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Reviewed by:
  • Wade Hampton Frost, Pioneer Epidemiologist 1880-1938: Up to the Mountain
  • Elizabeth Fee
Thomas M. Daniel . Wade Hampton Frost, Pioneer Epidemiologist 1880-1938: Up to the Mountain. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2004. xx + 238 pp. Ill. $45.00 (1-58046-177-8).

Wade Hampton Frost, the first professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, made major contributions to the practice, teaching, fundamental concepts, [End Page 382] and methods of epidemiology. He created the first academic department of epidemiology anywhere in the world and trained several generations of influential practitioners, and he is widely admired for his polished and precise methods and his clarity of thought—but he has not, until now, attracted the attention of a biographer. Thomas M. Daniel, professor emeritus of medicine and international health at Case Western Reserve University, wishes to remedy that lack by bringing Frost and his work to the attention of modern students of epidemiology and practitioners of the field.

This book should certainly contribute to that end; it is nicely written and, though it does not provide any radical rereading of Frost's life, his times, or his contributions, it does introduce the reader to the man, his family, and his interests, and it provides a clear assessment of his contributions to epidemiology. But because this is a book written for practitioners and not for historians, historians are likely to find it disappointing. The sources for Frost's life are relatively meager: a comparatively small (though impressive) series of published papers, some lecture notes, a collection of letters, and some interviews with friends and family, mainly held at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia, supplemented by the work and recollections of Frost's students and colleagues. The personal details in this account are mainly provided by Frost's daughter, Susan Frost Parrish: we discover that he always mixed his own martinis, for example, and that he liked to play bridge and golf. Frost was a modest and somewhat diffident man, who apparently kept no diaries; his life reveals few conflicts or complications.

Daniel pays a great deal of attention to Frost's ancestry, a topic of considerable interest to Frost himself. The family was a prominent one in South Carolina that apparently could trace its lineage back to the late fourteenth century in England. Frost's wife, Susan Haxall, came from an even more aristocratic family in Virginia. Daniel's early chapters meander along at a slow pace, perhaps befitting this southern family heritage. As Frost begins his professional career, we are treated to long digressions about the history of public health or of particular diseases that will be already familiar to any historian of public health or medicine but may provide useful background for the general reader.

Next come chapters about Frost's life in Baltimore, his teaching, and his contributions to epidemiologic methods. As Daniels himself notes in his preface, this is a biography by an admirer: he regards Frost as a personal hero, and no hint of criticism mars the presentation. Given recent controversies about the nature and scope of epidemiology, it is possible to see Wade Hampton Frost and Lowell Reed, professors respectively of epidemiology and biostatistics, as responsible for laying the basis for a conservative approach to epidemiology. How different might these fields have become if, say, William Henry Welch had chosen Joseph Goldberger and Edgar Sydenstricker as Hopkins professors rather than Frost and Reed! Daniels raises no such disturbing questions. He gives us an uncritical biography, written with affection and admiration, and designed to enshrine Frost's work within the history of epidemiology. [End Page 383]

Although this volume offers historians of the field little that is new or surprising, it may well serve students of epidemiology as an accessible introduction to the man and his work.

Elizabeth Fee
National Library of Medicine


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pp. 382-384
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