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Frederick F. Russell

Frederick F. Russell was directly responsible for introducing the typhoid vaccine to United States Army troops in 1910. His success with the vaccination program and his expertise in preventive medicine informed his subsequent contributions to the international health programs of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) from 1919 to 1935.

Russell was born in Auburn, New York, in 1870. A graduate of Cornell University and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, he was also educated at the University of Berlin. Following a commission in the United States Army Medical Corps, he first began to conduct research on typhoid vaccinations. In 1907 this research led to his appointment as Curator of the Army Medical Museum and instructor at both the Army Medical School and George Washington University. In 1917 he went on to earn a Doctor of Science degree from George Washington University.

In 1908, on behalf of the of the Surgeon General and the Army, Russell visited medical researchers in London and Berlin to observe vaccination experiments using live typhoid organisms to protect against transmission of that disease. Upon his return, he recommended emulating that approach and received support to establish a vaccine laboratory to conduct more tests. He then developed and implemented the Army’s highly successful typhoid vaccination program.   

The success with the typhoid vaccine program and his leadership of the military medical laboratories during World War I and later in the Panama Canal Zone brought Russell to the attention of Wickliffe Rose, director of the RF’s International Health Board (IHB). In 1919 Rose hired Russell to develop the IHB’s public health laboratory service. Upon joining the RF and resigning from the Army, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Medical Reserve Corps. When Rose stepped down as IHB director in 1923, Russell replaced him and retained that position when the International Health Division (IHD) replaced the IHB in 1927.

Russell originally promoted laboratories for public health diagnostic work and later emphasized the importance of scientific research to improve public health and to serve as the basis for successful disease control programs, such as those run by the RF for malaria and yellow fever. This focus on laboratories and research often put Russell at loggerheads with other members of the RF staff who sought to support more applied health programs. According to the scientist and scholar John Farley, Russell “was far too confident and powerful to worry about what was going on behind his back. With his authoritative bearing and military manner… (He) established few personal relationships with his colleagues.” Yet, “under his direction the Health Division’s morale remained high and it reached the pinnacle of its power and influence.”[1]

Russell continued his career in applied medical research following his retirement from the RF in 1935; that year the National Academy of Sciences awarded him the Public Welfare Medal. For the next four years he served as a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Harvard University. Frederick F. Russell died at the age of 90 in 1960. His papers are held at the National Library of Medicine and are open to researchers.


[1] John Farley, To Cast out Disease: A History of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (1913-1951), (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 10.