Today, a Quaker activist identifies disease -- of
several kinds. The University of Houston's College
of Engineering presents this series about the
machines that make our civilization run, and the
people whose ingenuity created them.
On January 10th, 1832,
34-year-old Thomas Hodgkin took a paper to the
Medical and Surgical Society in London. Since he
wasn't a member, the Society's secretary had to
read it for him. It was a small event. Only eight
members were present.
The title was, "Some Morbid Appearances of the
Absorbent Glands and Spleen." He introduced what we
call Hodgkin's disease. One problem with the
illness is that other diseases mimic it. In fact,
it's pretty clear in retrospect that only three of
seven cases he described were legitimate examples.
Hodgkin's biographer, Louis Rosenfeld, gives him
the odd title Morbid Anatomist and Social Activist.
Hodgkin was an ardent English Quaker, born in 1798.
When he was 21, he went off to learn the rough
trade of medicine.
That was an odd move for gentle young Thomas.
Medical students were a rowdy, drunken,
grave-robbing lot. Still, by the time he graduated
in 1823, he'd done well. He'd already helped
introduce the stethoscope to English medicine.
He was drawn to new medical instruments. In the
late 1820s he worked with Joseph Lister's father in
microscopy. Together they made the first accurate
description of red cells.
When he gave his paper on this rare lymphatic
disease, the English ignored it. They didn't name
it after him until late in the century -- long
after the Germans had started calling it Hodgkin's
That same year -- 1832 -- England passed the Reform
Act. It gave far greater freedom to religious
dissidents like the Quaker, Hodgkin. And Hodgkin
was already a strong voice for liberal causes. He'd
been campaigning for better treatment of Canadian
Indians. He'd been corresponding with a Mohawk
Hodgkin was passionately anti-slavery. He
befriended freed slaves at his home. Now that the
liberal voice of Hodgkin and others was unleashed,
it took England only three more years to abolish
slavery. Meanwhile, Hodgkin also raised medical
objections to tobacco -- 140 years before our
surgeon general did.
The director of his hospital was involved with
English colonization and the Hudson's Bay Company.
By 1837 he finally drove Hodgkin out. Of course,
Hodgkin had damned the Company and was demanding
full British citizenship for Indians.
Through all his campaigns for human rights, his
medical work steamed ahead. The 1850s found him
doing basic work on diabetes. And we, of course,
realize what Hodgkin really represented. It was an
eye that saw everything in ways others did not. It
was the inventive eye that ultimately changes the
world it sees.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds