Sir William Osler (1849-1919) and the Paternity of William Willoughby Francis (1878-1959) : Review of the Evidence

Type of resource
Authors/collaborators
Title
Sir William Osler (1849-1919) and the Paternity of William Willoughby Francis (1878-1959) : Review of the Evidence
Abstract
Sir William Osler (1849–1919), a graduate of McGill University's Faculty of Medicine (1872) and a member of that Faculty for ten years (1874-1884), was considered one of the world's most distinguished physicians at the turn of the twentieth century. The author notes that it has been suggested that beneath Osler's sunny personality and enormous productivity lurked a deep sorrow. The author points out that a longstanding rumor suggests this sorrow was a prolonged affair with an older first cousin, Marian Osler (Bath) Francis (1841–1915), which resulted in Osler’s paternity of the Montreal-born William Willoughby Francis (1878–1959). Osler treated W.W. Francis like a son. Francis, after Osler’s death, devoted the rest of his life to preserving Osler’s memory. When Osler passed away in 1919, he bequeathed his extensive medical library to McGill University, appointing Francis as its curator. Francis coedited the catalogue of Sir William Osler’s library, the Bibliotheca Osleriana, and ran the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill until his death in 1959. Osler’s great-great niece Anne Wilkinson (1910–1961) strongly endorses this paternity rumor; Osler scholar George T. Harrell (1908–1999) strongly suggests its truth, while Osler biographer Michael Bliss (1941–2017) dismisses it. The author explains that evidence supporting the rumor includes ample opportunities for mating, biographical details, and phenotypic resemblances that are hard to explain otherwise. However, the author concludes, barring a DNA-based family study, the truth will probably never be known.
Publication
Journal of Medical Biography
Volume
Vol. 27
Issue
no. 4
Pages
229-241
Date
November 2019
Language
en
Citation
Bryan, Charles S., and James R. Wright. “Sir William Osler (1849-1919) and the Paternity of William Willoughby Francis (1878-1959) : Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Medical Biography Vol. 27, no. 4 (November 2019): 229–241.
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