Sunday, May 1, 2011
Robert Lawson Tait was born on May 1, 1845 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the only surviving son of Archibald Campbell Tait a guild brother of Heriot's Hospital, a free school for orphans, in to which Tait was admitted when he was seven. A distinguished scholar, he won a scholarship to the University of Edinburgh and went through the curriculum of arts and then medicine, but did not graduate. In school Tait rebelled against the didactic style of his professors, spending time to learn to use the microscope, which was not often used at the time. He was a believer in the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, a stance that won him many critics.
In 1867, after passing his medical exams, he took a position as house surgeon at Wakefield Hospital. In 1870 he moved to Birmingham, England, taking his professional quarters with Dr. Bell Fletcher. In 1871 he was appointed lecturer on physiology and general biology at the Midland Institute, where he taught the theories of Darwin. In his first paper, in 1872 he reported his success performing ovariectomy, an operation that at the time was 90% fatal, losing only one of nine patients. In Birmingham he worked to found a women's hospital, which was established and where he served for twenty two years.
Tait wrote books on the diseases of women, winning the Hastings Gold Medal from the British Medical Association for his essay Diseases of the Ovaries, and he was the first to preform a salpingectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes) making ectopic pregnancy survivable. He also was an abdominal surgeon, being the first to remove an appendix and a gallbladder. Tait believed in asepsis, rather than antisepsis. He worked in perfectly clean conditions, rather than disinfecting with carbolic acid solution antisepsis, which became the common practice. Throughout his career he was opposed by conservative critics that disagreed with his beliefs on evolution and women's surgery. Tait was also a opponent of the practice of vivisection used in medical research.
In addition to his medical persuits, Tait also was involved in politics, serving on the Birmingham town council and writing for the journal of his political party. He also supported the arts as a part owner of a theater. In 1886 he served as president of the British Gynecological Society and in 1888 he was appointed professor of gyencology at Queens College. Honors won by Tait include the Cullen and Liston Memorial Prize given by the Edinburgh College of Physicians and honorary degrees.
Tait was mostly an invalid, for the last five years of his life, suffering from chronic nephritis. On June 13, 1899 he died of renal complications.
Leyland, John; "Lawson Tate" in Contemporary Medical Men and Their Profesional Work; Provincial Medical Journal, 1888
Reed, Carles A. L.; "Memorial Address on the Life and Character of Lawson Tate"; Transactions of the American Association of Obsetricans and Gynecologists for the Year 1900; Volume 12 (1900)
Lawson Tate Wikipedia Entry