The Memoirs Of Frederick T. Gates


The picture was one of chaos. Most of these institutions had been located in a soil which could not sustain them as colleges; in spots they were injuriously crowded together. They were scattered haphazard over the landscape like wind-carried seeds. The hopeful feature of the situation was that there were enough suitably located colleges and universities, about a fourth of the whole number, which could be formed by careful selection into a system of higher education, and this system, carefully nourished, would prove adequate. These were the considerations which framed my letter of gift. I quote the substance of the letter, emphasizing the decisive words.

“The income to be distributed to such institutions of learning, at such times, in such amounts, for such purposes and under such conditions as the Board may deem best adapted to promote a comprehensive system of higher education in the United States .”

The key word was the word system .

Thus began the work of the General Education Board for the colleges and universities of the United States. Mr. Rockefeller has contributed about $140,000,000 to the board, of which some $20,000,000 was for medicine. The direct service which the board has performed can be roughly appraised by a study of the annual reports. But all such estimates must be underestimates, for the indirect service to education has been immeasurable. The board has appropriated over $50,000,000 to higher education, including technical and professional schools, on terms invited by its beneficiaries, which have brought to them over $200,000,000. Lands, buildings, equipment, and bequests have everywhere followed independently.

The hookworm campaign

A gratifying introduction to this chapter about the origin and progress of our hookworm work is afforded by some words of Dr. Charles W. Eliot, in a private letter to me, written near the climax of this work in the South.

“On the whole the evidence seems to show that the campaign of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission against the hookworm disease is the most effective campaign against a widespread disabling disease which medical science and philanthropy ever combined to conduct. Although the mortality is not so great from this disease as from smallpox, cholera, diphtheria and the bubonic plague, yet the human misery and disability it causes are probably greater in the long run than any which those somewhat spasmodic or periodic plagues occasion.”

The first popular knowledge of the hookworm in the United States was afforded by the humorous and sarcastic announcement of the daily papers one morning that a doctor in North Carolina had discovered the “lazy Bug” in the intestines of the people of the South. Of course the yarn was received with high indignation in the always sensitive South, and a smile of amused incredulity everywhere else.

Later, I saw a more serious statement to the effect that an expert on intestinal parasites, Stiles by name, employed by the government, had discovered a blood sucking parasite in the intestines of humans, producing anaemia and other physical disqualifications, and that this infection was frequent in many parts of the South. This was followed by indignant denials from southern physicians and declared to be a libel on the South. But Dr. Stiles was not to be intimidated or put down. He offered conclusive proofs. He showed the worms, disclosed their hooks, and exhibited visually the complete cycle of their life history from the egg. Intelligent and effective magazine articles began to appear, and these I read with deep interest.

My imagination began to play around the alleged devastation and suffering caused by this disease. I consulted Dr. Flexner. He had known Dr. Stiles personally many years, for Stiles had lectured regularly at Hopkins.

The hookworm was well-known, he said, in Europe, and Dr. Stiles was not the first to discover it in the United States. But Dr. Stiles had been the first man in our country to effectively call public attention to it, to visualize its probably distribution, and to disclose its manifold disabling results. Dr. Flexner vouched for Dr. Stiles’s ability and scientific attainments.

At my request, Dr. Flexner arranged with Dr. Stiles to give me a private demonstration in my office in New York. This demonstration was entirely conclusive as to the fact of the disease. In answer to my questions, Dr. Stiles thought there were perhaps two million cases in the South, but admitted that this was a mere guess; nor had he yet surveyed the various areas of special infection, or formed a plan of eradication, or an estimate of the cost. It was agreed that he should study further and report on all the larger aspects of the problem.

These studies consumed much valuable time, but at length he was able to report that his estimate of two million cases was not exaggerated. It proved in the sequel to be an understatement. He thought that the eradication in the United States would cost half a million dollars. It did cost nearly two millions.

I was now ready to present the matter to the Messrs. Rockefeller, Senior and Junior. They recognized the high importance of the subject and committed themselves to the needed funds for a campaign of extermination of the hookworm in the United States.