Stiles, Charles Wardell

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(b. Spring Valley, New York 15 May 1867; d. Baltimore, Maryland, 24 January 1941)

zoology, public health.

Stiles was the son of Samuel Martin Stiles, a Methodist minister, and Elizabeth White Stiles, both of whom belonged to old New England families. After attending high school in Hartford, Connecticut, he attended Wesleyan University for one year before going to Europe in 1886. General studies in Paris and Göttingen, and science studies at the University of Berlin, were followed by a concentration in zoology at the University of Leipzig with the parasitologist Rudolf Leuckart. After receiving the Ph.D. at Leipzig in 1890, Stiles studied in several important European laboratories before returning to the United States in 1891 to work in Washington as principal zoologist at the Bureau of Animal Industry of the Department of Agriculture.

At the Bureau of Animal Industry, Stiles’s work included investigation of a wide range of animal parasites. Among these, his studies of trichinosis led to his assignment in 1898 and 1899 as science attaché at the American embassy in Berlin to investigate German allegations that imported American pork was unhealthy. Meanwhile, in 1893 and 1894 Stiles was instrumental in organizing the contingent of American scientists in residence at the Naples zoological station, and he served as secretary of its advisory committee for many years. Also during the 1890’s he introduced medical zoology into the curricula of several Eastern medical schools. This and other health-related work led to Stiles’s transfer in 1902 from the Bureau of Animal Industry to the Hygienic Laboratory of the United States Public Health Service, where he remained as chief of the division of zoology for the next thirty years.

Stiles’s preeminent contributions to health were made in connection with hookworm disease. In 1902 he not only discovered a new variety of hookworm (Uncinaria americana [or Necator americanus]) but also showed it to be endemic among poor whites of the South. His subsequent efforts to obtain action against the parasite resulted in formation of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission in 1909. With Stiles as medical director, the commission conducted a five-year campaign that resulted in noticeably improved sanitation and health. In this and in his later public health work, Stiles effectively combined the roles of health educator and epidemiologist with his principal work as a laboratory investigator.

As virtual successor to Joseph Leidy, Stiles contributed to both basic and applied zoology. A prodigious worker and keen observer, he systematically rearranged the principal American helminthological collections, and also identified and reported many new species of parasitic worms. Elected to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 1895, and its secretary from 1898 to 1936. he exerted great influence on the orderly development of the field. Of even greater importance was his publication, with Albert Hassall, of the monumental Index-catalogue of Medical and Veterinary Zoology, which, with its associated key catalogs of insects, parasites, protozoa, crustacea, and arachnids, was a continuing task from the 1890’s until the mid-1930’s.


I. Original Works. Relatively few of Stiles’s personal papers have come to light thus far. MSS pertaining to certain aspects of his career are to be found, however, in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution; and there is also some material in the United States National Archives (Department of State files). Much of Stiles’s voluminous scientific writing is in the form of reports or other official publications of the Bureau of Animal Industry, the Public Health Service, and the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission. See especially C. W. Stiles and Albert Hassall, Index-catalogue of Medical and Veterinary Zoology (Washington, D.C., 1908- ). A short autobiographical account is “Early History, in Part Esoteric, of the Hookworm (Uncinariasis) Campaign in Our Southern United States,” in Journal of Parasitology, 25 (1939), 283–308.

II. Secondary Literture. While there is no book-length study of Stiles, several articles are available. Among the fullest are F. G. Brooks, “Charles Wardell Stiles, Intrepid Scientist,” in Bios(Mt. Vernon, Iowa). 18 (1947), 139–169: and Mark Sullivan, Our Times, III (New York, 1930), 290–332. Shortest accounts are in National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Current vol. D (1934), 62–63; Who Was Who in America, 1897–1942; and New York Times, 25 Jan. 1941, 15.

Studies of particular phases of Stiles’s career include James H. Cassedy, “The ‘Germ of Laziness’ in the South 1900–1915: Charles Wardell Stiles and the Progressive Paradox,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 45 (1971), 159–169: and “Applied Microscopy and American Pork Diplomacy: Charles Wardell Stiles in Germany 1898–1899,” in Isis, 62 (1971), 4–20; and Benjamin Schwartz, “A Brief Réumé of Dr. Stiles’s Contributions to Parasitology,” in Journal of Parasitology, 19 (1933), 257–261.

James J. Cassedy