Flexner, Simon

Flexner, Simon

Flexner, Simon, 1863-1946, American pathologist, b. Louisville, Ky., M.D. Univ. of Louisville, 1889; brother of Abraham Flexner. He served with the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockfeller Univ.) from 1903 to 1935 (as its first director, 1920-35) and was Eastman professor at Oxford from 1937 to 1938. He worked on experimental epidemiology and venoms and is known especially for his serum treatment of cerebrospinal meningitis and for his studies of poliomyelitis. He also isolated a bacillus of dysentery.
Abraham Flexner (November 13 1866, Louisville, Kentucky - September 21 1959) was an American educator. His Flexner Report, published in 1910, reformed medical education in the United States. He also helped found the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.


A younger brother of the medical researcher Simon Flexner, who was employed by the Rockefeller Foundation from 1901-35, Flexner graduated from Johns Hopkins University at age 19. Nineteen years later he did graduate studies at Harvard University and in Berlin.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Flexner returned to Louisville and founded a private school in which to test his ideas about education. He believed that education should be marked by small classes, personal attention, and hands-on teaching. Graduates of his school were soon accepted at leading colleges, and Flexner's school attracted considerable attention.

Between 1912 to 1925, Flexner served on the Rockefeller Foundation's General Education Board, and after 1917 was its secretary. With the help of the Board, he founded another experimental school, the Lincoln School, which opened in 1917, in cooperation with the faculty at Teachers College of Columbia University.

In 1908, Flexner published his first book, The American College. Strongly critical of many aspects American higher education, it was especially critical of the university lecture as a method of instruction. According to Flexner, lectures enabled colleges to "handle cheaply by wholesale a large body of students that would be otherwise unmanageable and thus give the lecturer time for research."

Flexner's book attracted the attention of Henry Pritchett, president of the Carnegie Foundation, who was looking for someone to lead a series of studies of professional education. Although Flexner had never set foot inside a medical school, Flexner was Pritchett's first choice to lead a study of American medical education. Thus Flexner joined the research staff at the Carnegie Foundation in 1908. Two years later, he published the Flexner Report, which examined the state of American medical education and led to far-reaching reforms in the way doctors were trained. The Flexner report led to the closure of most rural medical schools and all but two of America's African American medical colleges. Ironically one of the schools was located in his own hometown of Louisville, Louisville National Medical College.

Flexner soon conducted a related study of medical education in Europe. According to Bonner (2002), Flexner's work came to be "nearly as well known in Europe as in America." With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, he worked toward restructuring the nation's medical schools. Flexner (Bonner 2002) "...exerted a decisive influence on the course of medical training and left an enduring mark on some of the nation's most renowned schools of medicine." Flexner worried that "the imposition of rigid standards by accrediting groups was making the medical curriculum a monstrosity," with medical students moving through it with "little time to stop, read, work or think." Bonner (2002) calls Flexner "the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had."

In his 1930 Universities: American, English, German, Flexner, returning to his earlier interest in the direction and purpose of the American university, attacked distractions from serious learning such as intercollegiate athletics, student governments, and other student activities. "Intellectual inquiry, not job training, [is] the purpose of the university."

With Louis Bamberger, Flexner founded the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, heading it from 1930 to 1939.

Flexner is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.


Books by Flexner

Books about Flexner

  • Bonner, Thomas Neville, 2002. Iconoclast: Abraham Flexner and a Life in Learning. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8018-7124-7.
  • Starr, Paul, 1982. The Social Transformation of American Medicine. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-07935-0
  • Wheatley, S. C., 1989. The Politics of Philanthropy: Abraham Flexner and Medical Education. Univ. of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-11754-5.


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