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Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection
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Philip Showalter Hench (1896 - 1965)

Pfilip S. HenchThis extraordinary manuscript collection owes its existence to Dr. Philip Showalter Hench, who joined the Rheumatology staff of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in 1921. Hench graduated from Lafayette College in 1916, and completed his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1920, subsequently entering a residency program at St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh. After pursuing post-graduate study in Germany in 1928-1929, Hench obtained a Masters of Science in Internal Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1931, and a Doctor of Science degree from Layfayette College in 1940. Hench remained for the duration of his career at the Mayo Clinic, where his life-long passion for meticulous research and analysis brought him the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1950, which he shared with Edward C. Kendall and Tadeus Reichstein, for the discovery of cortisone.

The same persistence and determination present in his professional life is also evident in Hench's research on the U. S. Army Yellow Fever Commission's famous experiments. "As a physician particularly interested in medical history," he stated to experiment volunteer John J. Moran in 1937, "I have been long interested in the story of the yellow fever work in John J. Moran, Ralph C. Hutchison, Havana." [1] So began a remarkable odyssey. At the request of his friend Ralph Cooper Hutchison, then president of Washington and Jefferson College, Hench had written Moran to gather information for the dedication of the College's new chemistry building, named for Commission member and former Washington and Jefferson student Jesse W. Lazear. Hench also began a correspondence with another of the yellow fever experiment's original volunteers, John R. Kissinger. Moran's and Kissinger's recollections proved so intriguing that Hench initially offered to edit and publish them. However, in the course of his research Hench discovered that much general information on the topic was inaccurate. Conflicting assertions concerning the participants and unverified claims by medical and governmental authorities in the United States and Cuba -- often politically motivated -- clouded interpretation of the facts. "May I suggest," Moran consequently urged in 1938, "that a clearing up of the REED-FINLAY-CONQUEST-OF-YELLOW-FEVER, or an effort to do so, on your part, is a task far more pressing than publishing the Kissinger-Moran stories or memoirs." [2] Hench resolved to document every aspect of the "Conquest of Yellow-Fever" and to write a much needed accurate and comprehensive history.

John J. Moran and Philip S. Hench at the site of Camp Lazear For the next two decades, Hench tirelessly combed through public archive collections and personal papers in the United States and Cuba. He met and interviewed surviving participants of the experiments and others associated with the project, as well as family members of the Yellow Fever Commission. He sought out physicians and scientists who had worked with the principal players or who had applied the results in the campaign to eradicate yellow fever. He identified and photographed sites associated with the yellow fever story, and he successfully petitioned politicians in the United States and Cuba to commemorate the work. In the process, Hench became the trusted friend and advisor of many of these same individuals, and they, in turn, presented him with much of the surviving original material for safekeeping.

Philip and Mary Hench and their children.In short, Hench came to be the world's expert on the yellow fever story and the steward of thousands of original letters and documents. His premature death at age 69 found him still hoping to uncover important missing evidence, his book unwritten. Hench's widow Mary Kahler Hench gave his yellow fever collection to the University of Virginia, Walter Reed's alma mater, and this extensive personal archive forms the most detailed and accurate record available on the Conquest of Yellow Fever.

[1] Letter from Philip S. Hench to John J. Moran, 6 July 1937, Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Department of Historical Collections and Services, accession number: 03419001.

[2] Letter from John J. Moran to Philip S. Hench, 30 October 1938, Hench Reed Yellow Fever Collection, accession number: 03476001.

Historical Collections Department - Health Sciences Library

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Last Modified: Wednesday, August 08 2001

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