International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Dr Albert Schweitzer

    Status Medical Missionary
    Country Germany


    Albert Schweitzer, the son of a Lutheran Pastor, was born in 1875 in Kaysersberg, a town near Strasbourg in Alsace, Germany (now part of France). By age 29, Schweitzer had made landmark scholarly contributions in the fields of music, religion, and philosophy and published three books. He was an acclaimed organist, a world authority on Bach, a church pastor, a principal of a theological seminary, and a university professor with two doctoral degrees.

    In 1904 Schweitzer was inspired by an evangelical paper on the needs of medical missions to become a medical missionary. He studied medicine from 1905 to 1913 at the University of Strasbourg, and having raised money to establish a hospital in Africa, he and his wife Hélène founded a hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon – then a province of French Equatorial Africa. In 1915, profoundly tormented by the carnage from the raging war in Europe, and troubled daily by the vast numbers of suffering patients coming to his hospital for help, he experienced as a revelation the idea of “Reverence for Life" as the elementary and universal principle of ethics that he had been seeking for so long. By stressing the interdependence and unity of all life, he was a forerunner of the environmental and animal welfare movements - Rachel Carson dedicated Silent Spring to him.

    Over the years Schweitzer built a large hospital that served thousands of Africans, and for his many years of humanitarian efforts was awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, using the $33,000 award to expand the hospital and to build a leprosy colony.

    In 1955 Queen Elizabeth II awarded Schweitzer the "Order of Merit," Britain's highest civilian honor. After retiring as a practicing doctor, Albert Schweitzer continued to oversee the hospital until his death at the age of 90. To the end, his one frustration was that he had not succeeded in convincing the world to abolish nuclear weapons. He and his wife are buried on the Hospital grounds in Lambaréné.

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