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February 12, 1982

The Germ of Laziness: Rockefeller Philanthropy and Public Health in the New South

JAMA. 1982;247(6):886-887. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320310112056

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In The Germ of Laziness, historian John Ettling tells the fascinating story of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, an agency founded in 1909 to combat hookworm disease in the South. Ettling tells his story with great skill and sensitivity, weaving biography and analysis into a portrait of medical science and philanthropy at the beginning of this century.

Hookworm disease was epidemic in the South at that time, but few American physicians knew of its existence before Charles Wardell Stiles began his one-man crusade against it. Stiles was a highly skilled zoologist who knew Virchow socially, and who had studied under Leuckart and Pasteur at the time when the hookworm was identified and its life cycle described. After his return to the United States he became aware of how widespread the disease was in the South, especially in the sandy coastal regions; he then began to travel about with specimens and a