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The official American government report on the Equine Influenza Epidemic  of 1872

By Dr. James Law


After the Great Epizootic of 1872 devastated the United States, the Federal government asked the country's leading veterinarian scientist to study and report on the equestrian catastrophe.  This singular document was composed by Dr. James Law, a Scotsman by birth (1838) and graduate of Edinburgh's Royal Veterinarian College.  Law travelled to the United States in 1868 at the request of Andrew White, the President of Cornell University in New York, to head the emerging Department of Veterinarian Surgery.  The Scottish scientist was a well-educated man with abundant energy and foresight.  He realised one of his ambitious labours with the opening of the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University in 1896.  Law vigorously pursued the advancement and standardisation of veterinary medical education and licensing throughout the United States.  He earned an impeccable reputation not only as an educator, clinician, and surgeon, but also as an authoritative consultant and investigator of major livestock diseases of the nineteenth century.  He was engaged by the Departments of Agriculture and Treasure to investigate and report on such notable diseases as Equine Influenza, Bovine Contagious Pluropneumonia and Hog Cholera.  His report to the Commissioner of Agriculture on the Equine Influenza Epizootic of 1872 is a classic among disease annals.   Dr. Law was an early advocate of the "one medicine" theory and promoted increased responsibilities for veterinarians in public health issues.  He was among the most prolific writers of his era and reached the pinnacle of academia when he was appointed Dean of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (1894-1908).  Law served the veterinary profession as President of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1906.  The pioneering scientist retired from academia in 1908.  He remained an influential icon of veterinary medicine until his death in 1921. 

This biography is an excerpt from  Jennifer Chediak's article called "Shaping the Profession - James Law and the Rise of Professionalism in the United States Veterinary Heritage."

Click here to read the abridged version of Dr. Law's official American government report on the Equine Influenza Epidemic  of 1872, which contains the details of how the disease rapidly spread across the United States.  In addition, it provides a critical study of earlier equine influenza epidemics, including the episode in 1800 which saw the disease race from China to England.

Click here to read the full version.

The abridged version of the official report omits the various meteorological tables and the suggested remedies of the time, such as "Mild febrifuge diuretics may be used with advantage.  Spirits of nitrous ether, in half-ounce doses, may be given twice a day, or liquor of the acetate of ammonia, in ounce doses, four times a day in the water gruel drank."  We believe these are of great interest to many, but not all, of our visitors.

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