American Medical Biographies/Alcott, William Alexander

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Alcott, William Alexander (1798–1859)

William Alexander Alcott, physician and author, was born in Wolcott, Connecticut, August, 6, 1798. By hard work on the farm he supported himself, and paid for tuition in the medical school of Yale University, and before many years became a man of great influence in the community and acquired considerable practice.

He was a man of excellent common sense, and quickly detected the folly of the fantastic therapy dominating the medical world in his day and long after it, and many illuminating experiences led him to abandon the use of one drug after another; all this is detailed in an autobiography with the quaint title, "Forty Years in the Wildernesses of Pills and Powders." He early realized the advantages and made use of hydrotherapy as an adjunct in the treatment of disease.

He had great confidence in calomel and gave enormous doses without apparent ill effects. He describes his treatment of croup in a child to whom he administered a teaspoonful at a dose and the little patient soon recovered.

About 1832 Alcott removed to Boston and associated himself with William Woodbridge in the preparation of school geographies and atlases and in editing the Annals of Education. The people among whom he had lived had only the most rudimentary education; the schools taught reading, but "figuring" had to be learned after hours; a few could do small sums in subtraction but almost none could multiply or divide. He edited Juvenile Rambles, the first weekly periodical published in America for children. He wrote "On the Construction of School-Houses." It is said he visited 20,000 school-houses. In all, Alcott published upward of one hundred books and pamphlets, many dealing with education, morals and physical training, and he was identified with noted reforms.

He died in Auburndale, Massachusetts, March 29, 1859.

Appleton's Cyclop. Amer. Biog., N. Y., 1887.