Walther and Angelina Hesse-Early Contributors to Bacteriology In an unassuming way,. they moved agar from the kitchen to the lab, revolutionizing bacteriology WOLFGANG HESSE T RANSLATED BY D IETER H. M. GR~SCHEL
Walther Hesse was a well-known community health physician in the Kingdom of Saxony, a student of Max von Pettenkofer, the father of hygiene, and of Robert Koch, the father of medical microbiology. His American wife, Fanny Angelina, introduced agar-agar to the new science of microbiology. The Hesse Family
Walther Hesse, a descendent of a Saxon family from Bischofswerda, was born on 27 December 1846 as the third of 12 children of Friedrich Wilhelm Hesse, the Bezirksarzt, or county physician, of Zittau. Friedrich Wilhelm was the first university-educated physician in the family and had received his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Leipzig in 1842. Two of his forefathers were surgeons, one a military surgeon during the Napoleonic wars and the other a graduate of the Surgico-Medical Academy of Dresden. Hesse’s mother came from a cloth-weaving family that owned several looms. Two of the 12 children died in infancy; five sons and five daughters survived. Four of the sons became physicians, and the daughters were sent to a teacher’s college to make them independent. Walther’s older brother Richard became a successful practicing physician in Brooklyn, N.Y. Walther’s younger brother, Friedrich Louis, went to America on a visit, became very impressed by the Wolfgang Hesse, a retired internist from Karlsruhe, Germany, wrote this biography of his grandparents. Dieter Grlischel, a professor of pathology and internal medicine at the Department ofPathology, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, edited and translated the work. VOL. 58, NO. 8, 1992
advanced state of U.S. dentistry, and stayed for 3 years of advanced training. He founded the first university chair of dentistry in Germany, at Leipzig. Brother Georg became a surgeon and the director of a private surgical hospital in Dresden. Walther received his secondary education in Dresden, where he attended the famous Kreuzschule, a Gymnasium (high school) whose choir ,was founded in 1216. In 1866 he began the study of medicine at the University of Leipzig and received his doctorate in March 1870 after having publicly defended his thesis on the reaction of the epithelium to acute catarrh of the intestinal tract. In 1867, he volunteered for a l-year reserve-officer course with the army. As a Feldassistenzarzt (second lieutenant of the medical corps) in the Saxon army, he participated in the France-Prussian War from 1870 to 1871 and in the battles of Gravelotte and St. Privat. Right after the war, at age 25, Walther wrote a paper on the situation of military physicians that addressed the combatant status of front troop surgeons and proposed a new position for them. He also criticized the food and water supply system, the shortage of medical personnel, and the absence. of transport and field stations for the wounded and offered some advice about effective first aid. This paper-never published-is the first of his postgraduate professional . manuscripts. It not only demonstrates his concept of the physician as a socially engaged altrui.st but also signals the direction of his future professional life. The remainder of his active military service (until 1873) was spent as a staff physician -of the private insane asylum run by Dr. Lehmann in Pirna near Dresden. During this period Hesse also served as a ship surgeon of a German passenger liner on two 425
round-trips to New York (November 1872 to February 1873). Upon his return, he published a paper about sea sickness that Professor Gavingel from Le Havre called the first rational, scientific publication on the subject. At home, he was recognized by the medical society of Zittau for his interesting observations and contributions. (The trichinosis he had acquired...