Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health

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Revolutionary Medicine

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Fighting Infection | Museum of the American Revolution

Article activity alert. An engaging history of the role that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin played in the origins of public health in America. Concerns over health affected the founding fathers and their families as it did slaves, merchants, immigrants, and everyone else in North America. As both victims of illness and national leaders, the Founders occupied a unique position regarding the development of public health in America.

Revolutionary Medicine refocuses the study of the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, and James and Dolley Madison away from the usual lens of politics to the unique perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era.

Studying the encounters of these American founders with illness and disease, as well as their viewpoints about good health, not only provides us with a richer and more nuanced insight into their lives, but also opens a window into the practice of medicine in the eighteenth century, which is at once intimate, personal, and first hand.

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The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health

More Details Call Includes bibliographical references p. Health and medicine in the era of America's founders -- George and Martha Washington : health, illness, and the First Family -- Benjamin Franklin : a founding father of American medicine -- Abigail and John Adams : partners in sickness and health -- Thomas Jefferson : advocate for healthy living -- Thomas Jefferson : the health of the nation -- Evolutionary medicine.

Founding fathers' descendants united 241 years later

Before the advent of modern antibiotics, one's life could be abruptly shattered by contagion and death, and debility from infectious diseases and epidemics was commonplace for early Americans, regardless of social status. Concerns over health affected the founding fathers and their families as it did slaves, merchants, immigrants, and everyone else in North America.

As both victims of illness and national leaders, the Founders occupied a unique position regarding the development of public health in America.


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This work refocuses the study of the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, and James and Dolley Madison away from the usual lens of politics to the unique perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era. For the founders, republican ideals fostered a reciprocal connection between individual health and the 'health' of the nation. Studying the encounters of these American founders with illness and disease, as well as their viewpoints about good health, not only provides us with insight into their lives, but also opens a first-hand window into the practice of medicine in the eighteenth century.