William Thompson Sedgwick Biography (1855-1921)

biologist, educator, sanitary engineer

William Thompson Sedgwick was born in West Hartford, Connecticut on December29, 1855; he died in Boston, Massachusetts on January 26, 1921. Sedgwick wasthe son of William and Anne Louise Sedgwick, and the husband of Mary KatrineRice, whom he married in 1881 (they had no children). A student of Newell Martin, Sedgwick obtained a Ph.B degree in 1877 from the Sheffield Scientific School (Yale); and a Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1881. From 1879 to 1883, he was a member of the physiological chemistry faculty at JohnsHopkins University; and from 1883 to 1921 of the biology faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (from 1911 to 1921 he belonged to the biology and public health faculty). From 1888 to 1921, he served as consulting biologist for the Massachusetts State board of Health (from 1902 to 1921 he was amember of the advisory board of the Hygienic Laboratory of the U.S. Public Health Service); and from 1913 to 1922 he was the chairman of the administrative board of the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology School for Health Officers (the nation's first public health school). He was a member of theInternational Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation; was president of the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1900; and belonged to the AmericanPublic Health Association from 1914 to 1915. Sedgwick is remembered as a biologist, educator, epidemiologist, and sanitary engineer, as well as one of theearly advocates of the pasteurization of milk, and of the addition of chlorine to drinking water.

Sedgwick helped establish sanitary engineering as a profession in the UnitedStates, and he pioneered the use of bacteriology in sanitary science. In collaboration with William Ripley Nichols and Thomas M. Drown, Sedgwick did important work in the areas of sewage experimentation and water purification.

He made significant studies of sewage disposal at the Lawrence Experiment Station for the Massachusetts State Board of Health. Together with Hiram F. Mills, he proved that a severe typhoid epidemic (1890) in the Merrimac valley wasthe consequence of pollution in the Merrimac River, which supplied cities along its banks with drinking water; he published these findings in Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health (1902). Among his other contributions was the demonstration that chlorine can be used to disinfect waterand sewage. He devised one of the first courses on sanitation and public health, and he trained many of the leading public health workers of his day, including Whipple, Winslow, Jordan, and Calkins. Among his writings are General Biology (1886, with E. B. Wilson); A Report of the Biological Work of the Lawrence Experiment Station. Experimental Investigation by the State board of Health of Massachusetts upon Sewage, etc. (1890); and The HumanMechanism: Its Physiology and Hygiene and the Sanitation of its Surroundings (1906, with Theodore Hough).

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