Dr. Howard Markel writes a monthly column for the PBS NewsHour, highlighting the anniversary of a momentous event that continues to shape modern medicine. He is the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.
He is the author or editor of 10 books, including “Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892,” “When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed” and “An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine.”
Health Jul 19Happy birthday to the woman who revolutionized endocrinology
Rosalyn S. Yalow was a giant of medicine. A Nobel laureate and medical physicist, Yalow co-discovered the radioimmunoassay, an exquisitely sensitive means of using “radioactive tracers” to measure hormones in the bloodstream.
Health Jun 09In honor of Cole Porter’s 124th birthday, his story of triumph over pain
When Cole Porter died of kidney failure at age 73 on Oct. 15, 1964, only his closest friends knew the extent of the physical and mental anguish he had endured for 27 years. Against all clinical odds, even if only…
Health May 15In 1850, Ignaz Semmelweis saved lives with three words: wash your hands
On this date in 1850, a prickly Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis stepped up to the podium of the Vienna Medical Society’s lecture hall to give his fellow doctors advice, which could be summed up in three little words: wash…
Health Apr 14April 14-15, 1865: The tragic final hours of Abraham Lincoln
The macabre details of Abraham Lincoln’s final hours were described in a report written by a 23-year-old Army captain named Charles A. Leale, a doctor who was at Ford's Theatre the night the president was assassinated.
Health Mar 24The day we discovered the cause of the ‘white death’
Robert Koch’s greatest evening unfolded 133 years ago today, when he solved the riddle that had plagued doctors for centuries: what, exactly, caused tuberculosis?…
Health Feb 07What a 1925 novel by Sinclair Lewis can teach us about health care today
Feb. 7 marks the 130th birthday of Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930. At first glance, one might ask what does an American novelist have to do with a column devoted to medical discoveries and…
Health Jan 28How playing with dangerous x-rays led to the discovery of radiation treatment for cancer
When the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s announced his discovery of the x-ray in December of 1895, he was lauded on the front page of just about every newspaper in the world. Indeed, many journalists called this phenomenon “X-Ray…
Health Dec 14Dec. 14, 1799: The excruciating final hours of President George Washington
It was a house call no physician would relish. On Dec. 14, 1799, three doctors were summoned to Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Virginia to attend to a critically ill, 67-year-old man who happened to be known as “the father…
Health Nov 1969 years ago, a president pitches his idea for national health care
Back in 1945 -- a mere seven months into a presidency he inherited from Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Truman proposed a “universal” national health insurance program. In his remarks to Congress, he declared, “Millions of our citizens do not now…
Health Oct 15Before Ebola, Ellis Island’s terrifying medical inspections
Oct. 15, 1966 marked the day that Ellis Island (along with Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty) was officially listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.