United States Public Health Service

Post Civil War

A Fly Leaf Illustration of the Networking that led to the creation of the American Public Health Association-

The Civil War and Its Aftermath

By the standards of the day the Marine Hospital Service was a large Federal enterprise, operating 27 hospitals by the start of the Civil War. By comparison, the U.S. Army had 98 medical officers, 20 thermometers, 6 stethoscopes and a few medical text books. The Army of the Confederate States of America had 24 medical officers. In 1864 only eight USMHS hospitals were in operation; the others being taken over for military operations.

The Civil War largely stopped medical research in the United States. However, it was the impetus for the assemblage of medical publications, now part of the NIH’s National Library of Medicine, which began as a small collection in the Army Surgeon General’s Office in 1836.

Following the Civil War, pressure began to mount again over the administration of the Marine Hospitals. President Grant took office in 1869 and commissioned a study by the Treasury Department with Dr. John Shaw Billings, the Army’s authority on hospitals, as “Consulting Surgeon, Marine Hospital Service.” The study found the Marine Hospital Service “upon the whole in an unsatisfactory condition.” On June 29, 1870, President Grant signed a bill establishing a “Bureau of the U.S. Marine Hospital Service” in the Treasury Department, raising the fees for seamen from $0.40 to $0.60 per month, and creating a Supervising Surgeon.

Dr. John M. Woodworth, the medical hero of Sherman’s March to the Sea, was appointed the first Supervising Surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service in April 1871. He organized the service, designed a seal and flag, and set up through the Department of State a reporting system on epidemics overseas. The seal is a design of an anchor, representing the sea, crossed at right angles with the Caduceus of Mercury, with two serpents entwined on staff. This is not the Caduceus of Aesculapius, with single serpent, symbol of medicine. Rather, it is the sign of the pacifier, carried by heralds and ambassadors as a flag of truce, and used by Army medical men, who had a peaceful mission on the battlefield. It was also a symbol of commerce, which made it doubly appropriate for the medical service of the merchant marine.

While the United States had been at war, three Europeans led a dramatically successful attack on disease and death through the new science of bacteriology. They were Louis Pasteur, of France; Dr. Joseph Lister, of Great Britain; and Dr. Robert Koch, of Germany. Two were masterly laboratory scientists, Lister, a distinguished surgeon. One of Koch’s pupils, Joseph Kinyoun, who had received his medical degree from the Bellevue Medical College in New York in 1882, studied at the Pasteur Institute and in Germany before returning to join the Marine Hospital Service. In August 1887 Dr. Kinyoun started the first public health research center, the “Laboratory of Hygiene” at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island. The laboratory would become the National Institutes of Health.

This article was found on The National Library of Medicine:


Origins Home / A Federal Role Begins / Independed Marine Hospitals / The Civil War and its Aftermath / Flags of 1887 / Birth of Hygenic Laboratroy / 1900’s Bring Change / The National Institute of Health / The World War II Era / The National Institutes of Health

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