Schweitzer, Albert

Alternative names
Birth 1875-01-14
Death 1965-09-04
German, French, English

Biographical notes:

Alsatian medical missionary, theologian, musician and philosopher.

From the description of Autograph letters in German signed (5) : Lambarene, Gabon, to Count Janos Hoyos, a physician in the U.S., 1958 Feb. 6-1960 June 17. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270634614

Epithet: theologian philosopher and organist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001026.0x00015f

Alsatian philosopher, theologian, organist, Bach scholar, physician, and humanist.

From the description of Autograph letter signed, dated : Strasbourg Dec. 9 1906, to an unidentified recipient, 1906 Dec. 9. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270669699

From the description of Autograph note signed, dated : Lambaréńe, 30 December 1952, to Joseph Chouinard, 1952 Dec. 30. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270961966

Albert Schweitzer was a medical missionary, theologian, philosopher, musician, and humanitarian, probably most widely known for his works on Jesus Christ and Johann Sebastian Bach, and for the founding of a hospital at Lambaréne in French Equatorial Africa (Gabon), where he served the people of Africa and worked among the lepers. He was born in Kayserberg in Alsace-Lorraine in 1875 and died in 1965 in Gabon. Schweitzer received a Nobel Prize in 1953.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1937-1993. (University of South Alabama). WorldCat record id: 472611218

Albert Schweitzer was a theologian, author, musician, and medical missionary. In 1913, he founded a hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, in French Equatorial Africa to which he devoted his entire life. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

From the description of Atkinson Foundation Albert Schweitzer letters collection, 1956-1964. (Graduate Theological Union). WorldCat record id: 77091212

Albert Schweitzer was a renowned theologian, musician, musicologist, and medical missionary. After studying medicine specifically to practice in Africa as a missionary, he founded a hospital at Lambaréné, in the French Congo. He dedicated the rest of his life and resources to operating and expanding the hospital, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts in 1953.

From the description of Albert Schweitzer letter and postcard, 1927-1930. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 52577887

Schweitzer (1875-1965) was an Alsatian musician, philosopher, physician, missionary, and author. He operated a medical mission in Lambarene, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon) from l9l3 until his death.

Ernest Bueding (1910-86) was a parasite biochemist and pharmacologist who had met Schweitzer in the l930s. Bueding was also interested in leprosy, and during the period l945-1950 procured drugs for Schweitzer to use in his work.

From the description of Bueding (Ernest) collection of Albert Schweitzer letters 1945-1987. (Johns Hopkins University). WorldCat record id: 48380087

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875-September 4, 1965), German theologian, philosopher, musician, musicologist, doctor, surgeon, and medical missionary, was born in Kaysersberg, Alsace (French territory then occupied by Germany), the son of a liberal Lutheran minister, Louis Schweitzer, and Adele (Schillinger) Schweitzer. He began music lessons at age five, went on to study theology and philosophy at Strasbourg University and, briefly, philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1902 he became a lecturer in the faculty of theology at Strasbourg University, and in the following year principal of the Theological College of St. Thomas.

Even at this young age, Schweitzer was well-known throughout Europe for his achievements in music and theology. He was an exceptional performer and critic of Bach as well as an influential organ-builder whose published works were to change the pattern of organ restoration and installation. In theology and philosophy, his unorthodox ideas about the need for reason and truth within Christian dogma were earning him controversy and praise. The publication in 1906 (1910 in English) of his The Quest of the Historical Jesus, in which Schweitzer took a new look at the Synoptic gospels and tried to understand exactly what Jesus really believed, was a landmark in Christian theology.

In 1896, despite a sucessful scholastic career, Schweitzer decided that he could not live a life purely devoted to academia. "I decided that I would make my life my argument," he said, intending to act out his beliefs rather than just preach them. At the age of thirty he returned to Strasbourg University to study medicine and in 1913 he became a fully qualified doctor, with a specialization in tropical diseases. He began actively to raise funds for the establishment of a hospital in equatorial Africa. Although his unorthodox theology was received by most mission societies with suspicion and disapproval, the Paris Missionary Society at last agreed to sponsor his venture and gave him land on which to build his hospital. This he did, with the help of his wife, Hélène Bresslau, who had qualified as a nurse to help with his mission.

The Schweitzers set up their hospital in Lambaréné, a fiercely tropical area of French equatorial Africa. Schweitzer's unorthodox medical methods (he ran Lambaréné like a typical African village) were frequently criticized but Schweitzer believed that blending African culture with his own techniques would address the needs of the population better than the imposition of a purely Western style upon them. The affection and trust he inspired in those who came to him for treatment and the success of his hospital over the years would seem to confirm this view. The villagers christened him "Oganga," meaning "the fetishman," a term of respect. By the time of his death, Lambaréné had about seventy buildings and attracted dedicated and talented medical staff from around the world.

At the outbreak of World War I he and his wife, both German citizens, were palced under house arrest and eventually taken to an internment camp in France, where they stayed until the end of the war. In 1924 he returned to Lambaréné, rebuilt the hospital on a new site, and spent the rest of his life devoted to its development, traveling regularly to Europe to give concerts to raise funds. Hélène's health suffered after her experience in the internment camp and she remained in Europe, apart from the occasional visit, but their daughter Rhena trained as a laboratory technican so she could work alongside her father.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Schweitzer continued to visit and lecture in Germany until the increased power of the Nazis made it no longer safe. The war itself drove Lambaréné to the brink of closure, but assistance from the Unitarian Service Committee in America enabled it to recover.

Schweitzer's ethical system, which he termed Reverence for Life, centered on a belief that everything on earth is equally sacred. "Man's ethics," he said, "must not end with man, but should extend to the universe." In his view, it is up to mankind to invest living with moral value, since nature and the universe are neutral. Schweitzer elaborated this theory in his writings and exemplified it in his own life, refusing to kill anything, even insects, unless it was absolutely essential. (Part of the responsibility of this approach, he knew, was the need to accept that in some situations killing is necessary.)

In 1952 Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the money from which he put towards building a leper colony near the hospital. In 1957 Hélène died, and thereafter he remained at Lambaréné. He became increasingly outspoken on the issue of nuclear weapons, joining with some of the greatest intellects in the world to discuss and denounce their proliferation. In 1958 he made three radio appeals from Oslo entitled "Peace or Atomic War?," and until the end of his life he welcomed visiting journalists or politicians who wished to discuss this issue with him.

He died, peacefully, in 1965, and was buried alongside his wife at Lambaréné.

(Biographical statement adapted from World Authors 1900-1950 (1996) Copyright (c) by The H. W. Wilson Company)

From the guide to the Albert Schweitzer Papers, 1896-1965, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)


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  • Music
  • Leprosy--Hospitals--History--Sources
  • Missions to leprosy patients--Correspondence
  • Philanthropists--Archives
  • Religion and philosophy
  • Pharmacology
  • Missions to leprosy patients
  • Missions, Medical--History--Sources
  • Missionaries, Medical--Correspondence
  • Theologians
  • Humanists
  • Organists
  • Synthetic products
  • Hospitals
  • Leprosy--Hospitals
  • Philosophers
  • Biomedical materials
  • Missions--Gabon
  • Missions, Medical--Gabon, Lambaréné (Moyen--Ogooué)
  • Missions, medical
  • Pharmaceutical industry
  • Missions to leprosy patients--History--Sources
  • Science and medicine
  • Authors, German--20th century
  • Missionaries, Medical
  • Leprosy--Patients
  • Pharmacologists--Archives
  • Pharmaceutical industry--History--Sources
  • Activism and social reform


  • Philanthropists
  • Physicians
  • Missionaries
  • Pharmacologists
  • Theologians
  • Musicians
  • Composers


  • Gabon (as recorded)
  • Lambaréné (Moyen-Ogooué, Gabon) (as recorded)
  • Lambaréné (Moyen-Ogooué, Gabon) (as recorded)
  • Gabon (as recorded)
  • Lambaréné (Moyen-Ogooué, Gabon) (as recorded)
  • Gabon--Lambaréné (as recorded)
  • Africa, French-speaking Equatorial (as recorded)
  • Gabon (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Gabon--Lambaréné (as recorded)