This is my favorite STEM article to write, because Joseph Lister is one of my favorite science guys.
His research really helped people.
Joseph Lister, from the UK, shared many years in history with Barton, but on different continents.
Dr. Lister was a married man who helped save women in childbirth, yet he and his wife had no children of their own.
His wife, Agnes Syme Lister, helped Joseph do his research.
This is how I distill what I have read about Dr. Lister:
He was a problem solver; solving problems created by other doctors.
Birthing, more than pregnancy, was a real hazard for European women before 1930.
Many women died shortly after childbirth. This was called ‘puerperal fever’ or 'Childbed Fever'.
Such death was caused by infections to the birthing organs. A few doctors began to think doctors delivering the babies might be the problem. Understand that before 1850, even doctors didn’t know much about germs. They thought ‘miasma’ or ‘bad air’ caused most diseases.
(I wonder if this is what took Ebeneezer Scrooge's mother at his birth?)
Some important researchers of childbirth death in the late 1800s, were:
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (Physician, poet, father of SCOTUS Judge OWH Jr.)
Louis Pasteur (proponent of pasteurization)
Joseph Lister (antiseptic mouthwash named after him).
“Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) was at the Vienna Maternity Hospital. He considered that puerperal fever was carried on the hands of medical students who had been doing postmortem dissections in the basement of the hospital. He showed very neatly that by washing the hands with carbolic soap before attending women in labour, such cases could be greatly reduced. He did the work in 1847 and he gave a talk on it briefly to the local medical society but it was not until 1858 that he published his book 'The Aetiology of Childbed Fever'. He too was attacked widely by the establishment of obstetricians in Europe, who could not believe that they or their midwife colleagues were responsible for the enormous number of deaths.”
Lister enrolled in Medical school in 1848, after Semmelweis essentially solved the problem. This was about the same time Barton's family moved to Iowa. Yet, most other doctors would not believe Semmelweis. His claims made many doctors very angry.
So what could Lister add to this?
Well now... Lister’s father, J.J. Lister, explored science, including 'microscopology' and invented or discovered the 'achromatic microscope'. The elder Mr. Lister taught Joseph how to use microscopes.
So, perhaps having a father who improved microscopes, enabled Joseph to verify theories of doctors from earlier decades?
Eric J. Rose