Dr. Howard Markel writes a monthly column for the PBS NewsHour, highlighting momentous historical events that continue 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 and the author of “The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix” (W.W. Norton, September ’21).
Health Oct 02When a secret president ran the country
All during September of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson became thinner, paler and ever more frail. Unfortunately, the president refused to listen to his body. He had too much important work to do.
Health Sep 22Celebrating the life of Alice Hamilton, founding mother of occupational medicine
No individual was more instrumental in warning people about the health risks and potential dangers of the industrial workplace than Alice Hamilton.
Health Aug 02The ‘strange’ death of Warren G. Harding
At 7:20 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 2, 1923, President Warren G. Harding’s wife, Florence, was reading the “Saturday Evening Post” to him in the presidential suite of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. The article in question was about Mr.
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…