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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Z. Altschuler

My Favorite Hans Zinsser Quote on Ether Dome Day

This is my favorite Dr. Hans Zinsser quote. I found it while I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Harvard Countway Medical Library Rare Books Section going through Dr. Zinsser’s papers. The boxes were stacked one on top of the other and before Dr. Zinsser’s work was available in a formal collection.

With great thanks to Dick Wolfe, the Rare Books Curator, I was the first person to open and go through the Zinsser boxes which were donated with his work to the Countway Library after Dr. Zinsser passed away.

The quote I share here as a slide I used in a presentation, was part of the speech Zinsser gave on Ether Dome Day, which is today, October 16th, 2019. Dr. Zinsser delivered his wisdom to the medical students who were celebrating the day in the Ether Dome of the Massachusetts General Hospital on October 16th, 1924.

I felt a bit uncomfortable going through Zinsser's papers at the time as I didn’t have any of the typical “credentials” to gain such access. What I did have was a great desire to learn more about Dr. Zinsser, his book Rats, Lice, and History as well as find the scientific basis for his statements claiming that both head lice and body lice carried typhus.

Early in the process I read his Ether Dome speech, saw this quote, and felt assured that he would have approved. What I came to call the Zinsser Project became a lot more than I could have ever anticipated. It was one of the most memorable projects I’ve ever worked on and a powerful force that made a positive difference to me both personally and professionally and in many many ways. Deborah

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