(1833 - 1889)
Médico y pedagogo. Miembro fundador de la Real Academia de Ciencias Médicas, Físicas y Naturales de la Habana, en 1861. Además fue miembro corresponsal de la Sociedad de Medicina Legal de Nueva York, Estados Unidos.
19th Century The Late Colonial Period
Page 1 2 3

In this context, in 1861 the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana was fully officially created, the only one of its type that existed in a Spanish colony. For the first time, those interested in sciences had a space dedicated to debates, paper presentations and contacts with equivalent institutions in other countries. The creation of the academy was due mostly to the persistent actions and important relations of the person that presided over it for 30 years, the surgeon Nicolás José Gutiérrez, who was mentioned above. Among its founding members were Felipe Poey, Álvaro Reynoso, the physician Ramón Zambrana, the geologist Manuel Fernández de Castro, and 30 important figures of the emerging scientific world in Havana . One of its major figures was its secretary general for 20 years, Antonio Mestre, who created the journal of the institution, the Annals of the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana (since 1864), the most important general scientific journal in Cuba in the 19 th century, which was read in about ten countries. The academy also had an important library (open to the public) and a museum (open to students).

Since the Academy was founded, medicine gained in importance in Cuba . Several important medical journals were founded, such as the Medical-Surgical Chronicle of Havana (1875). The Chronicle was directed by the ophthalmologist Juan Carlos Fernández, who also favored the foundation, in 1877, of the Anthropological Society of the Island of Cuba . His endeavors resulted also in the creation, in 1887, of one of the first bacteriological research institutes founded in America , the Histo-Bacteriological Laboratory and Institute for Antirabic Vaccination of Havana. Having being inspired by Louis Pasteur's laboratory (which was previously visited by a group of Cuban physicians), this institution not only let medicine students conduct bacteriological practices (which could not be afforded by the university) but also allowed for the elaboration of vaccines against rabies and diphtheria (the latter in 1895), in addition to numberless bacteriological and chemical analyses. Some of its main figures were the bacteriologists Diego Tamayo and Juan Nicolás Dávalos.

The greatest scientific achievement of a Cuban researcher in the 19 th century was the discovery of the way yellow fever was transmitted, which was accomplished by Carlos J. Finlay (1833-1915). This physician, who had been studying yellow fever and its epidemics for years, in 1881 came to the conclusion that the dissemination of this disease could not be adequately explained in terms of contagionism (disease transmission through direct contact of a healthy individual with a sick one, his fluids and feces, or his clothes or other objects touched by him) - a possibility that most physicians had ruled out - or anticontagionism (transmission through infection caused by a specific and local agent, generally identified with "miasmas", the products of animal or plant decomposition), which was accepted by some physicians. If neither of these two variants could clearly explain the spread of this disease, affirmed Finlay, there was only one possibility left: direct contagion, through an "intermediate agent". He stated this conclusion clearly on February 18, 1881 in an international (intergovernmental) sanitary meeting held in Washington , but nobody paid any attention. By that time Finlay was already studying mosquitoes as possible "intermediate agents", and in the next months he continued his experiments and, on August 14, 1881, he presented, before the Academy of Sciences of Havana, his transcendental paper The Mosquito Hypothetically Considered as Yellow-Fever-Transmitting Agent, in which he not only argued his thesis about the "intermediate agent" but also provided a detailed description of the mosquito species carrying out transmission (which is currently known as Aedes aegypti ). The paper was too "heterodox" for the physicians of that time (both Cubans and many foreigners who knew him) and, though Finlay continued reporting on the results of this experiments, almost no one took his theory seriously. We must take into account that Finlay's ideas and works on an insect transmitting a disease from a person to another were pioneers in the world. Nobody had made such an affirmation before. The official verification of his theory by another researcher took place almost 20 years later.

During the last decades of the 19 th century, there was a boom of positivism among Cuban physicians, mostly the French variant, since many of them had studied in Paris . Among the few advocates of English positivism were the Cuban outstanding philosopher and educator Enrique José Varona, who in 1880 dictated - at the Academy of Sciences -- a series of lectures on psychology, logics and ethics that influenced the intellectuals of the time very much. Darwinism dissemination achieved a certain importance too. In 1882, José Marti published, in New York , an extraordinary essay in that regard, on the occasion of Darwin 's death. In 1890, all natural history professors at the University were advocates of evolution and rejected the idea of independent creation of the different biological species. This trend had been initiated by Felipe Poey since 1862, when he introduced evolutionary conceptions in his lessons.