Simon Flexner was a fighter against all diseases. He probed and pushed to find the causes and cures for human ailments. As a result of his work, he became the director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He was born on March 25, 1863, in Louisville, Kentucky. Simon was the fourth of nine children of Esther and Morris Flexner. His brother Bernard became a famous lawyer and an ardent Zionist. Another brother, Abraham, was the first director at the Institute for the Advanced Study at Princeton.
Simon went to the University of Louisville to study medicine, and received his M.D. in 1889. Finding that the laboratories at the school had very few supplies, he acquired a microscope and taught himself how to use it.
He then went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to study pathology. He soon began to publish papers on pathology and in 1892. he became an associate in pathology in the newly opened Johns Hopkins Medical School.
He became involved with many epidemics, including one of cerebrospinal meningitis in western Maryland in 1893. In 1899, he was in Manila where he found the strain of dysentery bacillus that became known as the Flexner type.
In 1901. the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research was created and he was chosen to be one of seven members on the board of scientific directors. He was asked to organize and direct the laboratories on medical research. This concept of research was new to America and it was financially secure through the Rockefellers' endorsements.
In 1905, New York City was hit with a severe epidemic of cerebrospinal meningitis, which Flexner had encountered 12 years before. He experimented with monkeys until he found a serum to conquer the disease.
In 1907, he found himself trying to fight an epidemic of poliomyelitis which had spread through the eastern states. He was able to isolate the infectious agent but he couldn't find a cure, since the disease was caused by a filterable virus rather than a bacterial organism. His discovery laid the basis for others to find polio vaccines some 40 Years later.
Simon was the only editor of the Journal of Experimental Medicine for 19 years. During this time he wrote many articles on public health, research and education. In World War I, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Army Medical Corps and went to Europe to inspect and establish the medical facilities of the expeditionary forces. After the war, his role in the Rockefeller Institute became greater, and now included involvement in the animal pathology department at Princeton.
Flexner was active in many organizations and became an officer of quite a few. He retired from the Rockefeller Institute in 1935 and a year after was appointed an Eastman Professor at Oxford University. He died in 1946, leaving behind a legacy in the field of pathology.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 18 October 2006