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Edward Bright Vedder, M.D.


Edward Bright Vedder (1878-1952) was a career military physician, noted researcher on deficiency diseases, and medical educator. His most important contribution to medical science was his research and publications on beriberi as a deficiency disease affecting the peripheral nerves. The Papers of Edward Bright Vedder span the period 1902-1943. They were donated to the Edward G. Miner Library in 1997 by Martha Vedder Cullinane, the widow of Edward Bright Vedder's son, Henry C. Vedder, who followed in his father's footsteps as a military physician. The Vedder papers were processed in July 2000. They are contained in eight document boxes occupying 3.5 linear feet.

Edward Bright Vedder was born in New York City to Henry Clay Vedder, a Baptist clergyman, and Minnie Lingham Vedder. He received his Ph.B. from the University of Rochester in 1898, and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1902. Continuing his studies at Penn, Vedder received an M.S. in 1903 while doing research with Simon Flexner on dysentery. Soon afterward, he was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and continued his studies at the Army Medical School in Washington, D.C.

Following graduation in 1904, Vedder served in the Philippines, where he studied and observed tropical diseases. His work on beriberi and scurvy was of particular importance. Vedder discovered that beriberi is a deficiency disease; and his research on scurvy helped lead the way for others to the discovery that ascorbic acid is a vitamin. In 1913 Vedder published Beriberi, his best known monograph. That same year he returned to the United States where he was appointed assistant professor of pathology at the Army Medical School. In 1919 he became director of the Southern Department Laboratory at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and from 1922 to 1925 was chief of medical research at the Edgewood Arsenal (Md). During this period Vedder conducted research on chemical warfare that resulted in publication of The medical aspects of chemical warfare in 1925.

Vedder returned to Manila in 1925 as senior member of the Army Board for Medical Research. He returned to Washington in 1929, and in the following year assumed command of the Army Medical School. Vedder retired from the Army in 1933 to become professor of experimental medicine at George Washington University. In 1942 he was appointed director of medical education at the Alameda County Hospital (California) and laboratory director of the Highland County Hospital (Oakland), posts that he retained until his retirement in 1947.

The Papers

Although fragmentary in content, the papers of Edward Bright Vedder nonetheless include valuable materials for historical research. Boxes 1-2 contain an incomplete yet extensive collection of reprints of articles published by Vedder between 1902 and the mid-1940s. Certainly the most interesting portion of the collection are the several typescript versions of his unpublished autobiography in Box 3, Folders 1-14. Entitled Fifty years of medicine, Vedder devotes separate chapters to each aspect of his military and medical careers, as well as essays on topics such as public health, state medicine and his (very un-Baptist) views on religion. Box four contains notes, hand- and typewritten abstracts from his reading, and other materials used in his lectures at the Army Medical School. The lectures are arranged alphabetically by topic, and pertain largely to tropical and other communicable diseases. Boxes 5-7 include an incomplete yet nonetheless interesting collection of laboratory notebooks, as well as manuals on military hygiene and laboratory procedure that Vedder apparently compiled for personal use circa 1916.

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