Benjamin Waterhouse Biography (1754-1846)


Benjamin Waterhouse was born March 4, 1754 in Newport, Rhode Island; he diedon October 2, 1846 in Boston. He was the son of Timothy Waterhouse, a maker of chairs who is said to have been a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and onthe Governor's Council, and Hannah Waterhouse. In 1788 he married ElizabethOliver, with whom he had six children; in 1819 he married Louisa Lee, with nochildren resulting from the second marriage. He attended the academy foundedby Bishop Berkeley. Between 1775 and 1178, he studied medicine with Dr. JohnHalliburton and judge Robert Lightfoot in Newport. In 1780, he studied medicine and science at Edinburgh for nine months and in London with his relativeJohn Fothergill. In 1780, he obtained the M.D. degree in Leyden, where he spent another year studying history and the law of nations. In 1786, he receivedan honorary M.D. degree from Harvard University. He began practicing medicine in Newport in 1782, and was elected to the Board of Fellows, College of Rhode Island (Brown). From 1783 to 1812, he was a member of the original facultyof Harvard Medical School. He was the first Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic. (He was later forced to resign because of incompatibility with the rest of the medical faculty, and also because of his role in trying to establish a new medical society that probably would have to led to thefounding of another medical school.) From 1807 to 1809, he served as chief physician of the U.S. Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts. (Althoughhe was instrumental in introducing substantial improvements there, he was dismissed amidst charges of petty graft.) From 1813 to 1820, he served first asa hospital surgeon and later as medical superintendent of all military postsin New England. During the 1820s, Waterhouse strongly supported Samuel Thomson and his medical system. His later life was largely devoted to literary pursuits.

Supported by President Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Waterhouse was instrumentalin introducing Edward Jenner's method of cowpox vaccination in the United States (1799 to 1802), during which time he attempted to maintain a monopoly over the cowpox vaccine (partly for selfish reasons and partly to keep the vaccine out of the hands of incompetent or fraudulent hands). In July, 1800 Waterhouse made the first vaccinations in the United States on his four children.He induced the Boston Board of Health to sponsor a controlled experiment in which 19 vaccinated and 2 unvaccinated boys were exposed to smallpox under thesame conditions; the result was that the vaccinated individuals demonstratedimmunity and the unvaccinated persons succumbed to the disease. Waterhouse was more interested in science than medicine, and lectured on natural history(biology and minerology), first at Rhode Isalnd College (1786 to 1787) and later at Harvard (1788 to 1806). Waterhouse's lectures were the first to systematically treat these subjects at Harvard. Waterhouse was a strong moralist, and published (on November 20, 1804) a warning against the increased use of alcohol and tobacco. Essentially a displaced philosopher, Waterhouse constantlystirred up trouble wherever he went, but is nevertheless considered to havedone much more good than harm in the course of his life.

Among his writings are A Synopsis of a Course on the Theory and Practice of Medicine. In Four Parts (1786); The Rise, Progress, and Present State of Medicine (1792); A Prospect of Exterminating the Small Pox, PartI (1880), Part II (1802); Cautions to Young Persons ConcerningHealth...Showing the Evil Tendency of the Use of Tobacco...with Observationson the Use of Ardent and Vinous Spirits (1805); Information Respectingthe Origin, Progress, and Efficacy of the Kine Pock Inoculation (1810);The Botanist, Being the Botanical Part of a Course of Lectures on NaturalHistory...Together with a Discourse on the Principles of Vitality (1811).

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