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The complicated history of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary

Jan 14, 2016

Albert Schweitzer 1952.
Credit Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the 141st birthday of a Nobel prize-winner who is well-known to baby-boomers, but perhaps less well-known to later generations.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer was a physician, philosopher, theologian, organist and humanitarian. He was German and French and is known for his charitable work including opening a hospital in Africa.

Yet, his legacy is not without controversy.

In his story for PBS NewsHour, Dr. Howard Markel, University of Michigan medical historian writes:

Dr. Schweitzer became especially famous for giving benefit concerts and lectures in Europe as a means of fundraising for his hospital back in Africa. His philosophy, he often stated, was built upon the principle of a “reverence for life” and the religious and ethical imperatives of helping others.

He goes on to write:

Not all was sunny with Schweitzer’s social commentary. In recent years, many have taken him to task for decidedly paternalistic and racist descriptions of his African patients that would offend many a 21st century observer. 

Dr. Markel tells us more about the life of one of medicine's great humanitarians.

Listen to our interview below: