Wellesley's Susan Reverby Unearths Government Research

Historians in the News

WELLESLEY, Mass. - Digging in the archives at the University of Pittsburgh, Wellesley College medical historian Susan M. Reverby knew what she found was important enough to keep it *out* of the book she was writing on the history and myths surrounding the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. She did not expect what she finally wrote up to make it to the White House, through the State Department and to Guatemala.

Reverby's book, "Examining Tuskegee," published in November 2009, illuminated the facts and myths about a 40-year, mid-20th-century research project by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) that left hundreds of African-American men with late stage syphilis untreated and deceived about their disease.

Once Reverby got around to writing up her historical analysis about a 60-year-old medical research study in Guatemala, undertaken between 1946 and 1948, much to her astonishment the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the State Department and even the White House all became involved.

What followed was an apology from the highest levels of government. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered extensive apologies for actions taken by the U.S. Public Health Service....

After writing the paper delivered at the American Association of the History of Medicine annual meeting last spring, Reverby shared her work with David Sencer, a retired director of the CDC, whom she had interviewed for the Tuskegee book. Recognizing the critical nature of her report, Sencer asked if she would allow current CDC officials to see it ahead of publication. Reverby agreed.

Sensitive to what is now considered inappropriate and immoral research, CDC officials sent a leading syphilis specialist to see the archival material. The subsequent report backed up Reverby's findings. A case review is being organized to see if people involved in the study, and their contacts, are still alive. If so, they may have passed on the disease....
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