The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: March 30 is National Doctors Day

The One Hundred First Congress of the United States passed a joint resolution marking March 30, 1991, as “National Doctors Day.” This resolution recognized the importance of physicians by saying:

Whereas society owes a debt of gratitude to physicians for the contributions of physicians in enlarging the reservoir of scientific knowledge, increasing the number of scientific tools, and expanding the ability of health professionals to use the knowledge and tools effectively in the never-ending fight against disease; and

Whereas society owes a debt of gratitude to physicians for the sympathy and compassion of physicians in ministering to the sick and in alleviating human suffering

The resolution also called on the President to issue a proclamation for “National Doctors Day.”

On February 21, 1991, President George H. W. Bush proclaimed March 30 to be “National Doctors Day,” and recognized physicians by saying, “[R]everence for human life and individual dignity is both the hallmark of a good physician and the key to truly beneficial advances in medicine.” President Bush’s proclamation acknowledged several scientific greats including Drs. Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk. The President stated, “We pay tribute to doctors such as Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk, whose vaccines for poliomyelitis helped to overcome one of the world’s most dread [sic] childhood diseases.”

Dr. Sabin is seen here receiving the National Medal of Science from President Nixon in 1971. Courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

In honor of “National Doctors Day,” I’d like to share another presidential speech which mentions Dr. Sabin. President Richard Nixon presented the 1970 National Medal of Science Awards on May 21, 1971. The President and First Lady welcomed several scientists to the White House to receive the award. President Nixon remarked, “A few moments will pass before [Dr. Edward E. David, Jr., Science Adviser to the President] will bring each of them up to receive the award, and on that occasion he will read the citation, which will indicate the various studies in which they have been engaged and the breakthroughs and other contributions they have made. I have read them, and I want you to know that I do not understand them; but I want you to know, too, that because I do not understand them, I realize how enormously important their contributions are to this Nation. That, to me, is the nature of science to the unsophisticated people.” Dr. Sabin’s citation reads:

For numerous fundamental contributions to the understanding of viruses and viral diseases, culminating in the development of the vaccine which has eliminated poliomyelitis as a major threat to human health.

Our collection contains some letters and photos about this event, including the one seen here of the President and Dr. Sabin. Dr. Sabin had been known to quote the citation, particularly emphasizing fact that his vaccine was referred to as “the vaccine which has eliminated poliomyelitis.”

Other presidential speeches which mention Dr. Sabin will be highlighted in the future, such as a 1964 address by President Lyndon B. Johnson while in Cincinnati and when Dr. Sabin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Regan in 1986.

Note: The text of the National Doctors Day resolution was found on the Library of Congress website, and the speeches were found on the American Presidency Project website at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.