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Thomas Southwood Smith (December 21, 1788 - December 10, 1861), Englishmarker physician and sanitary reformer, was born at Martockmarker, Somersetshiremarker.

While a medical student in Edinburghmarker he took charge of a Unitarian congregation. In 1816 he took his M.D. degree, and began to practice at Yeovil, Somersetmarker, also becoming minister at a chapel in that town, but removed in 1820 to Londonmarker, devoting himself principally to medicine.

In 1824 he was appointed physician to the London Fever Hospitalmarker, and in 1830 published A Treatise on Fever, which was at once accepted as a standard authority on the subject. In this book he established the direct connection between the impoverishment of the poor and epidemic fever. He was frequently consulted in fever epidemics and on sanitary matters by public authorities, and his reports on quarantine (1845), cholera (1850), yellow fever (1852), and on the results of sanitary improvement (1854) were of international importance. He died in Florencemarker and is interred there in the English Cemetery of Florencemarker, his tombstone sculpted by Joel Tanner Hart.

His granddaughters were Miranda and Octavia Hill.

Southwood Smith was a dedicated utilitarian, and a close friend of Jeremy Bentham. He had a particular interest in applying his philosophical beliefs to the field of medical research. In 1827 he published The Use of the Dead to the Living, a pamphlet which argued that the current system of burial was a wasteful use of bodies that could otherwise be used for dissection by the medical profession.

On 9 June 1832, Southwood Smith carried out the highly controversial public dissection of Jeremy Bentham (who had died 3 days earlier) at the Webb Street School of Anatomy in London. In a speech before the dissection, Southwood Smith argued that

"If, by any appropriation of the dead, I can promote the happiness of the living, then it is my duty to conquer the reluctance I may feel to such a disposition of the dead, however well-founded or strong that reluctance may be".

Southwood Smith's lobbying helped lead to the 1832 Anatomy Act, the controversial legislation which allowed the state to seize unclaimed corpses from workhouses and sell them to surgical schools. While this act is widely credited with ending the practice of grave robbery, it has also been condemned as highly discriminatory against the poor.


Further reading

  • Cook GC. Thomas Southwood Smith FRCP (1788–1861): leading exponent of diseases of poverty, and pioneer of sanitary reform in the mid-nineteenth century. J. Med. Biog. (2002) 10(4): 194–205

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