Andrea here, musing today about medicine. It’s a subject much on our collective minds right now as we hope the best and brightest scientific minds around the world will soon come up with safe and effective vaccine to combat the deadly COVID virus. So, as we all could use some cheery thoughts, I’m talking today about one of the bright spots in medical history here in America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
We’ve made such inroads in combating diseases that once devastated populations, so I think we tend to forget how frightening and deadly so many forces of Nature—germs, microbes, bacteria, viruses—were in the past. As the Age of Enlightenment encouraged scientific inquiry and empirical observation, a new breed of physicians were beginning to look past the traditional ideas on illness—many of them left over from the ancient Greek philosophers—in order to understand how better to treat maladies.
I first met David Hosack in American Eden—David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic, Victoria Johnson’s marvelous book on America’s first botanic garden. Born in New York City in 1769, David Hosack was the son of a well-to-do merchant from Elgin, Scotland and his wife. He was educated at Columbia College, where he became fascinated with the study of medicine. He finished his studies at the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton) and then went on to study medicine in Philadelphia, where he wrote his doctoral thesis on cholera. In 1791, he married and started a private practice in Virginia, but then returned to New York City a year later.