Past and Present

Ignaz Semmelweis

saviour of mothers

Dr. Semmelweis


Dr. Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician called the “saviour of mothers.” He discovered, by 1847, that the incidence of childbed fever could be drastically cut by use of hand washing standards in obstetrical clinics.

While employed as assistant to the professor of the maternity clinic at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria, Semmelweis introduced hand washing with chlorinated lime solutions for interns who had performed autopsies. This immediately reduced the incidence of fatal puerperal fever dramatically.

Semmelweis hypothesized that the cause was cleanliness. His thinking was thought extreme at the time. So, he was largely ignored, rejected or ridiculed. Semmelweis was dismissed from the hospital and harassed by the medical community in Vienna, which eventually forced him to move to Budapest.

Dr. Semmelweis was outraged by the indifference of his profession and wrote open and angry letters to prominent European obstetricians, at times calling them irresponsible murderers. His contemporaries decided he was losing his mind and committed him to a mental asylum. He died there 14 days later in 1865 at the age of 47.

Semmelweis’s practice only earned widespread acceptance years after his death, when Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease which offered a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis’s findings. Semmelweis is considered a pioneer of antiseptic procedures - simple cleanliness.

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