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George Washington and Medicine

George Washington and Medicine   offers students and instructors an opportunity to learn about and discuss the role played by medical theory and practice in the life of George Washington. As a private citizen, household head, plantation owner, military leader, president, and the “father of his country,” Washington, though himself not a physician, was intimately involved in issues of medical care for himself and his various dependents, including family members, slaves, and soldiers. Throughout his life, and in these varied contexts, Washington learned about medicine from the leading textual authorities of eighteenth-century Britain and America, as well as from practical experience gleaned from the home, the plantation, and the battlefield. Although Washington’s endeavors in politics, military leadership, and agriculture have been the focus of considerable scholarly and popular attention, medicine played an important role as Washington carried out his responsibilities in all areas of his life.

Information about the module’s author, suggested use, and academic objectives is also available online at About the Module.

Class 1: George Washington and Medicine: A Different Battlefront

The first class places Washington in the medical context of eighteenth-century Anglo-America.

Class 2: Commander-in-Chief

The second class examines how Washington, as head of the American forces in the Revolution, provided for the medical care of his soldiers.

Class 3: Plantation Owner

The third class discusses the ways in which Washington, the owner of a large Virginia plantation, understood and treated the illnesses and injuries experienced by Mount Vernon’s several hundred slaves.

Class 4: Patriarch

The fourth class situates Washington in the context of his era, in which child mortality was extremely high, even amongst the elite, and emphasizes his attempts to care for his dependents, and to cope with the possibility of their deaths.

Class 5: Husband and Patient

The fifth class centers on Washington’s decades-long marriage to the former Martha Dandridge Custis and the ways in which the couple experienced and dealt with the aging process.

Class 6: Final Illness and Death

The final class focuses on Washington’s final health problems, his death in 1799, and the ways in which Americans commemorated the passing of the “father of their country.”