Semmelweis, Ignaz Philipp

PHYSICIAN, GYNAECOLOGIST (HUNGARY)
BORN 1 Jul 1818, Buda: Tabán - DIED 13 Aug 1865, Wien-Döbling
GRAVE LOCATION Budapest: Museum for Medical History

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss was born in Tabán, and old part of Buda. His father was a shopkeeper of German descent. He was educated at the University of Pest and in 1837 he entered medical school in Vienna. After futher studies in Pest and Vienna he started working at the Vienna General Hospital, where he investigated the causes of puerperal fever. This was against the wishes of his superiors, who believed there was no cure.

In 1847 his friend Jakob Kolletschka died after performing a post mortem. He had cut his finger with a knife during the job and it became clear that this case was in many respects similar to the women dying from puerperal fever. Semmelweiss stated a connection between cadaveric contamination and puerperal fever. After he ordered the use of chlorinated lime for washing hands between performing autopsies and examining patients the mortality rate dropped sharply.

He didn't publish his findings and hardly found any support. In 1848 he ordered all instruments that were used on women in labour to be washed and now puerperal fever almost disappered. Finally his findings were investigated, but before something came of it he was fired because of his liberal politics.

He moved to the St. Rochus Hospital in Pest where he brought the mortality rates down as well. In Hungary his work was soon recognized and he obtained a position at the University of Pest. Apart from this he had a large private practice. In 1861 he finally published his work in a book, "Die Ätiologie, der Begriff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebers". Most German physicians still rejected his ideas, causing the death of thousands of women by doing so.

In July of 1865 his mental health broke down and he was brought to the Niederösterreichische Landesirrenanstalt in Döbling, Vienna. He died two weeks later. He was first buriedi n Vienna but then moved to the Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest. In 1965 his remains were transferred to the Museum for Medical History in Budapest in 1965. At the Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest his empty tomb can still be found.

Sources
Ignaz Semmelweis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Summa Encyclopedie
• Adler, Josef, Handbuch der Grabstätten, 2. Band, Die Grabstätte der Europäer, Deutsches Kunstverlag, München, 1986

Images

The empty tomb of Ignaz Semmelweis at the Kerepesi cemetery in Budapest. His remains rest at the Museum of Medical History, Budapest.
Picture by androom (20 Aug 2006)

 


Semper, Gottfried

Published: 16 Jul 2006
Last update: 1 Mar 2008