The Other Flexner

Abraham Flexner, the author of a report that re-structured American medical education, and his brother Simon, who headed up the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, were two of the most influential men of their day. But they owed their success to some degree to their older brother Jacob.

Jacob Flexner

Jacob Flexner

Their father, Morris, lost his haberdashery business in Louisville, Ky., in the Panic of 1873. Jacob, an intelligent young man who hoped to be a doctor, was forced to go to work immediately to help support the family. He became a pharmacist, as close as he could get to his dream, and eventually owned his own store, according to an account by Ward O. Griffen MD in The Annals of Surgery.

The eldest of seven boys and two girls, Jacob employed Simon, a slacker in his teens, in his store, and he gave Abraham $1,000 to go to Johns Hopkins University, where an acquaintance had gone.

“Upon that choice my whole subsequent career and those of others of our family have depended," Abraham Flexner wrote years later in his autobiography.

Jacob "was throughout his life a person of quick and remarkable intelligence, and he must have realized that we were all destined to humble careers unless at the first opportunity a break was made," Abraham Flexner wrote.

Jacob Flexner was a Louisville pharmacist, but he too played a role in the birth story.