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Benjamin Waterhouse

Benjamin Waterhouse (1754–1846), born and raised in Rhode Island and educated at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and The Netherlands' Leiden University, was a doctor and a professor of medicine at Harvard University.

In the summer of 1800, Waterhouse became the first American physician to administer the smallpox vaccine in the United States. Later that year, Waterhouse wrote to Vice President Thomas Jefferson, sending him a pamphlet entitled "A prospect of Exterminating the small-pox." Supplied with vaccine from Waterhouse, Jefferson engineered the inoculation of members of this own household in 1801.1 In 1807, President Jefferson appointed Waterhouse chief physician at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a position that he held for two years.2

Jefferson and Waterhouse shared a medical and scientific correspondence that continued for twenty-five years, with a final communication several months before Jefferson's death in 1826. Waterhouse himself lived for another twenty years, passing away in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1846.

- Nancy Verell, 3/2/2021

Primary Source References

1800 December 1. (Benjamin Waterhouse to Jefferson). "Having long regarded Mr. Jefferson as one of our most distinguished patriots & philosophers, I conceived that a work which had for it's end the good of the community, would not be unexceptable to him.—Under that impression I have here sent him 'A prospect of Exterminating the small-pox,' ...."3

1800 December 25. (Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse). "I recieved last night, and have read with great satisfaction your pamphlet on the subject of the kine-pox .... I had before attended to your publications on the subject in the newspapers, and took much interest in the result of the experiments you were making."4

1801 July 16. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I this day inclose to Dr. Wardlaw some publications on the kine pox, with a request to make himself acquainted with them. ... I am promised by Dr. Waterhouse of Boston successive weekly supplies till it takes."5

Further Sources

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