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Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia

Print version ISSN 0365-0596On-line version ISSN 1806-4841

An. Bras. Dermatol. vol.79 no.6 Rio de Janeiro Nov./Dec. 2004 



The pioneers of dermatology - Part 1 The life and works of Ferdinand von Hebra



Ney Romiti

Emeritus Professor. Titular Professor of the Discipline of Dermatological Clinics and Pathology, UNILUS





I write these lines in the hope of transmitting some knowledge regarding the men that marked the history of Dermatology. For this purpose nothing would be more useful than, if it were possible, to go back in time and to experience first hand the events and persons that contributed to the structure that orientated and initiated the basis and knowledge we have today at our disposal and in our professional education.

Thus, it is essential that all those who travel to Vienna should visit the Museum of Medical History, a department annexed to the University.

This museum is directed by Karl Holubar, a professor in the dermatology department and a learned expert on the history of dermatology in that cultural cradle. I was there, counting on the friendship of Professor Holubar, traveling and learning in detail how, when and where the seed of dermatological thought was planted and which today is developing so splendidly. It is strongly recommended that all those interested in the history of medicine include a visit to that cultural temple in their tourist itinerary to Austria.

The opportunity to become acquainted with some details of the life of Ferdinand von Hebra enabled me to write this article. I believe that some of our older colleagues may know the following information, but for other younger members, this may not only be new, but may awaken a cultural interest in subjects relating to Dermatology.

Vienna shares with Paris and London the founding of the great schools of Dermatology. Ferdinand von Hebra was the founder of the magnificent Viennese school, and he is the main character in these notes, which will furnish details and interesting facts about his life. Hebra was the son of a military official in the Austrian infantry regiment, born in Brünn, Austria (September 7, 1816). His initial studies were in Graz, after which he received his degree in medicine in Vienna (January 26, 1841). Soon after his graduation, he interned in the department of medicine of the General Hospital of Vienna, directed by Josef Skoda. Soon his dedication was directed toward those patients with cutaneous lesions. Being well versed in French and English language and literature, he applied that knowledge to developing a capacity for the observation and evaluation of diseases. As a result, he soon began his scientific activity, which was to have great significance for knowledge of dermatological diseases. Among the accomplishments of those early years are: the revolutionary etiological concept on scabies, with its exact clinical dimension done by auto-inoculation, and the System of Classification of Dermatoses.

In 1848, he became primarius of a Dermatology Service, and in 1849 he was promoted to the position of full professor of Dermatology, being the first, in German speaking countries, to be thus classified. He was a tireless traveler; Norway to study leprosy, and several times to Paris and London. Starting from 1856, he published his monumental Atlas, with the collaboration of Karl Heitzmann and painter-doctor Anton Elfinger for the iconographic documentation. At the end of the fifties his manual was included in the textbook of special pathology by Virchow, which was published in multiple editions. This, even counted on the collaboration of Moritz Kohn-Kaposi, son-in-law and successor in the dermatology chair. These works were then translated into other languages (English, French, Italian and Russian).

The literary work of Hebra was not extensive, in Kaposi's subsequent curriculum (1880) he cited 34 articles in journals of the specialty and four monumental works. His great merit as a professor is not in the world of publications, but mainly in the establishment of the foundations for the specialty, such as systemization and the original and precise descriptions of dermatoses. These he initiated and expanded upon at the Viennese clinic.

Hebra was a professor and clinician with exceptional qualifications, as demonstrated by the wide repercussion of his conferences in the most famous European universities. Rare were the dermatologists of the time who did not base their specialization on his teachings.

During his lifetime he received countless honors; Russian, Swedish and Austrian. In 1887, he was honored with the title of Ritter Von (Gentleman) by the Austrian Imperial Palace.

Among the members of his numerous family - seven children - his son Johannes also became a dermatologist. In addition, his daughter Martha married Moritz Kaposi, his disciple and successor to the chair.

His birth certificate registered at the Catholic Church of the Menorites (Franciscans) in the book numbered 1814-1839, vol. 2 pg. 892 records: Ferdinand Karl Franz, son of Aloisia (Karoline Wilhelmine Frederik Aloisia) Schwarzmann; he was, therefore, a illegitimate child. His mother was married to Vinzenz Slawik, both born in the south of Poland (Galicia). They lived separately and it is not known when Johannes Hebra became involved in his life, but, being military, he was not allowed to register the name Hebra in his son's birth certificate. Thus, it was only as an adult, at the age of 24 years, that his paternity was recognized, and the marriage legalized. Therefore registered as Ferdinand Schwarzmann, he became Ferdinand Hebra, as seen on his diploma of graduation from medical school.

P.S. - These facts related here were included in the lectures by K. Holubar and J. Tappeiner that celebrated the 100 years of Ferdinand Hebra. (I Universitaets-Hautklinik, Wien)
Öst Arzteztg. 36/7 1981,444.



Correspondence to
Ney Romiti
Rua Machado de Assis, 303
11050 - 060 Santos SP

Received on October 04, 2004
Approved by the Consultive Council and accepted for publication on September 20, 2004

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