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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 15, 2012


JAMA. 2012;307(7):644. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.42

Lister, the founder of the antiseptic method, illustrious among surgeons because of the marvelous results of his great and simple discovery, has just died at the age of 84. His family belonged to the Society of Friends and some of its members were eminent in natural science; his father achieved permanent distinction in optical science and introduced improvements of fundamental value in the construction of microscope lenses. While serving in the University College Hospital under Mr. Erichsen, Lister had occasion to observe an outbreak of hospital gangrene, which he studied closely and the parasitic nature of which he strongly suspected; impressed with the helplessness of surgery with respect to the prevention of these dreadful diseases. . . . On graduation in medicine he went to Edinburgh and was house-surgeon to Mr. Syme (later his father-in-law), being fascinated by the prominence he gave to the pathologic side of surgery. On finishing this service he gave an extramural course of lectures on surgery in connection with which, and by way of preparation, he carried on a series of investigations on inflammation and other subjects, which reveal a high investigative ability. In 1860 he was appointed to the chair of surgery in the University of Glasgow and it was in the Royal Infirmary of this city that he did his early epoch-making work on the methods of antiseptic surgery. In 1869 he succeeded his father-in-law in the chair of clinical surgery in Edinburgh, and in 1877 accepted the chair of surgery at King's College, London, and thus became more centrally located with respect to the surgical world at large. In 1896 he retired from active practical work, but remained interested in scientific pursuits, and from 1895 to 1900 he was president of the Royal Society. . . . Lister's writings, which are not voluminous and practically all in the form of articles for journals, are lucid and forcible: unfortunately, very little of his purely surgical work has been published. He was of kindly manners, full of dignity and strength, but modest and free from all pretense.

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