Ignorance is Bliss: The Listerian Revolution and Education of American Surgeons

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Joseph Lister introduced antiseptic surgery in 1867. American surgeons, entrenched in the old ways of 19th century medicine, failed to adopt Lister's methods.

Materials and Methods

Examples of the hubris and arrogant thinking displayed by early American surgeons are best shown by Thomas Eakins' masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, and by the death of President James Garfield.


Samuel Gross, preeminent American surgeon in 1875 boldly revealed in The Gross Clinic, and the team of distinguished surgeons using outdated methods caring for Garfield in 1881, illustrate American surgeons' woeful disdain and disregard of sterile surgical methods.


Public outcry over the failure of some of America's best surgeons led to widespread adoption of antiseptic surgery by the late 1880s and introduction of basic science into the medical education by the dawn of the new century.

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