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Leon Jacobson


It’s spring. The trees are budding, the flowers blossoming, the prairies blooming with emerald life. And children, long cooped up behind their brown and tan desks are eagerly anticipating the wondrous joy of the three months of glorious freedom shortly to come. Teachers – for their part – are likewise looking forward to the respite after the school year’s cacophony. Yet eighty years ago,in the two-room schoolhouse of Sims, North Dakota one young teacher daydreamed not about the freedom of the upcoming summer, but of the mysteries of germ theory.

Like many of his generation, Leon Jacobson had to grow up quickly. After passing his entrance examines at the age of eleven, the young Leon set out for high school in Almont, North Dakota. While Almont was only seven miles from the Jacobson homestead, the unreliable travel conditions in winter meant that Leon, not yet a teenager, needed to live in a rented apartment for much of the academic year. After high school, Jacobson went off to college to study agriculture at North Dakota State University, but the dustbowl soon wiped out hisfunding. In desperate need of cash, Jacobson decided to teach.

After completing only a couple of courses in educational psychology, Jacobson was a certified elementary teacher. Returning to his hometown of Sims, Jacobson taught 1st through 8th grades in a two-room schoolhouse. The short time spent in the small school, crammed in amongst his pupils, proved to be instrumental to Jacobson’s later career. While Leon soon grew weary of teaching, he was fascinated by the regular epidemics that swept through his school. The measles, whooping cough, not to mention the seasonal flu and colds, quickly spread from student to student.

Desiring above all else to find a way to help those struck down overcome their illness, Jacobson discovered much to his joy, that he had found his calling: medicine. The next year, with the help of a generous donor, Jacobson moved from the small farming community of Sims to the University of Chicago. He stayed on at the university after graduation, where he pioneered radiation therapy and served in the ‘Manhattan Project’ as one of the chief medical officers in charge of the health of the physicists building the world’s first atomic bomb. Far removed from the confined classroom of Sims to be certain – yet, caring for the sick none-the-less.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall


Eugene Goldwasser, Almont North Dakota Centennial Website, [accessed, Nov. 01, 2011], http://www.sims-almont.us/History/Jacobsontribute.html

Madeline Marget, interview with Dr. Leon Jacobson, February 28, 1992, [accessed, Nov. 01, 2011], http://www.hematology.org/Publications/Legends/Jacobson/1619.aspx