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William C. Gorgas

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William Crawford Gorgas
Gorgas during World War I
Born(1854-10-03)October 3, 1854
Toulminville, Alabama, US
DiedJuly 3, 1920(1920-07-03) (aged 65)
London, England
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army seal United States Army
Years of service1880–1918
Rank Major General
Commands heldSurgeon General of the US Army
AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Public Welfare Medal (1914)
RelationsJosiah Gorgas (father)
Amelia Gayle Gorgas (mother)
John Gayle (grandfather)

William Crawford Gorgas KCMG (October 3, 1854 – July 3, 1920) was a United States Army physician and 22nd Surgeon General of the U.S. Army (1914–1918). He is best known for his work in Florida, Havana and at the Panama Canal in abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria by controlling the mosquitoes that carry these diseases, for which he used the discoverments made by the cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay. At first, Finlay's strategy was greeted with considerable skepticism and opposition to such hygiene measures. However, the measures Gorgas put into practice as the head of the Panama Canal Zone Sanitation Commission saved thousands of lives and contributed to the success of the Canal's construction.

He was a Georgist and argued that adopting Henry George's popular 'Single Tax' would be a way to bring about sanitary living conditions, especially for the poor.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Toulminville, Alabama, Gorgas was the first of six children of Josiah Gorgas and Amelia Gayle Gorgas. His maternal grandparents were Governor John Gayle and Sarah Ann Haynsworth Gayle, the diarist.[2]

After studying at The University of the South and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, Dr. Gorgas was appointed to the US Army Medical Corps in June 1880.[3]

Military career[edit]

c. 1920

He was assigned to three posts—Fort Clark, Fort Duncan, and Fort Brown—in Texas. While at Fort Brown (1882–84), Gorgas survived an episode of yellow fever.[3] He met Marie Cook Doughty who also contracted the disease at the same place and time. They recovered together, forming a bond and soon married.[4][5]

In 1898, after the end of the Spanish–American War, Gorgas was appointed Chief Sanitary Officer in Havana, where he and Robert Ernest Noble worked to eradicate yellow fever and malaria.[6] Gorgas capitalized on the momentous work of another Army doctor, Major Walter Reed, who had built much of his work on the insights of Cuban doctor, Carlos Finlay, to prove the mosquito transmission of yellow fever. Through his efforts draining both the Aedes mosquito vector breeding ponds and quarantining of yellow fever patients in screened service rooms, cases in Havana plunged from 784 to zero with a year.[4] He won international fame battling the illness, which was then the scourge of tropical and sub-tropical climates. He worked in Florida, later in Havana, Cuba, and finally, in 1904, at the site of the construction of the Panama Canal.[3]

As chief sanitary officer on the canal project, Gorgas implemented far-reaching sanitary programs, including the draining of ponds and swamps, fumigation, use of mosquito netting, and construction of public water systems. These measures were instrumental in permitting the construction of the Panama Canal, as they significantly prevented illness due to yellow fever and malaria (which had also been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes in 1898) among the thousands of workers involved in the building project.[7]

Gorgas served as president of the American Medical Association in 1909–10. He was appointed as Surgeon General of the Army in 1914. That same year, Gorgas and George Washington Goethals were awarded the inaugural Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Gorgas retired from the Army in 1918, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 64.[8]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Marie Cook Doughty (1862–1929) of Cincinnati.[3] He is buried with her at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia.[9]

Death and legacy[edit]

William C. Gorgas' name as it features on the LSHTM Frieze
William C. Gorgas' name as it is featured on the LSHTM Frieze

Awards and Honors[edit]

Military Awards[edit]

Other honors[edit]


Maj. Gen. William C. Gorgas, honored on Canal Zone Postage

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Great Adventure, Volume 4. Great Adventure League. 1920. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  2. ^ Owen, Marie Bankhead, ed. (1927). Publications: Historical and patriotic series. Montgomery, Alabama: Birmingham Printing Company. p. 308. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d Davis, Henry Blaine Jr. (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. pp. 151–152. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.
  4. ^ a b McCullough, David G. (1978). The path between the seas : the creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-67124409-4.
  5. ^ "Mrs. W. C. Gorgas, General's Widow, Dies". New York Times. November 10, 1929. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  6. ^ "William Gorgas, 1854–1920". Harvard University. Retrieved September 5, 2008.
  7. ^ "Contagion, Tropical Diseases and the Construction of the Panama Canal, 1904–1914". Harvard University. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
  8. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  9. ^ "Burial Detail: Gorgas, William C. (Section 2, Grave 1039)". ANC Explorer. Arlington National Cemetery. (Official website).
  10. ^ "Famous Surgeon is Dead". Associated Press. Retrieved November 13, 2010. Maj. Gen. William C. Gorgas, former Surgeon-General of the United States Army, died at an early hour this morning. Gen. Gorgas's death was very peaceful. He was unconscious most of the time for the last few day
  11. ^ After his death, Gorgas's ongoing work (through the Rockefeller Foundation) in eliminating yellow fever in Mexico and Central America was carried on by retired Brigadier General Theodore C. Lyster.
  12. ^ "Behind the Frieze". Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  13. ^ Foscue, Virginia O. (1989). Place Names in Alabama. University of Alabama Press. p. 64. ISBN 081730410X. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  14. ^ "Valor awards for William Crawford Gorgas". Military Times.
  15. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  16. ^ "William C. Gorgas". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  17. ^ "William Crawford Gorgas". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. February 9, 2023. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  18. ^ "The University of Alabama". Ua.edu. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  19. ^ Atkins, Leah Rawls (2006). 'Developed for the Service of Alabama': The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company. Birmingham, Alabama: Alabama Power Company.
  20. ^ "Maps - Presidio of San Francisco (U.S. National Park Service)". Nps.gov. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  21. ^ "William Crawford Gorgas Papers 1890–1918". National Library of Medicine.
  22. ^ [1] [dead link]
  • From the brochure "150 Year Celebration of the U.S. Marine Hospital/Mobile County Health Department" – December 15, 1993 – Bernard H. Eichold, II M.D., Dr. P.H., Health Officer

Further reading[edit]

Photograph of Gorgas published in the 1920 Scientific Monthly obituary
  • Ashburn, P.M., History of the Medical Department of the U.S. Army, 1929.
  • Gibson, John M., Physician to the World: The Life of General William C. Gorgas, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1950.
  • Gorgas, Marie and Burton J. Hendrick, William Crawford Gorgas: His Life and Work, New York: Doubleday, 1924.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A., Mellander, Nelly, Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4. OCLC 42970390. (1999)
  • Mellander, Gustavo A., The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years." Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568. (1971)
  • Phalen, James M., "Chiefs of the Medical Department, U.S. Army 1775–1940, Biographical Sketches," Army Medical Bulletin, No. 52, April 1940, pp. 88–93.
  • Wilson, Owen (July 1908). "The Conquest Of The Tropics: How Col. Gorgas's Sanitary Work At Panam Has Proved The Possibility of Beautiful Tropical Residence". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XVI: 10432–10445. Retrieved July 10, 2009.
  • Endorsements, Resolutions and other Data in Behalf of the Nomination of Dr. William Crawford Gorgas for Election to the New York Hall of Fame for Great Americans, 2 vols., Birmingham: Gorgas Hall of Fame Committee, 1950.


External links[edit]