Sedgwick Award

Sedgwick Award

Who Was William T. Sedgwick, ScD

b. 1855 – d. 1921

Considered the first scientific American epidemiologist, he lectured his civil engineering students at MIT in bacteriology, bringing the principles of public health into the practice of engineering, applying the new tools of science to water treatment and sewage treatment and the bacteriology of milk, ice, air and foods.. With two colleagues he established the Harvard-MIT School for Public Health Officers, the first to offer formal academic training. He helped develop the enumeration procedure and apparatus for examining microscopic organisms in surface water, the Sedgwick-rafter counting cell. In 1929 the APHA created the Sedgwick Memorial Medal to be awarded for distinguished service and “advancement of public health knowledge and practice.”

Professor William Thompson Sedgwick ScD was the 1915 APHA President and the most prestigious APHA Award, The Sedgwick Memorial Medal, is named in his honor. Dr. Sedgwick was a preeminent public health expert of his day, a scientist; trained in bacteriology he was a leading teacher, scholar and advocate for the emerging “modern” redefinition of public health of his era.

Dr William Schaffner–November 2010

Dr. William Schaffner received the Sedgwick Memorial Medal in November 2010 for his meritorious work in Vaccine Advocacy.

Dr. Schaffner’s Address on receiving the 2010 Sedgwick recognizing his career and contributions to the field of Vaccines and Immunization.

Dear Colleagues,
I stand before you in gratitude for this recognition of a career devoted to public health – most specifically to the prevention of disease.

As you know, I am an advocate of vaccination across the lifespan. As a means of prevention, vaccination continues to be marvelously successful, marvelously efficient, and satisfyingly cost-beneficial. But today vaccination is threatened-threatened by skepticism, by indifference and by ignorance. I urge you – I implore you to remain committed to vaccination! The 20th century provided effective vaccines against many childhood diseases, the 21st century already has provided the first explicitly anti-cancer vaccine-against cancer of the cervix. Research during this century will provide yet more vaccines that will prevent a wide spectrum of illnesses. So I urge you to remain steadfast – explain and defend vaccines so we can build on past achievements and create new opportunities for prevention.

Early in my professional evolution it became evident to me that the prevention of disease was medicine’s highest goal. So, I stand here also with affection and admiration for all of you – in all of your diverse healthcare disciplines – who devote yourselves to disease prevention and health promotion in this diverse country with its richly diverse populations.

So this, in profound appreciation for your efforts – I am honored and touched by your recognition.

William Schaffner, MD
Sedgwick Memorial Medal
APHA Denver
November 9, 2010


Sedgwick_note_iconThere is a personal “back story” of interest on my “personal contact “ with Professor William Thompson Sedgwick and illustrative of the importance of preserving, recording our history, and bringing it to life now and for future generations. 

I had been amassing a small personal collection of first edition classic works of public health. One talk I was interested in was an address given by Henry I Bowditch, MD on “Hygiene in America: A Centennial Discourse on Public Hygiene and State Preventive Medicine.” This is an account of the address delivered before the International Medical Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in September 1876 in honor of the Centennial of the Deceleration of Independence.

I had read many references to Dr. Bowditch’s talk by various authors both of his day and currently citing this as a landmark address and one based on a systematic thorough review State by State of public health of the day carried out by a network of fellow public health practitioners. Just after returning from the 2010 APHA meetings, I received the Bowditch volume containing his extended talk with the added bonus of a lengthy Appendix recounting of the state-by-state survey.

As I opened the book and turned to the inside cover, I was met with a pleasant surprise: a bookplate of William Thompson Sedgwick. (shown above)

And turning the page to the flyleaf, a second reward…. written inscriptions noting the original purchaser, dated in the year of its publication:

Dec 5 1877, with the handwritten transmittal to “to his friend ….in Preventive Medicine in Massachusetts.”

In the upper right corner, in Dr. Sedgwick’s hand the notation

“ W.J. Sedgwick, bought Second hand 1904”


What a provenance. …And only prompted me to think of the long trail reflected in the flyleaf that the book survived the vicissitudes of the many years. And to further think that from the hands of one anonymous “public health friend” in 1877 – through Professor Sedgwick’s, and, judging by the Book Plate, into the MIT Library. I was gratified to have this book bought “fourth hand or fifth hand”, it was a fitting testimonial to the legion of workers, the emergence of the science and the continued advocacy that bore and bears the fruits of these labors over these decades In these few pages, it was a fortuitous testimonial to this long and promising journey some 133 years after its first presentation. The coincidence came full circle in Dr. Schaffner’s award, and my listening to the acceptance remarks of the 2010 Sedgwick Memorial Award recipient. Indeed full circle but only one chapter in the evolution and evergreen and renewable cycle of public health and APHA.