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William Crawford Gorgas Papers

Identifier: MSS-0581

Scope and Contents note

The William Crawford Gorgas papers include material created by and written about Gorgas, as well as material created by other Gorgas family members. His diaries and journals illuminate his life and work for the U.S. Army as a surgeon and span the years he worked in Cuba and Panama. The collection includes official reports and other documents Gorgas wrote and collected, as well as articles and other publications written about Gorgas and his work in sanitation and disease prevention, particularly yellow fever. Correspondence, articles, and other items document the numerous awards and tributes Gorgas received during his life and memorials after his death in 1920. In addition to William Crawford Gorgas material, the collection includes other material belonging to Gorgas family members including Marie Gorgas and their daughter, Aileen Gorgas Wrightson. In 1924, his widow Marie Gorgas published William Crawford Gorgas: His Life and Work. This collection includes manuscripts, galley proofs, and published versions of her work.

The collection is arranged into the following series: Diaries and Journals; Correspondence; Personal Material; U.S. Army Work; Professional Affiliations; Speeches and Writings; Published Material; Honors and Memorials; Gorgas Family; Manuscripts about the Life of William Crawford Gorgas; Clippings; Miscellany; and Photographs.


  • 1869-1920


Biographical/Historical note

William Crawford Gorgas was born October 3, 1854, in Toulminville, Alabama, near Mobile. His father, Josiah Gorgas, was a native Pennsylvanian and an 1841 graduate of the United States Military Academy. Josiah Gorgas was an ordnance officer in the U.S. Army and commanded the Mount Vernon Arsenal, north of Mobile, Alabama, where he met and married Amelia Gayle in 1853. Amelia Gayle Gorgas was the daughter of former U.S. congressman and Alabama governor John Gayle. During the Civil War Josiah Gorgas joined the Confederate Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general and Chief of Ordnance.

In 1875 William Gorgas graduated from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, where his father was vice chancellor. He then entered Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York, graduating in 1879. The same year his father was named president of The University of Alabama, a position he held for only one year, due to illness.

William Gorgas joined the U.S. Army in 1880 as an assistant surgeon. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s he served with little renown in various posts around the United States, including North Dakota, Texas, and Florida. He married Marie Cook Doughty of Columbus, Ohio, on September 3, 1885. They had one child, Aileen. Having survived yellow fever while stationed in Texas, Gorgas was often ordered to work in areas where the disease was a known hazard. Consequently he was stationed at Fort Barrancas, on Pensacola Bay, Florida, for a number of years, honing his knowledge of and skills at treating the disease. During the Spanish-American War the Army gave Gorgas the command of a hospital in Cuba, where there was a yellow fever outbreak. A year later, in 1899, Gorgas was appointed chief sanitary officer of Havana, Cuba, where he eradicated yellow fever by controlling the mosquito population.

As a result of his success in Cuba, Gorgas was reassigned to Washington, D.C., in 1902 to develop sanitation plans for the proposed work on the Panama Canal. Gorgas arrived in Panama in 1904 and began efforts to eradicate disease in the Canal Zone. Despite internal opposition to his work, Gorgas managed to eradicate yellow fever from the Canal Zone and created a sanitary environment for workers and residents. By this time, Gorgas received international recognition for his skills and knowledge of sanitation and disease prevention, acting as consultant to other countries including South Africa.

He was appointed Surgeon General of the Army on January 16, 1914, and promoted to the rank of major general. Gorgas served in this capacity during World War I and retired on October 3, 1918. He continued his work on disease prevention and served on the International Health Board, which took him to England in 1920. While there he suffered a stroke and died on July 3, 1920. After a funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral, Gorgas's body was returned to the United States and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


12 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Correspondence, diaries, writings, and other material of this Alabama native who eradicated yellow fever from the Panama Canal Zone and served as Surgeon General of the U.S. Army


Gift of Aileen Gorgas Wrightson, 1947 and 1952; Thomas W. Martin, 1952; Jessie Palfrey Leake, Minna Palfrey Tait, Aileen Gorgas Wrightson, Gene Palfrey Ellis, and William Gorgas Palfrey, 1958; Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and National Library of Medicine, 1991; Dr. William G. Palfrey and Gene Marie Palfrey Ellis, 1993; and Denison Memorial Library, 2006.

Related Materials

Josiah and Amelia Gorgas Family Papers, W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama

Processing Information

Processed by Donnelly Walton, 2004
Guide to the William Crawford Gorgas Papers
Donnelly Lancaster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266