James Jackson, 1777–1867
James Jackson was an influential and highly respected physician who, with others, initiated reforms in the practice and teaching of medicine in North America. He was among those who pioneered smallpox vaccination in New England, and he later devised protective measures against the possible spread of cholera. Jackson, together with John Collins Warren, cofounded Massachusetts General Hospital, reorganized the Massachusetts Medical Society, and relocated the Medical Institution of Harvard University from Cambridge to Boston under its new name, Harvard Medical School. Jackson’s medical writings promoted accuracy in clinical observation. In medical practice, he was most sensitive to the needs of his patients and the paramount importance of recording the symptoms and progress of an illness or disease.
From Harvard to London
In 1796, Jackson received his AB from Harvard College and then attended lectures at the Medical Institution of Harvard University. In 1797, Jackson began a two-year medical apprenticeship under Edward Augustus Holyoke, who was the foremost physician in New England and a founder and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. After moving to London, Jackson trained in the emerging practice of vaccination at St. Pancras Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital under physician and superintendent William Woodville.
Jackson returned to Boston in 1800 and, with Benjamin Waterhouse and Lyman Spalding, promoted vaccination with mixed success. Jackson’s association with the “vaccination movement” ended in 1808 when his commission published a careful and critical report that endorsed the controversial vaccination procedure.
Medical Education Reform
Jackson led the reform of medical education after Harvard’s Medical Institution was relocated to its new site in Boston and renamed Harvard Medical School (1810). Jackson’s earlier work at the charitable Boston Dispensary (1802) enabled him to provide clinical instruction at Harvard Medical School.
In 1812, Jackson succeeded Benjamin Waterhouse as the Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Physic at Harvard Medical School. He was also appointed first physician of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), helping to form the close association between MGH and Harvard Medical School that continues today.
Correspondence between Jackson and his son reveals Jackson’s unrelenting concern his son’s well-being. Jackson frequently advised that James remain in Paris and return to his studies only after cholera had disappeared.
Jackson published extensively in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery and remained a frequent contributor into the 1860s. Among his best-known contributions to medical scholarship was his concise, but detailed, description of the symptoms and treatment of a debilitating neural affliction he named arthrodynia a potu, which he attributed to excessive alcohol consumption. Jackson’s Letters to a Young Physician Just Entering Upon Medical Practice was also highly acclaimed.
Selected Contagion Resources
This is a partial list of digitized materials available in Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics. For additional materials on the topic “James Jackson, 1777–1867,” click here or search the collection’s Catalog and Full Text databases.
James Jackson Papers