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Postgrad Med J 76:738-740 doi:10.1136/pmj.76.901.738
  • History of Medicine

Perceptions of malaria transmission before Ross' discovery in 1897

  1. G C Cook,
  2. A J Webb
  1. Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 1BE, UK
  1. Dr Cook
  • Received 12 January 2000
  • Accepted 19 April 2000

In early 1919, Lady (Dorothy) Stanley (fig 1), widow of the high profile African explorer Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904), wrote to Ronald Ross (1857–1932), the man who had discovered mosquito transmission of malaria in 1897 (fig 2)1:

Figure 1

Lady (Dorothy) Stanley, née Tennant, who wrote two letters (previously unpublished) to Ross outlining her late husband's views on malaria transmission (reproduced by permission of the Wellcome Library, London).

Figure 2

Initial page of the first letter written by Lady (Dorothy) Stanley to Ross, dated 15 February 1919 (reproduced by permission of the Ross Archivist, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine).

“…My husband, Stanley, of course, had never [he had apparently written to Ross in 1895–6] attributed malaria to the mosquito, though malaria was his deadly enemy all through his life in Africa—and even in [his] early youth, in Arkansas U.S. ... He used to think it was “miasmic”—and in the Great Forest, he told me, he could smell and taste malaria ... he thought malaria was in some cases borne by wind”.

She continued:

“... he had a glass screen put up on his boat [a “little steam boat En Avant” which he used on the Congo]—and the fever disappeared ... We all know, now, thanks to you—the real cause of malaria ...”.

In a further letter,2 a week later, again to Ross, she wrote:

“I have read with intense interest, and finished with regret the account of your researches on malaria—The only account comparable to it, is that of Pasteur's Researches, given in his Life ... …