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Ernst Axel Henrik Key

Born 1832
Died 1901

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Swedish physician, born October 25, 1832, estate Johannisberg in Flisby socken, Jönköpings län; died December 27, 1901, Stockholm.

Biography of Ernst Axel Henrik Key

Ernst Axel Henrik Key was born in Flisby, where his father, Henrik Key, was a captain. His mother was Caroline Vilhelmine, née Åberg. The Key family was remotely related to Ellen Key, a writer whose books chocked the bourgeoisie.

During his childhood years, Key received private tuition at home. At the age of 16, he came to Lund and was matriculated at the university. He was an eager participant in student life, but also studied hard. Ha took an early interest in anatomy, studying under Anders Retzius at the Karolinska Institutet. He graduated in 1855, and became a Licentiate of medicine in 1857. 1857-1859 he was subordinate surgeon at the Serafimerlasarettet in Stockholm

Key defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Lund in 1861 and received his doctoral diploma the following year. While working on his thesis, he studied normal histology with the zoologist and cytologist Max Schultze (1825-1874) in Bonn in 1860, and during 1860-1861 he spent time in Berlin as an assistant at the pathological institute at the Charité under Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), a political liberal and a Darwinist.

In 1862, Key was appointed professor of pathology at the Karolinska Institutet, the first to hold this tenure at the institute. He was rector of the institute from 1886 to 1897, when he retired from his position and received a state pension.

One of his major tasks was to arrange for a pathological laboratory at the Karolinska, and he introduced cellular pathology in Swedish medical science. Key distinguished himself as a lecturer and demonstrator, inspiring several generations of younger physicians.

Perhaps it was due the influence of Rudolf Virchow that Key, also a liberal, from 1881 to 1887 represented Stockholm in the Riksdagen (the Swedish National Assembly). Here he joined the committee for education. In this position Key worked to improve school hygiene. He initiated large statistical investigations regarding the health of school children, hygienic habits, their home work routine etc. Key himself worked out the results and he could prove that some of the pupils were mentally and physically exhausted (överanstrengda), a remarkable observation in his time. The investigation was translated into German and he presented his results at international medical congresses. On his suggestion the teaching committee expressed a wish to introduce a medical service for schools. He was internationally recognised as a pioneer in school hygiene. He left the Riksdsagen in 1887.

Key was rector of the Karolinska Institutet 1886-1897 and he struggled that the institute should be put on an even level with the other medical faculties. However, this was not achieved during his lifetime. At the institute he also distinguished himself for his speeches in Swedish medical history on the occasions of professorial inauguration.

Key had a great interest in old Nordic history, which led him to cooperate with Arthur Hazelius (1833-1901).

Key founded the journal Medicinskt Archiv in 1863 together with some colleagues, and with Retzius the popular journal Ur vår tids forskning.

Key was married to Selma Charlotta Godenius with whom he got the sons Helmer Key, a newspaperman, and Einar Key, a famous neurosurgeon.

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