Dr. Henry E. Sigerist


Professor Theodore Brown has recently been a guest in Professor Thomas Devaney’s HIS 501 course.  Professor Brown discussed Dr. Henry E. Sigerist, a topic closely related to current public debate.  Here is a brief synopsis written by Professor Brown.

In the three decades from 1925 to 1955, Henry E. Sigerist (1891-1957) was widely regarded as the world’s leading historian of medicine. In 1925, at the precocious age of 34, he had succeeded Karl Sudhoff, a German scholar of towering international reputation, as Director of the University of Leipzig’s pioneering Institute of the History of Medicine. In 1932, Sigerist succeeded William Henry Welch, the founding dean of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, as Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute of the History of Medicine, recently created on the Leipzig model. During the next fifteen years, Sigerist turned the Hopkins Institute into the leading center for the history of medicine in North America. He transferred his own research to Baltimore and arranged for exceptional European junior colleagues to join him for various periods of time. He likewise nurtured North American medical history efforts already underway and elevated scholarly standards, most notably by founding and editing the Bulletin of the History of Medicine and by considerably raising the professional tone of the American Association for the History of Medicine.

During his fifteen American years from 1932 to 1947, Sigerist also played a surprising but important public role. Welcomed as an urbane and eloquent lecturer, he enjoyed celebrity status at medical society meetings, before civic associations, and in colleges and universities. He was regularly called upon by philanthropic foundations, public agencies, labor unions, the media, and sometimes by the Roosevelt administration. Sigerist also served as a major spokesman for compulsory universal health insurance, and was much sought after as a lecturer, popular author, and radio commentator. His lecture in Philadelphia on February 19, 1939 at the Peoples Forum (advertised by this flyer) was one of his many well-attended public presentations. Sigerist’s ideas were reported in The New York Daily News and Time Magazine, and he published articles in mass circulation magazines and reviews such as Atlantic Monthly, PM, Science and Society, and the New Masses. Because of his dual reputation in historical scholarship and medical politics, Sigerist was invited to visit South Africa, India and Canada as a distinguished lecturer and health policy consultant.

Fee, Elizabeth, and Theodore M. Brown. Making Medical History: The Life and Times of Henry E. Sigerist. N.p.: John Hopkins University Press, 1997.


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