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Home North Carolina Hertford County City of Harrellsville Historical Markers Dr. Walter Reed

Dr. Walter Reed

Main Street, Harrellsville, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Head of U.S. Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba, 1900-01. Lived here as a young man. House 200 feet south."
     Walter Reed, as head of the United States Navy’s Yellow Fever Commission, was able to conclusively demonstrate that mosquitoes transmitted the deadly disease. He was also the first doctor to perform informed-consent experiments on human subjects. Reed was born on September 13, 1851, in Virginia to Lemuel Sutton and Pharaba White Reed. His father was a Methodist pastor who took charge of a church in Harrellsville (Hertford County) in 1851. About a year later Reverend Reed moved his family to Murfreesboro so that he could lead a congregation there. Although the Reeds stayed in Murfreesboro only two years, they would return by 1874, at which time the family was living in the same house as before. The Reed house was across the street from that of Emily Lawrence, whom Walter Reed married in 1876.

     Walter Reed was permitted to enter the University of Virginia at age fifteen, as his older brothers were students and one, Christopher, became his roommate. He entered medical school at the University in 1868 and graduated the following year, being at seventeen the youngest medical school graduate at Virginia to that date. He continued his medical education at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in Manhattan, earning a medical degree from that institution in 1870. Reed interned in various hospitals in metropolitan New York, and in 1873 became the assistant sanitary officer for the Brooklyn Board of Health. With the military offering financial security and reliable professional opportunities, Reed joined the United States Army Medical Corps in 1875. Following posts at military bases throughout the United States, Reed pursued bacteriology and pathology at Johns Hopkins, after which coursework he was promoted to major and made curator of the Army Medical Museum in Washington and a professor at the army medical school.

     By the outbreak of the Spanish American War, Walter Reed was considered a pioneer in the field of bacteriology. His interest in the cause of yellow fever was timely, as epidemics broke out in camps in Cuba and elsewhere. In 1900 Reed led the fourth U. S. Army Yellow Fever Commission, medical officers appointed to study the transmission of the disease. Because yellow fever did not affect animals, human subjects were required for experimentation. Near Havana, Reed designed and built an elaborate quarantined experimental station. There he conducted thorough informed consent experiments on volunteers. Results were quick and consistent. Walter Reed was able to conclude definitively that the mosquito Culex fasciata was the culprit in the transmittal of yellow fever.

     Walter Reed died of complications resulting from appendicitis on November 23, 1902. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with an epitaph that reads, “He gave to man control over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever.” A new army hospital completed in 1909 in Washington, D.C., was named in his honor. The museum of which he was curator is now the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

William B. Bean, Walter Reed: A Biography (1982)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 186—sketch by Thomas C. Parramore
Thomas C. Parramore, “Where Walter Reed Lived and Courted,” The State (January 1977), pp. 18-19.