Moss, William Lorenzo

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(b. Athens, Georgia, 23 August 1876; d. Athens, 12 August 1957)

medicine, pathology.

Moss was the son of Elizabeth Luckie Moss and Rufus Lafayette Moss. After being educated privately and in local public schools, he enrolled in the University of Georgia and earned his B.S. in 1902. He proceeded to The Johns Hopkins University Medical School and received his M.D. three years later. Several years later he undertook further study on the continent. Moss spent his career teaching and doing research at Johns Hopkins, at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases in Buffalo, New York, and at Yale and Harvard Universities. In 1926 he became acting dean of the School of Public Health at Harvard, where he served for one year. Moss served as dean of the University of Georgia School of Medicine from 1931 to 1934, when he retired and returned to Athens.

Moss’ most renowned contribution to medicine was a classification system of the four blood groups, which he designated by the roman numerals I through IV. He took as the basis of these blood groups the content of the serum, because in a small sample experiment he found that Landsteiner’s classification, which was based on the agglutination (clumping) properties of serum and red blood cells, did not hold in all cases. Landsteiner’s blood groups were labeled A, B, O, and AB. A study published in 1929 by Moss” colleague, James Kennedy, revealed that prior to 1921, ninety percent of the hospitals that were surveyed used the Muss system and that five years later seventy-eight percent continued to use it, although a committee of immunologists recommended use of a rival system that was proposed by Jansky in which the blood groups were labeled in reverse to Moss’ system, although the system had the same basis. The three systems relate in this way;


With the advent of World War II and the need to systematize large quantities of blood for use in transfusions, the Landsteiner system was adopted on a worldwide basis and remains in use at present.

Moss gathered information on blood groups among a wide variety of the population of Santo Domingo during scientific expeditions in 1920 and 1925. His other scientific trips were to Peru (1916), the Pacific Islands (1928), and New Guinea (1937).

Moss was a member of the small group who in the early twentieth century studied the immunization properties of the blood components, especially in relation to tuberculosis, diphtheria, and allergy reactions leading to the extreme effects in anaphylactic shock.

His honors include decoration by the French government for service in World War I in the French Medical Corps and membership in the Cosmos Club and Phi Beta Kappa.

In 1925 he married Marguerite E. Widle and they had three children: Marguerite, Elizabeth, and William Lorenzo II.


I. Original Works. Moss’ widow in Athens and the library of the University of Georgia retain the personal papers and correspondence. Moss’ works include “Studies in Opsonins,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 18 (1907), 237–245; “Traumatic Pneumothorax,” in Journal of the American Medical Association (1908), 1971; “A Recent Visit to Some of the Medical Laboratories Abroad,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 19 (1908), 188–192; “Studies on Iso-Agglutinins and Isohemolvsins,” in Transactions of the Association of American Physicians, 19 (1909), 419–437; “The Relationship of Bovine to Human Tuberculosis,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 20 (1909), 39–49; and “Tuberculosis: A Plan of Study,” ibid., 87.

See also “Studien über Isoaglutinine und IsohϤmoly sine,” in Folia serologica, 5 (1910), 267–276; “A Cutaneous Anaphylactic Reaction as a Contra-Indication to the Administration of Antitoxin,” in Journal of the American Medical Association, 55 (1910), 776–777; “Studies on Isoagglutinins and Isohemolusis,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 21 (1910), 63–70; “Subcutaneous Reaction of Rabbits to Horse Serum,” in Journal of Experinuria: tal Medicine, 12 (1910), 562–574, written with J. W. Mason Knox and G. L. Brown; “Paroxysmal Hemoglobinuria: Blood Studies in Three Cases,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 22 (1911), 238–247; “Paroxysmale Hamoglobi nurie. Blutstudien in drei Fallen,” in Folia serologica, 7 (1911), 1117–1142; “Concerning the Much-Holzmann Reaction,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 22 (1911), 278–282, witten with F. M. Barnes, Jr.; “Variations in the Leucocyte Count in Normal Rabbits, in Rabbits Following the Injection of Normal Horse Serum, and During a Cutaneous Anaphylactic Reaction,” ibid., 258–268, written with G. L. Brown; “Serum Treatment of Hemorrhagic Disease,” ibid., 272–278, written with J. Gelien; “Diph theria Bacillus Carriers,” in Transactions of the XV Interna tional Congress on Hygiene and Demography, IV (1913), 156–170; “Diphtheria Bacillus-Carriers,” in Transactions of the International Congress of Medicine, pt. 2, sec. 4 (1914), 75–79, written with G. Guthrie and J. Gelien; and “A Simple Method for the Treatment for the Indirect Transfusion of Blood,” in American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 147 (1914), 698–703.

Other works are “An Attempt to Immunize Calves Against Tuberculosis by Feeding the Milk of Vaccinated Cows,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 26 (1915), 241–245; “A Simplified Method for Determining the Iso- Agglutinin Group in the Selection of Donors for Blood Transfusion,” in Journal of the American Medical Associa tion, 68 (1917), 1905–1906; “Diphtheria Bacillus Carriers; Second Communication,” in Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, 31 (1920), 388–403, and “The Effect of Diphtheria Antitoxin in Preventing Lodgement and Growth of Diphtheria Bacillus in the Nasal Passages Of Animals,” ibid., 381–388, both written with C. G. Guthrie and J. Gelien; “Experimental Inoculation of Human Throats with Virulent Diphtheria Bacilli,” ibid., 32 (1921) 369–378, written with C. G. Guthrie and B. C. Marshall, “Diphtheria Bacillus Carriers. A Report on Conditions Found in an Orphan Asylum,” ibid., 109–113, written with C. G. Guthrie and J. Gelien; “Experimental Inoculation of Human Throats with Virulent Diphtheria Bacilli,” ibid., 37–44, written with C. G. Guthrie; and B. C. Marshall; “Yaws; An Analysis of 1,046 Cases in the Dominican Republic,” ibid., 33 (1922), 43–55, written with G. H. Bige low; and “Hospitalization of Pneumonia Cases. Criticisms of the Recommendation of the Chicago Pneumonia Commission,” in Modern Hospital, 25 (1926), 425–430.

Also see “Yaws; Results of Neosalvarsan Therapy After Five Year’s in American Journal of Tropical Medi cine, 20 (1926–1927), 365–384; “Malta Fever; Laboratory Infection in Humans,” in Transactions of the Association of American Physicians, 43 (1928), 272–284, written with M. Castenada; “Blood Groups in Peru, Santo Domingo, Yucatan and Among Mexicans at Blue Ridge Prison Farm in Texas,” in Journal of Immunology, 16 (1921), 159–174, written with J. A. Kennedy; and “From the South Seas,” in Harvard Alumni Bulletin (1930), 532.

II. Secondary Literature. Work done with data gathered by Moss includes William W. Howells, “Anthro pometry and Blood Types in Fiji and the Solomon Islands Based Upon Data of Dr. William L. Moss,” in Anthro pological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 33 . pt. 4 (1933).

Audrey B. Davis