Johann Peter Frank Biography (1745-1821)


At a time when the plague and excrement dumped on streets was a common sightin Europe's cities, Johann Peter Frank began to stress the importance of proper hygiene for the masses. With a cry for the state to be responsible for thepublic's health at all times, Frank guided his career as a writer, teacher,and physician through prominent positions which preached his life-altering improvements in cities throughout several countries. His determination to makethese changes led him to be known as the founder of modern public health.

Born into a large family of German and French descent in Rotalben near Zweibucken in 1745, Frank attended catholic schools including the Piarist Latin School in Rastadt and the Jesuit School in Bockenheim, Lorraine. While in school, he was leaning towards music and song as a career with his soprano voice both of which he could not follow due to malaria in his youth and gouty arthritis in later years.

In 1761, Frank began studying at Metz, then in Pont-a-Mousson the following year where he decided to focus on physics. The 18-year-old Frank then journeyed to Heidelberg to begin his studies in medicine. He spent two years there atHeidelberg, but concluded his training at the University of Strassburg. During medical school, Frank showed a strong interest in the basic issues of clinical medicine, such as the promotion of the smallpox inoculation thatwould be a precursor to his life's work.

Well versed in numerous languages, including Italian, English, Dutch, Latin,German, and French, Frank could fulfill his needs of restlessness that took him throughout Europe with each career move. After practicing for two years atBitsch, Lorraine, he returned to practice in Baden, Germany. The events thatwould follow this move would forever strengthen his resolve to prepare an encyclopedic treatise of public health. After puerperal fever caused complications during a difficult labor that ended the life of his young wife, with hischild's death occurring a few months later, Frank immediately focused on thestudy of obstetrics and midwifery in relation to public health. This focus lead him to the position of director of the Midwives Association in Baden, andan investigator of a typhus fever epidemic in Gernsbach by the court at Rastadt. Subsequent positions included court and garrison physician, and town andcountry physician in Bruschal. The next year, 1773, he began his position ofphysician to the Prince-Bishop of Speyer who commended his ideas on health reform. This support led to the founding of an obstetrics school where Frank served actively as a faculty member.

During 1779, Frank would unveil what would be the most important principles of public hygiene during this time in his System einer vollständigen medizinischen Polizey. With proposals for strict legislation that would ensure a legitimate way of life "from womb to tomb," Frank's recommendations included chapters on conjugal hygiene, the protection of women engaged in manual labor, education of children, and proper hygiene in schools. While an immediate call to attention was needed on issues presented in his encyclopedic work, Frank proved to be ahead of his time his ideas of public and private health measures were only partly accomplished by public officials two centuries later.

When the fourth volume of System was published seven years later, Frank became well known throughout Europe. At this time he received offers from the University of Mainz as professor of physiology and preventive medicine, and a chance at a professorship of clinical medicine from Göttingen and Pavia. He chose Göttingen, and beginning in 1784 his days consisted of ward rounds, and lecturing on physiology, pathology, and therapeutics. After oneyear at Göttingen, Frank yearned for a position that would allow him more time to write and promote his national health reform: he then decided to immediately move to Pavia to begin his position in clinical medicine.

For nine years, Frank called Pavia home and brought a vast amount of change to the university. He upgraded the medical faculty, established new professional chairs, improved the guidelines of the practice of midwifery, and foundeda museum of pathological anatomy, a surgical clinic, and an apothecary school. Also at this time, Frank presented the first volume of his treatment of diseases of man, De curandis hominum morbis pitome. This was expanded tosix volumes and translated into numerous languages. He also published a series of clinical lectures and case reports a total of 12 volumes were resented between 1785 and 1793.

A need for change brought Frank to Vienna to begin his position as director of the Allgemeines Krankenhaus and a professorship at the University. His energy brought a variety of transformations, including a new postmortem room, a museum of pathological anatomy, and increased the number of available beds. With the emergence of a smallpox epidemic in 1800, Frank was able to vaccinatewith Edward Jenner's cowpox derived immunization. his event led to a government order that recommended vaccination for the entire population takingFrank's efforts one step closer to his ultimate goal. Following this time, he left Vienna for Russia. After one year at the University of Vilna, he wentto serve the Czar as physician-in-ordinary and director of the Medico-Surgical Academy for three years.

As he aged, Frank dealt with gout and decreasing energy, and this led to hisdecision to reject Napoleon's request to be his personal physician, and instead retire to Freiburg to finalize the fifth volume of his encyclopedic work,System. Frank returned to Vienna in 1811 to continue a large clinicalpractice and write his sixth volume. He stayed there until his death in 1821.

Delivering the message of sound health and hygiene guided Frank throughout his life. With topics such as premarital sex education, suitable clothing for women, and protection and care of illegitimate children, all to be the responsibility of the State, his System and Frank's relentless efforts markedthe beginning of public health reformation.

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