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06.06.02 Physician to the World: The Life of William C. Gorgas, by John M. Gibson, published in 1950.

Notes Concerning the Author

A native of Gibson, North Carolina, John M.  Gibson (  ?  -1966) graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1919 with a bachelor’s degree in English and from Columbia University in 1921 with a master’s degree in journalism. He then went on to work as a reporter in Europe and the United States.  He entered the field of health journalism after staying in the North Carolina Sanitorium in McCain, from 1927 to 1939 while ill with tuberculosis. Upon his recovery, he worked as editor of the Sanitorium newspaper and publicity director for the facility. Gibson continued his health journalism career with the Alabama State Health Department and then the North Carolina Board of Health in Raleigh until his death in 1966.

In addition to the  biography of William C. Gorgas, Gibson wrote Those 163 Days: a Southern Account of Sherman’s March from Atlanta to Raleigh.


Physician to the World is a study of the career of William Crawford Gorgas (1854-1920), focusing primarily on the 22 years from the Spanish-American War until his death at the age of 65. By the way, William was the son of Josiah Gorgas, who had been Chief of Ordinance for the Confederate States of America and very effective in that very important position.  

The biography of William details the medical community’s gradual acceptance of the mosquito theory as the cause for yellow fever epidemics and follows Gorgas as his initial skepticism gave way to belief while he participated in Walter Reed’s massive cleanup of Havana. From this success Gorgas moved to the Panama Canal Zone and a bureaucratic quagmire as he attempted to apply sanitary principles there to control yellow fever and malaria. As canal construction proceeded, assorted red-tape and critics repeatedly thwarted Gorgas’s efforts. His particular nemesis was the imperious engineer George Goethals, who ruled the construction project with an iron hand. Gorgas’s dogged persistence to make Panama healthy for both Americans and natives eventually succeeded, enabling the project to be completed with minimum loss of life. It can be said that because of the work of Gorgas, construction of the Panama Canal became a possibility. 

During World War I Gorgas became U.S. Surgeon General, and finally his reputation equaled his accomplishments. He traveled widely in Europe, South Africa, and South America on behalf of public health improvements and was about to begin another such journey when he died of complications from a stroke in London in 1920.

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