Joseph Jones

Joseph Jones, Nashville's first health officer, was born in Liberty County, Georgia, the son of Charles Colcock Jones. Educated at Princeton University, he received his M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1856. A fierce proponent of secession, Jones served as a Confederate medical officer during the Civil War, principally operating as an epidemiologist in the study of camp diseases and wounds.

Jones received an appointment as Nashville's first health officer in April 1867 and joined the faculty of the University of Nashville medical college. He characterized Nashville the dirtiest place he had ever seen, a stunning comment considering his wartime knowledge of Andersonville prison. In 1868 Jones presented a scientific paper to the Tennessee Medical Society entitled “On the Use of the Thermometer in Disease.” His contract with Nashville was not renewed in 1868, and his tenure as editor of the Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery ended as the result of a faculty squabble.

While in Nashville Jones also found time for a pathbreaking archaeological study based on his perception that Nashville had been built on an extensive Indian burial ground. In 1870 the Smithsonian published his findings in Aboriginal Remains of Tennessee.

After leaving Nashville, Jones taught medicine at the University of Louisiana and became the president of the Louisiana Board of Health. He pioneered in promoting the efficacy of the germ theory concurrently with Louis Pasteur. Jones died in 1896, after publishing his Medical and Surgical Memoirs.

Suggested Reading

James O. Breeden, Joseph Jones, M.D.: Scientist of the Old South (1975); Robert W. Ikard, “The Short and Stormy Nashville Career of Joseph Jones, Tennessees First Public Health Officer,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 48 (1989): 209-17

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  • Article Title Joseph Jones
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 17, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018