helps “average” students, and it also scoops up the “different thinking” students who might be lost in the standard setting.

            Next, Khan shows how the summer vacation is an anachronism, required when both boys and girls were needed to work in the fields.  Now, however, time away from school causes students to “un-learn” as neural pathways atrophy over the summer. Only a fortunate few kids actually enjoy character-building and learning experiences over the summer.  It’s a waste of children’s time, as well as a waste of schools and the whole education establishment. Why not arrange vacations that correspond to those of the parents, at any time of the year?

            Khan tells about developing a new computer-based learning process, and struggling to get a few thousand dollars of funding, money trickling in via PayPal.  Then, one day things started opening up for him. Ann Doerr, wife of a venture capitalist, learned about him and donated $10,000.  Khan met her and talked. A few months later she texted him that Bill Gates mentioned at a meeting that he and his kids had become fascinated with Khan’s You-tube lessons. She was sending him $100,000 right then.  Soon Gates flew Khan out to talk, and gave him $1.5 million to get started. 

            This funding freed Khan to get back to education, and he met a Silicon Valley investor and was soon developing a system to teach fifth and seventh grade mathematics for the Los Altos School District. Now, Salman, or Sal, as he calls himself, from Metairie, Louisiana, son of parents from India and Bangla Desh, is not just teaching above-average kids from wealthy families, who have an above-average appetite for learning.  Now, in classes where 95 percent of the students are African-American or Latino, who in previous years had “failed to engage with coursework and had spent little to no time studying” kids were catching fire with learning.

            In “The Spirit of the One World Schoolhouse” Khan spills out his ideas for a truly effective learning environment. 

            Get rid of age stratification, another vestige of the Prussian model. Kids can reproduce at 12, so they are probably wired to teach at that age.  We fail to entrust adolescents with real responsibility. We deny them the chance to mentor or to help others, and we conspire in their isolation and self-involvement. With self-paced learning, older kids become allies of the teacher, mentoring and tutoring younger kids who are behind. 

            Teach as a Team Sport. Merge classrooms, and let students learn at their own pace. Teachers, and older students, are free to float, to help with projects, or to mentor kids who need it.

            Ordered Chaos is a Good Thing. Remember the 100-student classroom mentioned above.

            Redefine Summer. Re-think summer vacation. Schools left empty for several months a year is a waste of resources. In a self-paced learning environment, kids take vacation when it is needed, at various times in the year.
            In his Conclusion, Khan writes: “As I hope is clear by now, I’m a big believer that almost anyone can obtain an intuitive understanding of almost any concept if he or she approaches it with a deep understanding of the fundamentals.”

            Can creativity be taught?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but it can certainly be squelched.

            Rigid, lockstep education—the Austrian model, brought to America by Horace Mann, is still very much in practice in our schools today.  Rewarding passivity and conformity, minimizing risk, balkanized curricula aimed at fulfilling government mandates.

            One World School House is a revolutionary book about the creation of a revolutionary man. I hope that it is time to put it to the test. 


            We have just seen a drama played out in Ferguson, Missouri.  Whatever you think about white vs. black, or the judicial system, or the police, one thing is clear:  Far too many young people are growing up like Michael Brown, and all too likely to get into trouble, and too many will lose their lives.

             What if we had an educational system that gathered up young people, especially those left adrift by the present system, and gave them all the tools to become energetic, enthusiastic and productive members of society? 

            What if some of those young people became part of the system of law enforcement, and leadership in the community? 


Wed. Dec. 3:  History of public education
How crucial is it for a country to have an educated public? How did the concept of providing schooling for all develop?
Wed. Jan. 28, 2015:  History of the Future; how the future was imagined in the past. The Guggenheim's "Italian Futurism 1909-1941" paintings exhibit gives the idea.
Not many history books may exist, I can only think of Morus' Utopia, but perhaps
some fiction will qualify.  
Wed. Feb. 25, 2015:    - Spies and spy agencies
Intriguing topic, plenty of connections to recent developments (Putin's rise,
WikiLeaks, Snowden).  Read a book and tell us about any part of the intriguing world of spies, spy agencies or espionage.  Think MI-5, KGB, Stasi, Mossad, Mata Hari, Kim Philby, National Security Agency, CIA….

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

About the first Armistice Day, 1918


Young Private Coulbourn on bivouac with Co. E, 124th Infantry Rgt., 1917
(In third tent on right.)

           On Veterans' Day, 2014, my thoughts go back to my Dad's account of that day in 1918, when he was a young soldier, fighting in France....

 My Dad, Dixon Long Coulbourn, was busy all his life, always in a hurry, and yet he lived to be 98 years old.
            He was born in a little Virginia town on Chesapeake Bay on January 27, 1899.  His dad ran an oyster business.  The employees were all African-Americans, and I am sure some of the older ones had been slaves at one time. 
            Watermen raked up tons of oysters and brought them back to Morattico to be processed.  Black oyster shuckers worked all day, filling barrels with fresh shucked oysters, which were iced down and rushed to customers all over the eastern United States.
It was hard work, and a typical shucker made $6 a week.  They piled up mountains of oyster shells. 
            America was going to war in France to fight the Germans in 1917, and young Dixon was in a hurry to join.  He enlisted in the 124th Infantry Regiment (First Florida), and was shipped up to Camp Devens in Massachusetts, to join the Yankee Division.
            1,500,000 young men boarded troop transports and were soon fighting in FranceDixon was among them. The shells exploding near him permanently damaged his hearing, so he spent the rest of his life with very poor hearing.
            On November 11, 1918, Armistice was declared. People went from unit to unit, announcing the news.  Dixon remembered that vividly, especially because a cook wagon came to the front lines and started cooking pancakes for the soldiers.  “Man, that was the most wonderful thing!” Dixon used to say. 
            As it has done for most men, and now women as well, combat made a lasting impression on Dixon.  He was proud of his service.

            When the war was over, all the soldiers returned to America, and suddenly all those young men were looking for jobs at the same time.  Dixon and his brothers went to work in central Florida, packing strawberries and trying all kinds of schemes to make a living.   Texas was gaining notice all over the country because oil wells were popping up, new refineries were being built, and workers were needed. In 1927, Dixon got himself on a freight train headed for Texas.  He made his way to Port Arthur, in the southeastern corner of Texas.  Real estate developers financed with money from the Netherlands had begun building a town here to handle shipments of locally grown rice. They located the Kansas City Southern Railways terminus here, and Dutch settlers came to live, followed by Americans. Then a huge oil discovery at Spindletop, right where all the Dutchmen were living, led to creation of several refineries here. Texaco and Gulf Oil companies were created. Families began streaming here to make their fortune in this oil boom town. 

Gusher at Spindletop, Jan. 10, 1901
Courtesy of American Petroleum Institute

            For a young man, veteran of The Great War, looking for work, this looked to be the place, and Dixon landed here.  Dixon found a job as a bookkeeper at a local grocery store. Dixon, who enlisted in the Army before he had graduated from high school, now enrolled in correspondence courses to learn to be an accountant.  He earned his certificate.
He met a young woman at a Methodist Church social event. Katherine was the daughter of a doctor and a strong supporter of the local Methodist Church and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Dixon and Katherine were soon married. 
            I was born a couple of years later, in 1934, and my brother Dixon Wall Coulbourn was born two years later, in 1936.
            Dixon then began taking the test to become a Certified Public Accountant, but didn’t make it.  He took it again.  All through World War II, every year he took the test, and finally, in about 1945, he earned the “CPA” designation. We were all so proud of him!
            In 1944 my sister, Martha Louise, was born, and our parents looked at the neighborhood where we lived, just over a mile from downtown, and decided that now, with a little girl, it was time to move to more idyllic surroundings. So, in 1945 we moved to Griffing Park.  Here we had a cow pasture beyond our back door. Dixon ordered a flock of Plymouth Rock chickens from a supplier in Massachusetts, and soon we were in the chicken business. 

Dixon’s family, 1946
L to R: Dixon, young Dixon, Martha, Sam, Katherine.

            We collected the eggs each morning, and cleaned all the chicken mess up, and fed the chickens.  Dixon started his own accounting firm, leaving for work after he had made sure that we were doing our chicken chores.
            Dixon was always in a hurry.  He hurried to work, and he hurried home.  He ate each meal like there’d not be another.  The only thing he slowed down for was church. We all went to the Methodist Temple downtown every Sunday, but as soon as the sermon started, Dad would turn off his hearing aid and drift off to sleep. 
            Dixon loved gadgets.  All during World War II, Army surplus items were finding their way to market, and when war ended, there was a flood of interesting gadgets, and Dad wanted to buy as many as he could find. 
            He had a friend who owned a store that sold outboard motors for boats and all kinds of appliances, from washing machines to record players. 
            Dixon bought an electric deep freezer, and then one of the new Bendix washing machines, with the window, so you could see the clothes swirling around inside.  He bought my mother an electric ironing machine (mangle), which turned out to be a total waste of money.
            When a new voice recorder came out, that you could record on a paper disk, he brought one home to try out, and took it back.  Then a wire recorder came out that made a recording on a slim silver wire on a spool.  He brought that home, and then took it back. 
            However, we were one of the last families in the neighborhood to buy a television. 
            Even though he loved gadgets, Dad was no spendthrift!
            Dad kept his accounting business until he was 73 years old, then with all of us kids with families of our own, he and mother moved to GeorgetownTexas, where he opened up another accounting business, and wrote a book, “Control Your Finances”.
            All his adult life, Dad was a loyal member of the Kiwanis Club and the American Legion.  On his 90th birthday the local newspaper ran a front-page story of this crusty old World War I veteran.  Dad wasn’t pleased about the publicity, because he thought the fact that he was 90 years old might turn away some of his accounting business.
            Thank you for your service to our Country, Dad!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rockport Art Association by Cooley

History Book Club
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

History of Art in America

Busy Harbor by William Lester Stephens (1888-1969)
(Courtesy of Skinner)

Cooley, John L., Rockport Sketch Book: Stories of Early Art and Artists; Rockport, MA: Rockport Art Association. 1965, Paperback, 122 pp.

            Since my wife and I came to Rockport to live in 1989, one very formidable woman has cast her shadow over our lives. 

            If you ever met Lura Hall Phillips, you’d remember her.  She was a smart and determined woman who enlisted Marty and me in working with Millbrook Meadow Committee, and we’ve been in it ever since, for 25 years.  Lura was the wife of Stanley N. Phillips, a noted artist.

            Now, just as I began to read John Cooley’s delightful Rockport Sketch Book, on the introduction page by the head of the Rockport Art Association back in 1965, it all starts when a woman visitor walks in the Rockport Art Association and asks the assistant curator if there is a brochure, booklet or other material about the early days of art in Rockport. 

            The assistant curator was Lura, and she knew of no such brochure, but added, “But there should be something.”  John Cooley overheard the conversation, and set about to write this book.  However, knowing Lura, if he had not volunteered, sooner or later he would find himself writing it.   Lura got things done, one way or another.

Rockport has achieved the status of one of the finest art colonies in the world. 
            John Cooley’s little book will explain that with a string of memories and vignettes about the early artists who came here, set up easels, painted, and then stayed, many for the rest of their lives.
Cooley begins with a lengthy list of artists, writers and sculptors who visited Cape Ann in the nineteenth century, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Winslow Homer, Henry David Thoreau, Alexander Graham Bell, and Rudyard Kipling. 

Gilbert Tucker Margeson (1852-1949) operated the telegraph key in Gloucester for Western Union, ran a stationery story on Main Street in Rockport, and collected taxes for the Town.  Oh, and he was also an accomplished painter of the sea and ships. He opened his studio here in 1873.
Parker S. Perkins, (1862-1942) famed for his white suit with a flower in the lapel and a straw hat with red band. He kept at least 20 cats.  Other artists said, “Nobody painted the sea just as Parker Perkins painted it.” He came to town a little after Margeson. 

William Harrison Cady (1872-1933) came to Rockport before 1900, and worked closely with Margeson and admired Perkins.  He is most famous for the some 15,000 drawings he did for Thornton Burgess’ animal stories about Johnny Chuck, Reddy Fox and Peter Rabbit.

William Lester Stephens (1886-1969) was the first native son of Rockport. Parker Perkins recognized his talent, and gave him lessons. Stephens went away to study at the Boston Museum School, wrote for a Boston weekly newspaper and worked in an antique store.  Soon he returned to Rockport and built a studio in Holbrook Court.

Stephens spent a year in the Army in World War I, and was discharged in France.  Then he remained in Europe for a while, painting.  He painted enough for two shows back in Boston.

Hibbard at work, ca. 1938
Aldro T. Hibbard (1886-1972) came to town in 1920, a packet of paints in one hip pocket, and a baseball glove in the other.  He was pleased to see Stephens here; the two had attended art school together.  He set up work in an old harness shop and livery stable back of what is now Tom Nicholas’ Gallery. He organized the Rockport Summer School of Painting, and it operated until 1950. He was a major influence for artists who followed, such as Paul Strisik and Nicholas.

In 1921 local artists decided to hold their first local exhibition.  To plan it, and also to form an artists’ association, they met in Hibbard’s school.  By now there were about 50 artists—year-round and summer—painting in Rockport.  Harry Vincent was elected president, Hibbard secretary, and an executive committee included Stephens. The treasurer was Howard E. Smith, a nationally known portrait painter. The exhibition they planned soon took place, in the Congregational Church.

The Rockport Art Association (RAA) was born.

Rockport Motif No. 1 by Aldro T. Hibbard (1886-1972)

As soon as the artists formed their association, they began looking for a home.  Finally, in 1929 they were able to buy the old tavern on Main Street. The price was $6000. The house, built before 1878, was converted by Captain Josiah Haskell into a tavern, and then Caleb Norwood used it as an inn, and established a dance hall on the second floor.  This had been an inn, and a stage coach stop at various times. 

Rockport Art Association, 1973

Cooley writes happily about the vibrant social life of these artists.  It was simple, but they seem to have kept themselves entertained with teas, games of charades, and chowder parties at each other’s homes.  There were Saturday night suppers and dances at Murray Hall and Haskins Hall.  There were scavenger hunts in Dogtown and in the South Woods, and some enjoyed sailing. Hibbard, of course, was thoroughly involved with baseball at Evans Field. Each year they held a costume ball as a major fund raiser, working to pay off the mortgage on the RAA’s Old Tavern.

Rockport was becoming better known to anyone who looked at the thousands of paintings that made their way across America and the world, and also articles in magazines about this quaint village with the granite quarries, the fishermen and the beautiful scenery.

About 1940 Hibbard noted that the expanding art colony “realized the necessity of appealing to the townspeople to preserve as far as possible the quaintness and antiquity of the town.” Rockport, he said, “still had enough of its original character to be worth saving,” and he quoted one artist: “’the town’s all right; leave it alone.’”

Hibbard’s advice still holds.  While towns all around have filled up with fast-food chain stores, and other efforts toward homogeneity and so-called modernity, Rockport has resisted the temptation to “look like every other town”. 

We in the History Book Club of Rockport are indebted to Dr. Janos Posfai for recommending this topic for the month of October, 2014. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The short, sad life of Midshipman Elder

Five Deadly Shots

The short, sad life of Ned Elder
Midshipman E.A. Elder, Class of 1893

            Frederick Sullivan was playing golf at the Bass Rocks golf course in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1974 when he came across a gold ring in the grass.  It was the 1893 Naval Academy class ring of Edwin Avery Elder of Newton, Massachusetts.  

Class ring, USNA 1893

            Sullivan showed it to his wife, Drue, and they put it in a safe place.  Sullivan died in 1984, and the ring stayed in the back of his chest of drawers.  Then, one day in 1999 Drue pulled the ring out and began a search to find out about Mr. Elder.  What ever became of him? How did his ring end up in a golf course in Gloucester?
            Through friends, she obtained information from the Naval Academy, and found an article in the New York Times which told this story:

            Elder was born in Newton, MA, the son of a bank teller. He went through the Newton schools with honor. He was appointed to Annapolis by Congressman John W. Candler of Boston.  He passed the Academy entrance exams with ease, entering in 1889. He completed four years at the Academy, graduating fourth of the 44 men in his class in 1893. 

Midshipman Elder

US Bennington ca. 1890

            Shortly after graduation he joined USS Bennington (PG-4), a 17,000-ton steam-powered gunboat. The ship was still new when Naval Cadet Elder boarded her, commissioned in 1891. The ship sailed from New York on August 6, 1893. Elder and his shipmates visited many ports and operated all over the Mediterranean Sea until July 18, 1894 when Bennington sailed past the Rock of Gibraltar headed west. They began a long cruise on their way to the Pacific Station.  They visited various ports along the Atlantic coast of South America, then rounded Cape Horn. Bennington then visited Valparaiso, Chile in April, 1895, then on to at Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco Bay, arriving on April 30, 1895.

After arrival at the shipyard, Elder was given a physical examination for commissioning in the Navy, and found to have a heart irregularity, which was cause for discharge. He was discharged in June, 1895 and returned home to Boston.  He was apparently quite distressed by not being able to continue in the Navy, but he enrolled in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Five Deadly Shots.  A New York Times dispatch datelined Portland, ME on December 4, 1895 reported that Elder had apparently committed suicide in that city.

On Saturday, November 30 Elder left home in East Newton, taking the train to Boston.  He later boarded the Boston & Maine train in North Station headed for Portland.  

The Times article related: This young man, neatly dressed, smooth shaven and of good appearance, arrived at Hotel Preble early Sunday, December 1, and registered as “John H. Vose, of New York.” He arrived without baggage.  By Tuesday, since he had made no payment, the proprietor asked the clerk to notify him that his bill needed to be paid. The clerk notified Elder.

When Elder finished his supper, instead of going out through the office he went through the ladies’ parlor and then up to his room.  The door had been locked so he called a chambermaid, who let him in.  A few minutes later a bellboy went to the room with the message that the proprietor wished to see him. Starting to leave the room, Elder said to the bellboy, “I’ve forgotten something – I’ll be down in a moment.”

Ten minutes elapsed and when Elder did not come down, the proprietor went up to the room.  He found the door bolted, and heard groans.  He returned to the office and called the police. Then the hotel clerk went up to the room and climbed on a chair and looked over the transom.  He saw the body of a man, half on the bed and half on the floor.  He climbed through the transom and, once inside, discovered a man with a pistol in his hand, lying there, groaning and bleeding, and breathing heavily.  He had several bullet holes in his head, at the back of his ear.

Elder had planned to deaden the sound of the gun by wrapping bed clothes tightly around his head.  Two domestics sitting in the room next door had heard no sound. The ambulance came and took the man to Maine General Hospital where he soon died.

In Elder’s clothing police found a note, written in pencil:
“Dear Father,
If you ever get this, I suppose it will find you much mystified as to what has become of me, but don’t let it trouble you.  You have done without me for six years, and you’ll get used to it again. Don’t any of you think anything you have said or done has to do with my going.  My mind was made up some time ago. What money I had and the traveling expenses will partly square my account. I appreciate all you have done for me and I am sorry to make so poor a return for it.  I enclose a pawn ticket.
Love to all,

Did the pawn ticket belong to the gold Naval Academy ring?  How did the ring get from the family in Newton to a golf course in Gloucester? 

Drue (who is my neighbor in Rockport) brought all the information she had gathered and showed me, since I had also graduated from the Naval Academy, 64 years after Ned.  I could imagine his life at the Academy, because there are so many things at that place that change very slowly. 

The white jumper with name stenciled across the front chest was the same.  The “Dixie cup” hat had gotten smaller, though. Midshipmen still marched to class.  Plebes (freshmen) marched in the corridors of Bancroft Hall, squaring corners, clicking heels, saluting at officers.  At meals, plebes ate a “square meal” bringing their fork or spoon up vertically to mouth level, then bringing it mouthward, like a steam shovel (excavating machine). 

Even in 2014 at the Academy, 121 years after Ned graduated, many things are still the same.  Of course, when Ned was studying naval boilers they were fired with coal, and now we use gas turbines and nuclear power.  By the way, on USS Bennington, the ship Ned sailed in for two years, blew up with a tremendous boiler explosion in 1905.  Sixty-two men died then.

Ned studied how to fire the big guns being built onto warships in the 1890s, and 64 years later we were still learning how to operate and fire the 16-inch guns aboard our battleships.  Today, Midshipmen, male and female, learn about laser-guided bombs, Tomahawk missiles, directed energy weapons, and all manner of sophisticated detection, communication and warfighting equipment.

If Ned would have been able to stay in the Navy, he would probably have fought Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, either in the Philippine Islands or in Cuba. 

            It’s not known if Ned had a girlfriend, but when he graduated in 1893 he would not have been allowed to marry.  Naval leaders in those days wisely prevented young men from marrying before the long cruises they took.  Only after he had returned from his two-year cruise to the Mediterranean and around South America to California would he have been able to marry.  Had he passed that physical, he would then have received his commission as an Ensign.

But that was not to happen.  It’s hard to understand any time a young person takes his or her life.  Then, or today.

Ned had obtained a magnificent education, and he’d topped it off with two years at sea on a Navy gunboat, covering a lot of land and water. 

Of course it is discouraging when the medics tell you that you won’t be able to continue in the naval service, but it does not appear that his disability was life-threatening.  Whatever they detected meant that he should not be subjected to the harsh life at sea.  At any rate, those around Ned related that he was very depressed. 

Perhaps if Ned had lived in this century, he might have found a way to a new life.

                                                                                    ---Samuel W. Coulbourn


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Major Discoveries in Medicine before 1900

Major Discoveries in Medicine before 1900

History Book Club
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
NOTE:  Our next meeting will be Wednesday, October 29th:
The History of Art in America-- read a book of your choice on the History of the visual arts in the U.S.
   This can be about an individual artist, an art form as embraced by American artists, art as propaganda, art in advertising, modern art in America, landscape art and the environmental movement, or you can home in on the Rockport or Cape Ann art colonies.  It will be your call!

The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignác Semmelweis
(Great Discoveries.) By Sherwin B. Nuland. 191 pp., illustrated. New York, Norton, 2003. $21.95. ISBN: 0-393-05299-0
            This is a simple story, and in 2014 it is hard to imagine that there was a time that this could have happened.
            A girl in Vienna, Austria in the 1840s meets a dashing young college student.  It is such a lovely relationship, but soon, she gives herself to him--- over and over and over.  She becomes pregnant and the dashing student blames himself for his “dallying” with this girl. Of course, he takes no responsibility for this pregnancy.
            The girl’s mother died years ago, but her father has always been so understanding, he will have a solution.  Instead, he flies into a rage. 
            The girl stays with her friend Liesl, and she makes frequent trips to the Allgemeine Krankhausen, a huge hospital, the pride of Vienna.  Since the 18th century fine hospitals had been built all over Europe, coupled with schools of medicine.  Hospitals were a tremendous benefit for the lower classes, but affluent families continued to be treated in their own homes. 
            The girl (author Nuland never gives her a name) scouts out the hospital in her many quiet visits.  From Liesl she learns that there are two obstetric divisions—one run by doctors and the other by midwives.  She should ask for the one run by midwives, Liesl advises. “Stay away from the prying hands of the medical students,” she says.
            The day comes when the girl’s water breaks and she and Liesl walk over a half mile to the Allgemeine Krankenhaus They are greeted by a friendly nurse, and she is assigned to the first division, the one run by doctors.  No, she cannot go to the second division.  This is where she is assigned.
            The girl is given her bed, and visited by nurses, doctors and medical students.  The routine for the students is to visit the “Deadhouse”, where they can examine corpses of those patients who have recently died. Then the students come up to examine these young women, about to give birth.
            The girl has a long labor, but finally delivers a fine young boy, whom she names for her father.  Surely, she thinks, “When I show my father the baby he will forgive me.”
            Shortly after the birth, however, the girl develops a high fever and her body begins to fill with gas.  She vomits, and cannot take food. She becomes cold and clammy, then delirious.  Finally, three days after the delivery, she dies.
            This is 1847, and the author has used this fictional story to lead us into the story of how doctors eventually discovered that they were the very causes of death of so many young women.  Fully one out of every six women in this first division at Allgemeine Krankenhaus died of puerperal fever, or childbed fever. 
            Every morning, young doctors would open up bodies of deceased women and find their uteruses inflamed and filled with pus. Then they would proceed directly to the first division and examine healthy young women about to give birth.  In the second division, midwives examined the young women, but they did not visit the deadhouse.  The mortality rate in second division was much lower.
            At that time no one knew about germs or infection.  They thought that the sickness that swept over these women came from bad vapors or perhaps some mysterious aura.  They thought there might be a connection between the changes in a woman’s body that allow her to give milk to her child, or a blockage of the amniotic fluid (lochia).   Everything but the thought that it could be doctors with filthy fingers!
            When we read about doctors wading in bodily fluids, inflamed flesh, pus and a putrid stench, and then proceeding directly to examine healthy women, we can hardly imagine that anyone could have ever been that stupid. 
            Along comes Ignác Semmelweis.  Born in Hungary in 1818, Ignác starts out learning to become a lawyer, then changes to medicine.  He studies at the University of Vienna one year, then changes to the University of Pest back in Hungary, then back to Vienna to finish and get his degree. Nuland has studied Semmelweis a great deal before writing this book. 
            In 1847, as Semmelweis concluded that doctors and students were conveying the disease, he set up bowls of chloride solution at the entrance to the maternity ward and ordered students to wash their hands before entering the ward.
            Johann Klein, Semmelweis’ chief at the Vienna lying-in hospital, was an Austrian doctor who followed all the rules and was beholden to the royal apparatus, had been a stern teacher of young doctors and insisted on thorough autopsies and clinical observations of cadavers. He did everything in his power to suggest that puerperal fever, and all the deaths, were caused by the ventilation, the walls, anything but by his doctors.
            Semmelweis had a lot of characteristics that made him hard to get along with.  He had a habit of really haranguing any students or doctors who failed to use the chloride solution upon entering the maternity ward.  And he failed to put his theories about infection into print.  He soon moved to the lying-in hospital in Pest, Hungary.  There he found the same problem—doctors handling a cadaver filled with pus and stinking to high heaven, and then proceeding to operate on a theretofore uninfected patient.  He nagged them about using the chloride.  And still, they resisted.
            Back in Austria, someone wrote an article in the Vienna Medical Weekly, saying that one would expect that now (several years after Semmelweis had departed) this chloride-washing theory had been discredited.
            Semmelweis was not easy to get along with. He was impatient, impetuous, single-minded and blustery. He did not make friends easily. Yet, in 1856, at the age of 38, he married a beautiful young woman, daughter of a prosperous Hungarian merchant.
            Finally, in 1861 Semmelweis published his book, The Etiology, the concept and the prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. It was met with indifference and opposition by leading obstetricians, which set Semmelweis into a rage. 
            Soon, Semmelweis’ behavior became more bizarre than usual, with strange sex habits, including openly consorting with a prostitute, and rambling speech.  He was clearly suffering from some sort of dementia. He was committed to a hospital for the insane and died in August 1865.  Four years later, scientists discovered microbes in chains, later to be called streptococci, and in 1879 Louis Pasteur connected Semmelweis’ work with the streptococci to pronounce that “it is the doctor and his staff that carry the microbe from a sick woman to a healthy woman.”
--Samuel W. Coulbourn


Title: Western Medicine: An Illustrated History
Author: edited by Irvine Loudon
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date: 1997
There is growing concern worldwide about the severe outbreak of ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Will the spread of the disease reach epidemic proportions? Some estimates are frightening. Now, with concerted intervention by the United States and other countries with well-developed medical systems, there is hope of bringing the crisis in West Africa under control.
Most significantly, that intervention is not going to bring a cure for victims of ebola. More than anything, it will mean providing highly structured, modern medical care for infected patients in isolation from the general population. Currently, there is no cure for ebola. It can be stopped only by keeping patients from infecting their caregivers, both at home and in medical facilities, with their bodily fluids.
Tragically, we live in a time of extraordinary unequal access to medical treatment. Modern hospitals in America are well-prepared to provide life-saving regimes of medical care. In West Africa threadbare medical systems have been overwhelmed from the beginning of the current outbreak. History places us in a difficult period of a great divergence between rich and poor countries. It begins with Greek civilization and continues for twenty-five hundred years into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the rise of modern medical practice in Western Europe and America as part of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It is a remarkable history which, unfortunately, is not given the attention it deserves in competition with wars and revolutions and political and
religious conflict. Yet, the lessons of history could go a long way toward avoiding a crisis like the deadly spreading of ebola in West Africa.
One of the best sources for understanding the long arc of the history of medicine is an artfully developed text, Western Medicine: An Illustrated History, superbly edited by Irvine Loudin and published in 1997 by Oxford University Press. A medical doctor who became an historian of medicine in mid-career, Loudin worked with a group of nineteen highly qualified historians of medicine or individuals otherwise knowledgeable in a medical specialty to create the text for the book.
Many of the contributors, including Loudin, were connected at the time to the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London. Supported by the Wellcome trust established by Sir Henry Wellcome, co-founder of a major pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome, the Wellcome Institute committed substantial resources to the study of the history of medicine for many years, primarily sponsoring academic research in universities and other institutions. Western Medicine: An Illustrated History is very much a product of the medical historians supported by the Wellcome Institute.
As a sign of the times, however, it must be noted that changes in the law have made it possible to shift money away from Sir Henry Wellcome’s wish to support historical research in medicine. The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine no longer exists and support for research in the history of medicine is meager, not only in Europe but also the United States. Additionally, Wellcome’s pharmaceutical company has been swallowed into the giant drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.
The Wellcome name may be disappearing but Western Medicine: An Illustrated History remains an excellent survey of the history of medicine, available not only in print but also online for easy fee-based downloading. A good choice for distribution in this era of web based sources of information.
Irvine Loudin and his contributors focus their attention on two revolutionary periods in the history of Western medicine. One was the invention of rational
medicine. In the fifth century BC the Greeks evolved rational systems of medicine free from supernatural and religious causes, establishing in their medical theories and practices that sickness and disease originated in natural causes. What an extraordinary shift in understanding for the world it was.
James Longrigg, a reader in ancient philosophy and science at the University of Newcastle at the time of publication, explained thusly:
“Rational modes of explanation based upon formal, deductive reasoning, and sustained by logical argument were employed to account for disease within an ordered world whose laws were discoverable. (Men and women were) regarded as part of that world, a product of their environment, made of the same substances and subject to the same laws of cause and effect that operates within the cosmos at large.”
A medical practitioner and author in early fifth century BC Greece by the name of Alcmaeon of Croton is credited with opening the way to these new concepts of disease. He rejected belief that certain diseases possessed a separate existence, making them subject to the whims of the gods. Instead, disease was the result of disturbances of the body’s natural equilibrium and thus part of nature. While his theory of the body’s equilibrium eventually proved inadequate, his remedies to restore health and reduce imbalances were positively modern and I subscribe to them wholeheartedly: baths, massage, gymnastic exercises, and even changes in climate.
Situated at the center of the Greek revolution in rational medicine was Hippocrates who lived in the second half of the fifth century. He is credited with the magnificent work called the Corpus, which includes sixty some treatises on the origin and treatment of diseases. The work is virtually free of magic and supernatural intervention. A new era of rational medicine had begun.
Only it must be admitted that it is almost certain that Hippocrates did not write the treatises that make up the Corpus. There are a multitude of styles and approaches in this huge body of medical work. Scholars cannot decide if any of them can be attributed to Hippocrates. Even the sections on medical ethics and
etiquette, including the famous Hippocratic Oath, are unlikely written by the great medical teacher himself. He was nevertheless accorded the title Father of Greek Medicine.
Perhaps the most important part of the Corpus is the development of the Hippocratic theory of four humours, a philosophical explanation of the natural workings of the body. The four humours are blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Over the centuries the theory took hold and was expanded in its reach and complexity which I will not attempt to explain further. Needless to say, it still held sway in the Western world through the Middle Ages, due in large part to the support of empirical observation. As a philosophical theory, it made sense of the natural world even if it was wrong.
In the Middle Ages, about 1000 AD, there were three significant systems of medical ideas and practices in the world: the Chinese, Indian, and Western, which then was more appropriately Mediterranean because it reflected Roman and Islamic additions to the elaborate Greek system based on the foundational principles established by Hippocrates and the many contributors to the Corpus. From the Renaissance onward Western medicine began to diverge from the other systems in its beliefs and organization. Then in the seventeen hundreds humoral ideas were abandoned and replaced by a view of the body as made up of parts ---- organs, tissues, and cells ---- where disease is due to structural abnormalities or physiological malfunctions.
The second big revolutionary period was underway. Science and technology were soon in the forefront of medical discovery and practice. It was now truly Western medicine. And it is still evolving.
Medical ideas and practices have changed faster in the last three hundred years than at any time in human history. In the process of these huge advances, Western medicine has come to dominate the world, both in rich and poor countries. The Chinese and Indian systems are now viewed simply as alternative, nativist approaches with little scientific validity.
But modern, scientific medicine designed to cure diseases is not the only emphasis in Western Medicine: An Illustrated History. Loudin and the many contributors discuss how illness can be prevented by healthful living habits. Ruefully, they point out that obesity, alcoholism, and drug addiction keep medical practitioners busy in wealthy nations. Moreover, they suggest that finding answers to poverty, unemployment, and homelessness is likely to bring more benefits to a greater number of people than cures for disease available in high priced, scientific, high technology medicine.
The same logic can be applied to poor countries. One contributor, Stephen Lock, a longtime editor at the British Medical Journal, observes that in developing countries “most authorities have preferred to pursue a goal of Western-style medicine, rather than adopt proven and cost-effective methods for ensuring good health in the population: a piped water supply, simple education of mothers, childhood immunization, and simple health care delivery by indigenous aides.”
The overriding issue is one of seeking high priced cures for disease instead of high quality care that can be provided for much less expense. In the case of the ebola outbreak in West Africa, there is no cure. High technology Western medicine is not going to end the crisis. The only way to halt the growing epidemic is through high quality care. None of the countries affected by the outbreak was prepared. Hopefully, it is not too late to avoid a catastrophic epidemic as intervention comes from the United States and Europe. Once again, the lessons of history have been ignored. For all of miracles provided by Western medicine, we still are confronted with the threat of widespread epidemics.
--Richard Heuser

Yellow Fever
James L. Dickerson
Prometheus Books   2006

In 1793, Philadelphia with a population of 29,000 had the distinction of being the new nation’s capital. It was the indisputable heart and soul of the new American democracy. As the nation’s first capital Philadelphia was home to President George Washington during both his terms and the meeting place for Congress.
 Philadelphia’s Dr Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the most prominent physician in the country, became alarmed at the rising number of pockets of yellow fever illnesses around the drought stricken city.There was considerable disagreement among the town’s doctors as to the cause of the disease. Some blamed poor sanitation, noxious air, or the climate. Others attributed it to flood of immigrants fleeing the Haitian slave uprisings.
Rush was called by two other doctors to the home of a wealthy importer whose dying wife was in great pain and also displaying the classic unmistakable grim symptoms of yellow fever. He used her illness to persuade the city fathers that Philadelphia was in the beginning of an epidemic. Philadelphians understood what that meant. Over the past one hundred years there had been four documented yellow fever epidemics in the city, all of which had produced staggering death counts.
As the 1793 summer waned and the death rate rose to over a 150 victims a day, panic followed, and more than 20,000 Philadelphians, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the entire executive branch of the government fled the city, helter shelter. The State of Pennsylvania legislature also moved their deliberations to Lancaster. The new nation came to a standstill: appropriations, appointments, judicial decisons,or foreign matters could be legally decided upon.
Yellow fever was terrifying because it killed at random, striking all ages and economic groups. Now we know that a vaccine developed only in 1934, plus eradication of the disease source (infected mosquitoes, finally revealed in 1900) are the only means of controlling the spread of yellow fever .Both controls were unknown in Colonial America. Today, it is still a worldwide killer of over 200,000 deaths a year.
The yellow fever virus attacks the liver and kidneys, causing lingering and agonizing death, even today, in well over 20% of those bitten. The only good result of those stricken survivors is that they are usually immune from future attacks of the yellow fever virus.
Yellow ever is an infectious viral disease that aggressively attacks the liver and digestive tract. In mild cases the symptoms are similar to the flu, but in the often continuing toxic phase, the patient develops a high temperature and encounters a series of life-threatening conditions such as internal bleeding, kidney failure, liver failure, and meningitis.
Symptoms appear about six days after infection. In the first stage, the patient will experience a high fever, headaches, and a rapid pulse. Later the patient will his pulse will fall below normal and he will have terrific pain in his limbs and back. This second stage may create a false sense of recovery. The disease then escalates into the third often death stage where the all the body orifices seep blood accompanied by black bile vomit. 
 Yellow fever is difficult to diagnose, since symptoms often overlap with those related to malaria, typhoid, hepatitis, and various poisons. In its most toxic phase, in the 1800’s,the mortality rate was often around 50%,
Yellow fever is transmitted by the AEDES AEGYPTI mosquito. A mosquito can pick up a virus if it bites an infected person, but it must incubate inside the mosquito before the insect can give the disease to another human. After 12 days, the newly infected mosquito can transmit the virus as long as it lives. It only takes a few infected mosquitoes to instigate an epidemic. That’s because   non-infected mosquitoes can become infected simply by biting an infected person.
The Philadelphia Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 petered out with the onset of the winter months. More than 5000 residents perished that summer and fall. Unfortunately the limited and often counterproductive medical approaches contributed to a large percentage of the agonizing deaths.
 In the nearly deserted city, heroic roles were repeated many times over by free blacks who remained. They had no place run to, so they stayed and tended he often abandoned ill. Many physicians and other care givers died, themselves stricken.  Those that survived the fever toiled on, helping the newly stricken. Death was most acute among the young and the old.
The city was quarantined by neighboring communities. Inflation, thievery, and alcohol abuse caused near starvation conditions. The dead often went unburied for days. Almost no family was spared. The onset of the colder weather gradually brought the city back but Philadelphia never recovered its prominent first place in the growth of America.
The fever’s presence was evident in most of the eastern seaboard as far north as Maine in the summer time.
The American fever plague of the late 18th century then exploded upon the deep south with terrifying swiftness. The panics and recovery phases of the soon to be infected yellow fever areas of the U.S. followed identical scenarios  through the 19th century.
The first recorded yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans occurred 1796, just three years after the Philadelphia nightmare. The disease burst out of the southern delta at the turn of the century, when France took over control of this immense territory from Spain.  Then Napoleon became disenchanted with the New World in 1801, when his French invasion force of 29,000, intent on bringing Haiti back under the French flag, was decimated.  20,000 soldiers perished of yellow fever and malaria on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo.
Thomas Jefferson then brokered a deal with him for the Louisiana Territory which  unknowingly included uncountable numbers of infected Acedes aegyti mosquitoes, free of charge. With the accelerated growth of the port city of New Orleans, swelled by the arrival of a flood of immigrants from the carnage of the Haitian slave rebellion, yellow fever returned to New Orleans, slowly at first, in 1812, 1817, and 1818, claiming no more than 300 lives in those years, but building built its death toll each year until when in 1847; another major American epidemic appeared in N.O., claiming 2,306 lives.
Here again, as happened in Philadelphia, the medical community was unable to agree on the causes and treatment of the disease. Ineffective measures were enforced.
Burials of the fever victims were again a huge problem in New Orleans, exasperated by high water table of the river city.
The population of N.O. had soared to 120,000 by1853, with the medical community lulled into thinking Yellow Fever an “obsolete Idea”. However in May, suspicious cases were thought to be yellow fever.  Health authorizes investigated a cargo ship that had docked from Jamaica that had five crew members admitted to a on arrival. The five died. Stevedores unloading that ship and others nearby fell ill and ultimately died.
Yellow Fever became relentless throughout the city in claiming many daily victims during June. No alarm bells were sounded because death from infectious diseases was a common occurrence throughout America in the years before the arrival of antibiotics. The mood changed drastically in that 1853 July. New Orleans went from 27 yellow fever deaths a week to more than 500 a week.  The papers said no need to panic because most of the deaths were Irish and German immigrants who neglected medical care. The newspapers further soothed the native-born residents’ fears, telling them they were too medically knowing to be at risk to succumb to a lower-class disease such as yellow fever.
The N.O.  Board of Aldermen, even after the weekly death toll reached over 800, declared that the city was not in the throes of an epidemic. Then they adjourned, and the city administration, aldermen and their families leading the trek, abandoned the river city. The only leadership that remained came from physicians, ministers and priests to care for the needs of the people.
To combat the epidemic, cannons were fired in an attempt to purify the atmosphere and barrels of tar also were burned into order to cleanse the air of disease.   A nauseating putrid stench enveloped the Quarter.
 Remaining sanitation and health powers that remained were determined to contain the spread of the fever. A beginning point was: quick burials, burning contaminated and soiled bedding, quarantining new ship arrivals and cleaning up the streets and alleys. However, nothing seemed to have an effect on the death count.
When a news paper reporter investigated as to why the streets were so quiet and seemingly healthy, he was told because all the neighbors were dead.
Again when cool weather arrived, estimates of the death count varied from 7800 to 11,000. Many had been buried hurriedly in unmarked graves.
 In the mid 19th, century    American medical community was baffled by the epidemics.  They knew the symptoms would disappear with the arrival of cold weather which would curb the fever.They also knew that they would lose half of their patients. But they had no idea about the cause of the disease or how to alleviate the symptoms.
The following year 1854, they lost 2425; in 1855, 2770. Deaths dropped way back until 1857 taking 5000 lives of the then 160,000 N.O. residents Until the 1880’s, however, they still believed that yellow fever was a “foreign threat”, caused by outside human influences. Yet in 1878, by the end of August, quarantine or not, yellow fever again hit. 40,000 residents fled the city. 1878 health lists totaled 27,000 stricken survived and 4000 died. Cold weather saved the city once again.
All the towns along the Mississippi River were devastated at one time or another through the1800’s by “Yellow Jack “.In 1878. Memphis almost disappeared when the fever hit. For the most part, only the black inhabitants remained. There again as in Philadelphia, PA.  they thanklessly  attended the sick and dying, and paid a heavy price. Misinformation through the years had erroneously labeled the black,  mostly immune from the scourges of  the fever.
Memphis had some experience with Yellow Fever, but nothing prepared the fast growing port for attack of 1878. 1873 was bad with 5000 cases reported and 2000 plus deaths. Five years later little had changed n the city. None of the planned health improvements to combat disease had been implemented.
When Memphis residents found out that the town of Grenada, 100 miles to the south was in the midst of a yellow fever epidemic, (5000 died) pandemonium followed. Half of the Memphis’s 40,000 residents fled.    When frost stopped the spread of the fever in late October, 1878, most of17,800 inhabitants remaining who could not flee, had contracted the disease and over 7000 died.
In the Natchez area epidemics were recorded along with Vicksburg with all the attending horror stories. Jackson, Mississippi’s population was reduced by half by fever, and the devastated delta town of Philadelphia, Miss. was overwhelmed on every street by illness and death
The town of Greenville, Miss. had been through hell in the  Civil War ,but nothing matched the horrors brought on by yellow fever in 1878.For most of its history, Greenville had existed as a fever free oasis. This quiet backwater river town had 2500 inhabitants and never experienced an epidemic. When a relief boat finally docked in September, 1878, 400 remained, and 200 of these were still sick. 
These were some of the towns in 1878 that shared the horrors of the worst epidemic in American history. This was a scourge not to be controlled until the onset of the 20th century. Yellow Jack disease eradication was led by heroic and stubborn medical investigators putting aside personal risk and fortune to eliminate yellow fever. Their stories denote the onset of a new era in superb medical achievement.
 ----Dick Verrengia


Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America’s Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It.   Julie M. Fenster Harper Collins 2001

On the morning of October 16, 1846, a day celebrated as Ether Day, anæsthetic gas was first demonstrated in a surgical operation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  Julie Fenster writes that “on that day, the mind of man had an answer to pain.  But pain was not through, and with some sort of vengeance, pain itself also turned sharply that day to conquer the men who dared to conquer it.”  
That quote symbolizes the two themes -- the two types of pain -- in Julie Fenster’s book.   Most of the book details the self-inflicted pain,  mostly mental anguish, suffered by the three contenders for the glory of discovering ether to combat physical pain.  But running throughout the book are comments about how people 200 years ago dealt with physical pain.  
An Internet search for the history of pain reveals a wide variety of treatments including electric eels, bloodletting, hypnosis, herbs, alcohol …  and acceptance.  The last choice was popular with people who perceived pain as God’s punishment for sins – or in the case of childbirth, the price one paid for the miracle of procreation.   In the early 1800s  these treatments and attitudes were still in play despite the fact that nitrous oxide and ether were already known.  
In setting the background for the worldwide excitement about Ether Day, the author devotes a chapter to describing the agony patients experienced in first half of the 19th century while have abscessed teeth pulled, life-threatening growths removed, and smashed limbs sawed off.  She also tells of patients who backed out of a planned surgery in a last minute panic.  Most horrendous of all are the anecdotes about how doctors dealt with the patients who writhed and thrashed.  If strapping the patient’s arms and legs to the table didn’t work, they would encase the patient in a form-fitting box with a hole that allowed access to the excision site. 
It was no wonder that highly respected Dr. John C. Warren, head of surgery at Mass. General, willingly risked his reputation to perform the surgery on October 16th, 1846, saying “What surgeon has not .. been inspired with a wish to find some means of lessening the sufferings he was obliged to inflict!.”  Dr. Warren removed a tumor from the neck of a Mr. Gilbert Abbott, who later confirmed that he felt no pain whatsoever.  The surgery was no different than what Dr. Warren had done many times before.  The man who eliminated the suffering was William Morton, who had Mr. Abbott inhale a mixture of sulfuric ether and oil of orange, sucked up through a tube inserted in a glass ball outfitted with two valves that controlled the flow of air that mixed with the sweet-smelling ether.  
Many years later Mass. General commissioned a mural to commemorate this historic occasion. Hovering over Mr. Abbott is William Morton with the glass ball containing the ether he is credited with discovering.  What the painting doesn’t show is twenty-five years of suffering –physical, emotional and financial -- that Morton inflicted on himself and two former friends.  Julie Fenster gives us a much bigger picture of the facts behind Ether Day and how they contributed to a benefit for mankind and a tragedy for the contributors. 
William Morton was only 27 when he became famous for bringing ether to Mass. General Hospital, but he was already well-known in several major cities … not as a hero but as a scoundrel.  The author’s extensive research into this little-known period in Morton’s life supports a fascinating chapter filled with quotes from his victims. As a teenager from a poor family in Charlton, Mass. all he had going for him was the ability to make a positive first impression:  handsome, enterprising, confident, and intelligent.  Those who got to know him better learned that he used his basically unschooled intellect to defraud business partners that he left holding the bag while he absconded to another city to entice another rich man into investing in another dry goods business.  
When he was 21, he returned to Charlton where, by chance, he met a travelling dentist, Dr. Horace Wells of Hartford.  Perhaps seeing dentistry as a better way to achieve the social stature he aimed for, Morton persuaded Wells to be his teacher.  This casual beginning was the first step in Morton’s journey to Mass. General.  In 1842 Wells set his pupil up in a dental practice in Farmington, CT.  Soon Morton partnered with Wells to sell dental bridgework that the latter had invented.  To increase the range of business prospects Morton moved his practice to Boston.  And to give scientific approval to their product they paid a brilliant and highly respected doctor and scientist for his endorsement.  Thus in 1843 Dr. Charles Jackson, Horace Wells and William Morton – three men, each nonconformists with distinctive talents – met for the first time.  
Morton was justifiably impressed with Dr. Jackson’s medical credentials from both Harvard and the University of France, so, ever the opportunist,  he persuaded Jackson to teach him medicine.  As an indication of the complexity of this story, neither Morton nor Jackson put any effort into that proposed instruction.  Morton only wanted the Jackson deal to satisfy his fiancée’s parents who wanted more than a dentist for their daughter.  Jackson at that time was totally distraught by the claim of Samuel F.B. Morse that he, not Jackson, first had the idea for the telegraph.  Wells was busy trying to get past the disappointment at Morton’s failure to live up to their bargain in the bridgework venture.  One of Well’s efforts was to explore the latest fads in mind-altering such as the use of hypnotism or nitrous oxide.   By 1845 Wells was using nitrous oxide in dental surgery, had freely shared his success with all the dentists in Hartford, and given a demonstration of its use at Mass. General.  Sadly, the procedure was flawed, the doctors called it humbug and Wells went home in despair, soon gave up dentistry, tried three other businesses and eventually went broke.   
Morton was the only spectator of Wells’s fiasco at Mass. General who saw an opportunity to make a profit. He quickly advertised himself as a pain-free dentist and gained fame and money.  He attracted the attention of a young doctor at Mass. General who persuaded Dr. Warren to allow Morton to add anesthesia to his next surgery.  The rest, as they say, is history.. medical history.  This book details the history of the three men and their supporters who fought over the credit and potential profits for discovering anesthesia.  The drama and confusion that followed in the next 22 years makes Julie Fenster’s work outstanding   .  
A deeply depressed Wells turned back to the one aspect of his life that he felt good about – the inspiration to use nitrous oxide.  Knowing that both that chemical and sulfuric ether had drawbacks, he became interested in reports that a Scottish doctor was using chloroform instead.  Wells began to test it, using himself as a guinea pig.  By 1847 he was addicted, arrested, and committed suicide in jail.  Chloroform went on to become the anesthetic of choice into the 20th century.
Morton, on the other hand, delighted with his new celebrity and flush with the profits from his painless dentistry,  applied for a patent.  To add some scientific weight to the application, he had Dr. Jackson join in the request. The patent was quickly awarded, but before Morton could profit from it, the use of ether became common …AND a firestorm of criticism erupted from the medical community, protesting the effort to make a profit from easing the pain of mankind.  William Morton spent the rest of his life trying to find a way to make that profit. In 1867 he  died in New York City while preparing a rebuttal of an article in Atlantic Monthly that gave Dr. Warren full credit for the discovery of etherization and reduced Morton’s role to the person who merely gave ether to the patient on October 16, 1846. 
Dr. Walter Jackson spent those same two decades trying to persuade the top scientists in Paris that he was the discoverer of ether. He admitted explaining its use to Morton and excused his failure to promote the use himself, claiming the obligations of his other professions:  consulting chemist and geologist.  His rationalizations for signing on for potential financial gain were lame and unconvincing.  In 1872 Dr. Jackson had another in a series of strokes.  This time there was no recovery of his speech nor control over his emotions.  He  became a patient at McLean Asylum for seven years before he died there.  Ironically both Jackson and Morton are buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
The history of anesthesia is long and complex.  Even in the short term of the 18th and 19th centuries several people in several countries claim to have been the first to use it in eliminating pain... or in just creating a temporary euphoria.  None of the three combatants who fought for the honor in Ether Day succeeded, but each received some recognition.
Both the state of Connecticut and the American Dental Association honored Wells as the discoverer of modern anesthesia.  Mass. General Hospital underwrote the cost of Jackson’s  care at McLean “in recognition of his services in connection with the discovery and use of ether.”  And the hospital’s Ether Dome features a 7’ mural of the famous operation with Charles Morton front and center.
 Julie Fenster ends with this comment:  Ether Day, October 16th, 1846, was celebrated far and wide.  It is said to mark the dawn of modern surgery – that is, surgery in which anesthesia frees the patient from the fear and pain of a doctor’s effort to remove a problem ..  and frees the surgeon and his staff from the patient’s screams of agony.   It’s sad to think that Ether Day could have happened decades earlier.  Gasses that blocked the experience of pain had been known for many years, but the right mix of attitudes and personalities didn’t come together until the 1840s.”
---Beverly Verrengia