Rollet, Joseph-Pierre-Martin

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(b. Lagnieu, Ain, France, 12 November 1824; d. Lyons, France, 2 August 1894)


After graduation from the lycée at Lyons, Rollet studied medicine in Paris, became interne des hôpitaux in 1845, and worked on the surgical services of Beaujon Hospital under Stanislas Laugier, at St.-Antoine under Auguste Bérard, and at the Pitié under Jacques Lisfranc. In 1848 he published his doctoral thesis on traumatic hemorrhages in the skull and received a bronze medal for tending the victims of the June Days. Having failed in the competitive examination at Lyons for chief-of-service in surgery at the Hôtel-Dieu in 1849, Rollet won the competition at the Antiquaille Hospital, where patients with venereal disease predominated. The position was not available until 1855; he spent the waiting period in study and private practice. His research, teaching, and writing on syphilis during his nine years at the Antiquaille made him famous.

In French syphilography confusion reigned. The fashionable Paris professor Philippe Ricord, who dominated the field, taught that secondary syphilis is not contagious. Rollet soon showed that two diseases were being confused: “Rollet’s chancre” is a mixed infection consisting of what are now called Schaudinn’s bacillus (Treponema pallidum) and Ducrey’s bacillus (Haemophilus ducreyi). Rollet succeeded in differentiating between the two bacilli, in those days before the germ theory of disease was generally accepted, by painstaking clinical observation, establishing that syphilis has a mean incubation period of twenty-five days. He published his work in Recherches… sur la syphilis (1861) and Traité des maladies vénériennes (1865). He also contributed articles to Amédée Dechambre’s Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales.

Important practical and legal consequences derived from the fact that hereditary and secondary syphilis were recognized as contagious. Secondary syphilitic infection was widespread among glassblowers: three workers usually shared one blowing iron. Rollet identified this tool as the carrier of the “virus” and the glass industry soon mechanized the operation, substituting compressed air for human breath.

Wet nurses were blamed for infecting infants with syphilis. Rollet showed that the reverse often was the case: babies with congenital syphilis transmitted the infection through their mouths. He also cautioned that Jennerian vaccination often propagated syphilis and urged that animal serum be substituted for arm-toarm vaccination. He summarized his work at the termination of his stewardship at the Antiquaille in Coup d’ oeil rétrospectif …(1864).

Appointed to membership, and soon the presidency, of the Conseil d’Hygiène et de Salubrité du Département du Rhône, Rollet became the delegate from Lyons to the International Congress of Medicine at Paris (1867). where he presented a report on general prophylactic measures against venereal disease. The Congress empowered him to approach the French foreign ministry to explore possibilities for the international control of venereal disease, but the Franco-Prussian War permanently interrupted this work.

In 1877 Rollet was appointed professor of hygiene at the new Medical Faculty of Lyons. He was by then a member of the Société Anatomique, the Société de Médecine Publique et d’Hygiène Professionnelle, an associate member of the Paris Academy of Medicine, and a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences. He died at Lyons while presiding over a congress of the Society of Dermatology and Syphilography, which he had helped to found.


I. Original Works. Rollet’s major writings are Des agents contagieux des maladies de la peau (Lyons, 1855); Annuaire de la syphilis et des maladies de la peau (Paris, 1858), written with P. Diday; Mémoire sur le sarcocéle fongueux syphilitique (Lyons, 1858); Nouvelles recherches sur le rhumatisme blennorhagiue (Lyons, 1858); inoculation contagion et confusion en matière de syphilis (Lyons, 1860); De la pluralité des maladies vénériennes (Paris, 1860); Recherches cliniques et expérimentales sur la syphilis le chancre simple et la blennorrhagie (Lyons, 1861); Recherches sur plusieurs maladies de la peau réputées rares ou exotiques qu’il convient de rattacher à la syphilis (Paris, 1861); De la transmission de la syphilis entre nourriissons et nourrices au point de vue de la médecine légate (Paris, 1861); De la contagion de la syphilis secondaire (Lyons, 1862); Coup d’oeil rètrospectif sur la syphilis et les maladies de la peau; compte-rendu d’un exercice de neuf années de 1855 a 1864 (Paris, 1864); Traité des maladies vénériennes (Paris, 1865); Nouvelles conjuctures sur la maladie de Job (Paris, 1867); De la prophylaxie générale des maladies vénériennes (Lyons, 1867); Prophylaxie internationale des maladies vénériennes (Paris, 1869); De la nécessité de l’adjonction des médecins au conseil d’administration des hospices (Lyons, 1871); Des caractères particuliers et du traitement de la blessure d’Alexaindre le Grand, reçue dans le combat contre les Malliens (Lyons, 1877); Des applications du feu à l’hygiène dans les temps préhisloriques (Lyons, 1879); Influence des filtres naturels sur les eaux potables (Lyons, 1882); Rapport sur les measures sanitaires applicables à Lyon en prévision du choléra (Lyons, 1883); and épidémie de fièvre typhoide à l’école normale et au collège de Cluny (Lyons, 1887).

Rollet also wrote the following articles for A. Dechambre, ed., Dictionnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales: “Acné syphilitique,” I 571–574: “Balanite,” VIII, 263–276; “Blennorrhagie,” IX, 638–696; “Bouche (maladies vénériennes),” X, 249–267; “Bubon,” XI, 256–275: “Chancre,” XV, 224–286; “Lichen syphilitique,” 2nd ser., II, 529–531; “Mal de la baie de St. Paul,” 2nd ser., IV, 205–207; “Mal de Brunn,” Ibid., 211–212; “Mal de Chavanne-Lure,” Ibid., 212–214; “Mal de Fiume ou de Scherlievo,” Ibid., 214–217; “Mal de Ste. Euphémie,” Ibid., 227; “Mamelles (maladies syphilitiques),” Ibid., 436–455; “Mercurielles (maladies),” 2nd ser., VII, 96–107; “Rupia syphilitique,” 3rd ser., V, 624–627; “Syphilides,” 3rd ser., XIV, 212–247, written with E. Chambard; “Syphilis,” Ibid., 255–501; and “Syphilisation,” Ibid., 678–691.

II. Secondary Literature. Sec L. Bonnet, “Les fêtes du centenaire de J. Rollet,” in Lyon médical, 134 (1924), 740–743; J. Gaté and J. Rousset, “La dermato-vénérologie lyonnaise,” in Lyon et la medicine, special issue of Revue lyonnaise de médicine (1958), 346–347; M.A. Horand, “Notice biographique sur J. Rollet,” in Lyon médical, 83 (1896), 577–586, and 84 (1897), 11–19, 44–50, 84–92; é. Jeanselme, “Le centenaire de Rollet à Lyon.” in Bulletin de la société française d’histoire de la médecine, 18 (1924), 351–356; L.Jullien, “J.Rollet, 1824-l894,”in Annales de dermatologie et de syphiligraphie,3rd ser., 5 (1894), 1209–1219; J. Nicolas, “Joseph Rollet,” in Bulletin médical, 38 (1924), 1411–1414; and G. Thibierge, “Rollet et son oeuvre,” in Gazette des hôpitaux civils et militaires, 97 (1924), 1601–1606.

There are also short notices in Archives provinciales de chirurgie, 3 (1894), 601–604; A. Hirsch, ed., Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker, 2nd ed. (Berlin-Vienna, 1932), IV, 864–865; British Medical Journal (1894), 2 , 452; Gazette hebdomadaire de médecine et de chirurgie, 31 (1894), 392; and Revue générale de clinique et de thérapeutique, 39 (1925), supp. 395–409.

Dora B. Weiner