150 Years Ago...
One hundred and fifty years ago, no one knew what caused disease or how
it spread. Many physicians bled patients for both physical and mental
ailments to restore the balance of “humors” in the body. Surgery was a
brutal affair—performed without gloves and in an environment that was
anything but sterile.
Then in 1864, Louis Pasteur discovered that disease was spread by
microorganisms—not by unbalanced humors; and in 1867, British surgeon
Joseph Lister published Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of
Surgery, which argued that when surgeons washed their hands before
surgery and sterilized surgical instruments, fewer patients died of
infection. These discoveries transformed medicine.
One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1863, the Rhode Island General
Assembly enacted the charter that authorized the building of a new
hospital to care for the citizens of the state. The fund to establish a
hospital in Rhode Island was initiated with a substantial bequest by
Moses Brown Ives, and contributions flowed in from Rhode Islanders from
all walks of life. The founders of Rhode Island Hospital had no way of
knowing that their hospital would be opening its doors at the cusp of a
world-wide revolution in the healing arts.