Reed (1851 - 1902)
Reed spent his first days in a small house which served as the parsonage
for a Methodist congregation in Gloucester County, Virginia, where
his father was minister. Lemuel Sutton Reed and Pharaba White Reed
welcomed young Walter into the family on September 13, 1851; he
was the youngest of their five children. The Reeds moved to other
Virginia parishes during Walter's childhood, and just after the
close of the Civil War, transferred to the town of Charlottesville.
That move in 1866 placed Walter in the orbit of the University of
Virginia, which he entered a year later at age sixteen under the
care of his older brother Christopher, also a student at the University.
Reed attended two year-long sessions, the second devoted entirely
to the medical curriculum, and he completed an M.D. degree on July
1, 1869, the youngest graduate to date in the history of the medical
At that time
the School of Medicine at the University offered little opportunity
for direct clinical experience, so Reed subsequently enrolled at
the Bellevue Hospital Medical College,
in Manhattan, New York. There he obtained a second M.D. degree
in 1870. Reed interned at a number of hospitals in the New York
metropolitan area, including the Infants' Hospital on Randall's
Island and the Brooklyn City Hospital. In 1873, he assumed the
position of assistant sanitary officer for the Brooklyn Board of
Health. The large and diverse population of New York, with its
many immigrant communities and dense, tenement housing, provided
countless medical cases to treat and study; these served to expose
Reed to the vital importance of public health, and developed in
him a lifelong interest in the field. Yet the frenetic life of
the great cities began to pall after a few years: "Here the
ever bustling day is crowded into the busy night; nor can we draw
the line of separation between the two," he wrote to Emilie Lawrence, of Murfreesboro,
North Carolina, later to become Mrs. Walter Reed. Their courtship
letters reveal much of his maturing character, interests, and philosophy
of life. Increasing responsibilities with the Board of Health precluded
opening a private practice, and Reed's youth proved a barrier in
a culture given to offering respect more to the appearance of maturity
than to its actual demonstration. Reed
consequently resolved to join the Army Medical Corps, both for the
professional opportunities it offered immediately and for the modest
financial security it could provide to a young man without independent
means. He passed the qualifying examinations in January 1875 and
proceeded to his first assignment at the military base on Willet's
Point, New York Harbor.
in the Medical Corps for the rest of his life, spending many years
of the '70s, '80s, and early '90s at difficult postings in the American
West. The first of these -- to the Arizona Territory -- began in
the late spring of 1876, and indeed hurried along his wedding to
Emilie Lawrence, on April 25, shortly before his departure. She
joined him the following November, and bore two children at frontier
posts, a son Walter Lawrence and a daughter Emilie, called Blossom.
other western assignments included forts in Nebraska, Dakota Territory,
and Minnesota, with two eastern interludes at Baltimore, Maryland
and another at Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama. During the second
of these tours in Baltimore -- over the 1890-1891 academic year
-- Reed completed advanced coursework in pathology and bacteriology
in the Johns Hopkins University Hospital Pathology Laboratory.
When he returned from his last western appointment in 1893, Reed
joined the faculty of the Army Medical School in Washington, D.C.,
where he held the professorship of Bacteriology and Clinical Microscopy.
He also became curator of the Army Medical Museum and joined the
faculty of the Columbian University in Washington (later the George
Washington University). In addition, Reed maintained close ties
with professor William Welch and other leading lights in the scientific
community he had come to know at Hopkins a few years earlier.
his teaching responsibilities for the Army and the Columbian University
programs, Reed actively pursued medical research projects. A bibliography
of his publications finds entries from 1892 to the year of his untimely
a decade later, and the subjects he investigated range from erysipelas
to cholera, typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever, among others. In 1896, a research trip to investigate
an outbreak of smallpox took him to Key West, and there he developed
a close friendship with Jefferson Randolph Kean, a fellow Virginian
and colleague in the Medical Corps ten years his junior. When Reed
traveled to Cuba in 1899 to study typhoid in the army encampments
of the U.S. forces, Kean was already there, and Kean was still in
Cuba when Reed returned as the head of the Army board charged by
Surgeon General George Miller Sternberg to examine tropical diseases
including yellow fever. Kean and his first wife Louise were great
supporters of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever
Commission's work, and Kean in fact served as quartermaster
for the famous series of experiments at Camp Lazear. After the
dramatic and conclusive success of those experiments, Kean actively
-- though unsuccessfully -- promoted Reed's candidacy for Surgeon
continued to speak and publish on yellow fever after his return
from Cuba in 1901, receiving honorary degrees from Harvard and the
University of Michigan in recognition of his seminal work. In November
1902, Reed developed what had been for him recurring gastro-intestinal
trouble. This time, however, his appendix ruptured, and surgery
came too late to save him from the peritonitis which developed.
He died on November 23, 1902, almost two years to the day from the
opening of Camp Lazear and the stunning experimental victory there.
Kean remained a champion of his deceased friend's role in the conquest
of yellow fever. He organized the Walter Reed Memorial Association,
to provide support for Reed's family and to build a suitable memorial,
and was instrumental in lobbying the United States Congress to establish
the Yellow Fever Roll of Honor. In 1929, Congress mandated the
annual publication of the Roll in the Army Register, and
struck a series Congressional Gold Medals saluting the Commission
members and the young Americans who bravely suffered experimental
yellow fever a generation before.
 Letter from Walter Reed to Emilie Lawrence, 18
July 1874, Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection,
Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, Department of Historical
Collections and Services, accession number: 01605001.
 The bibliography of Reed's scientific papers may
be found in: Howard Atwood Kelly, Walter Reed and Yellow Fever
(New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1906), pp. 281-283.
Kelly's complete biography of Reed is contained on this Web site.