Ricketts, Howard Taylor, 1871-1910

Alternative names
Birth 1871-02-09
Death 1910-05-03

Biographical notes:

Pathologist. B.S., University of Nebraska, 1894. M.D., Northwestern University, 1897. Research fellow in pathology, Rush Medical College, 1898-1900. Associate in the Department of Pathology and Bacteriology, University of Chicago, 1902-1904; assistant professor, 1904-1910. Professor of Pathology, University of Pennsylvania, 1910.

From the description of Papers, 1891-1977 (inclusive), 1891-1910 (bulk). (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 52246913

Howard T. Ricketts was born in Findlay, Ohio and educated at the University of Nebraska (B.S., 1894) and Northwestern University Medical School (M.D., 1897). After serving his internship at Cook County Hospital, he was appointed research fellow in pathology at Rush Medical College (1898-1900). In 1900, Ricketts married a former classmate, Myra Tubbs; their nine year courtship is amply documented in Ricketts personal correspondence.

Following his marriage, Ricketts spent a year in Europe studying immunology at hospitals and laboratories in Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. (See notebooks, 6:2-3) In 1902, he became an associate in the Department of Pathology and Bacteriology at the University of Chicago and was promoted to assistant professor in 1904. Just prior to his death in 1910, Ricketts accepted an appointment as Professor of Pathology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ricketts’ research in pathology began at Rush Medical College, where he began a series of experiments on blastomycosis-a skin disease-which resulted in an important monograph: Oidiomycosis (Blastomycosis) of the Skin and its Fungi (Box 7). His most noted medical research, however, was his discovery of the cause of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Starting in 1906, he ran a series of experiments-in Chicago and Montana-which proved that the disease was transmitted by wood ticks. Eventually, this led to the discovery of a suspicious bacillus in the blood of both victims and infected ticks. When the bacillus was finally isolated in 1916, it was named "Rickettsia" in honor of the man who first noted its presence.

Ricketts never completed his work on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, being drawn instead to the study of a related disease, typhus. In 1909, he was given a one-year leave of absence from Chicago to investigate a typhus epidemic in Mexico City. In a matter of months, using protocols developed in the spotted fever research, Ricketts was able to isolate the louse as the carrier of Mexican typhus, and on April 23, 1910 he announced discovery of a micro-organism-apparently a bacillus-in the blood of body lice and typhus patients. The confirmation of this discovery, however, was left to others, for ten days later Howard Ricketts died, a victim of the disease.

From the guide to the Ricketts, Howard Taylor. Papers, 1891-1977, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)


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  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Pathologists
  • Rickettsia
  • Typhus fever


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