Obama's cousins: health care reformers

President Barack Obama's Irish American ancestors were pioneers in 19th century health care reform.

Film-maker and historian Gabriel Murray, who found Barack Obama’s great-grand uncle's tomb in Kikenny, Ireland, uncovered the surprise links while he was researching his new documentary, “Obama’s Irish Roots” (visit www.olympia-films.co.uk  for more information).

One of Obama's Irish American cousins Jackson Brown Baxley (1814-1896) founded the Maryland College of Pharmacy and succesfully lobbied for the registration of pharmacists.

He was the first commissioner appointed and the first president of the Maryland Board of Pharmacy.

The link was uncovered through Obama's 8th generation grand-uncle Thomas Kearney from Shinrone in County Offaly who married Sarah Baxley (1773 -1845) in St. Paul Church in 1890.

Sarah Baxley is the link to Jackson Brown Baxley and his brother Henry Willis Baxley (1803-1876) who graduated in medicine in 1824 and became the government inspector of hospitals in 1865.

Both Baxleys spearheaded the building of public hospitals in Baltimore during the late 19th century as the city was ravaged by recurring outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and other infectious diseases.

At the time, people were so afraid of hospitals that most preferred to be treated at home until the patient was near death.

Hospitals in the 19th century - both in Europe and the U.S. - were viewed as a medical means of last resort.

Hospital wards were generally squalid, overcrowded, and badly ventilated. The insane, blind, and crippled were housed together with the sick.

Since private hospitals often refused to admit contagious or incurable cases as well as those deemed morally unworthy. The local almshouse was usually the only source for medical care.

So, Obama’s ancestors pushed for new public hospitals funded by the state to provide cheap health care for the poor.

In total 22 members of the Baxley dynasty practiced in Maryland as doctors, chemists, and health reformers.

Obama's cousins would also go on to push for other improvements in medical care.

They lobbied for the introduction of clinical medical education and practice which gave students first-hand experience in the diagnosis and treatment of patients.

The inclusion of clinical education into the medical curriculum and expansion of teaching privileges in hospitals across the city produced doctors with practical experience in anatomy, clinical diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

This shift in medical education and practice gave rise to hospitals that were no longer places to die, but havens to get well.

As President Obama’s campaigns for full health care reform across America, we learn now of his ancestral family heritage that fought the same battles over 150 years ago.