Walter Reed

by Dawn Graves


Walter Reed was still a young army doctor when he was stationed at Fort Sidney in 1883. 

During his time at the Fort, he gained valuable experience and knowledge about the importance of sanitary conditions, particularly after the recent acceptance in the medical community that microorganisms or “germs” were the cause of disease.

At Fort Sidney, Reed treated soldiers with a range of maladies including typhoid fever, frostbite, gunshot wounds (often resulting from drunken brawls) and yellow fever. 

His research of yellow fever, a feared and little-understood disease at the time, would later bring him national fame. 

Yellow fever, also called the yellow plague, was so feared and misunderstood in the 19th century that after one outbreak in Philadelphia, it is written that people stopped using the sidewalks in order to avoid houses in which people had died, avoided each other on the streets, and no longer shook hands in greeting.

Walter Reed later studied the virus, being one of the first to realize that it was spread by infected mosquitoes when he saw that a prisoner in a guardhouse who contracted the virus could have only done so by the insects which were able to fly through the barred windows.

Though Reed only spent 10 months at Fort Sidney, his experience with patients suffering from infectious diseases was the foundation of his famous work in bacteriology. Hospitals and research facilities have since been named after him, not to mention the street in Sidney bearing his name: Capt. Walter Reed Avenue.

Reed died of appendicitis in 1902.