By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 October 2014
In a half-filled folio sized scrap book of Selwyn Oxley’s, various letters and odd documents were gathered by him or his wife Kate, from when he first became involved as a ‘missioner to the deaf’ in 1914, through to the 1930s. Together with a small number of short letters from Dr. Eicholz (who we hope to cover in a future item), there is this letter which appears below. The League of Nations was conducting an enquiry into Deafness, and Selwyn Oxley obviously wrote to say that he was willing to be of assistance, presumably with information and contacts. The content of the letter is not particularly interesting, but the author is.
Ludwik Rajchman (1881-1965) was from another of those remarkable families who produced a number of brilliant people, doctors, engineers and mathematicians. He was born in Poland, son of the musician Aleksander Rajchman, and became a bacteriologist. When aged only fourteen he was in trouble for distributing ‘subversive’ literature – educational brochures in Polish, which was suppressed by the Russian rulers (Duchene, 1999). When he was caught at a banned socialist meeting in 1906, Rajchman was exiled. After working in Paris at the Institut Pasteur, he became head of the Royal Institute of Public Health in London in 1911, though at the time he spoke no English. The 1911 census shows him as Ludwig Witold Rajchman*, and he signs his name as such, born in Russian Poland, having been married to Mary Clotilde for six years, with two daughters, Irene Mary born in France in 1909, and Marte Alexandra, eleven months old, born in Austrian Poland. His computer scientist son Jan Rajchman was born in London later in 1911, so the children came in quick succession. In 1918 he returned to newly liberated Poland and helped set up the National Institute for Public Health, being so successful that he was asked to become head of the new League of Nations Medical Directorate in 1921 (Duchene, 1999).
The health section persuaded national administrators to co-ordinate statistics, standards, training, research, nutrition and infant care, all of them new fields, especially for international involvement. It made a much bigger impact than any other operational arm of the League and so was dogged by opposition of all kinds, from hostile nations, jealous institutes and conservative officials. (ibid)
After the Second World War he was for political reasons rejected as a potential head for the WHO, but he went on to help found UNICEF.
Rajchman deserves to be better remembered as one of the great public health workers of the 20th century.
Duchene, Francois, Plotter for progress. Ludwik Rajchman, Medical Statesman by Balitiska, Marta A. (author) -
The Times Literary Supplement (London, England), Friday, February 19, 1999; pg. 28; Issue 5002. Category: Book Review [accessed 17/10/14]
*Living at 16 Hargreave Villas, Hartswood Road, Stamford Brook Road, London W., with an Austrian Polish servant Tekla Lacheta, Class: RG14; Piece: 200
There is a biography by a grand daughter of his –
Balinska, Marta Aleksandra, For the Good of Humanity: Ludwik Rajchman, Medical Statesman, New York : Central European University Press, 1998
[Held in UCL this in the SSEES Library P.XVIII.3 RAJ BAL]
This book looks potentially interesting –