Biography of Pierre-François-Olive Rayer
Pierre-François-Olive Rayer began his medical studies at the School of Medicine in Caen, then went to Paris to continue his education at the École pratique, the Hôtel-Dieu and the Maison royale de santé. He was nominated interne of the hospitals in 1813, and in 1818 obtained his doctorate with a thesis on the history of pathological anatomy, Sommaire d’une histoire abrégé de l’anatomie pathologique.
In 1822 Rayer published a monograph on sweating sickness. The following year he became a member of the recently created Académie de médecine, at the age of only 30, despite the fact that he had married a protestant. France was then under a zealously Catholic government. From 1824 he became physician to the Bureau central des hôpitaux, working in the Hôpital Saint-Antoine from 1925, and from 1832 in the Hôpital de la Charité, where he remained until retirement.
In 1837 Rayer was deputy to François Magendie (1783-1855) as president of Comité consultatif de l’hygiène publique, and in 1843 became a member of the Académie des sciences. In 1848 he was consulted by Louis Philippe (1773-1850), king of the French from 1830 to 1848.
In 1848, with several young physicians, he founded the Société de Biologie, of which he was elected president. He was also the first instigator and first president of the Association générale de prévoyance et de secours mutuels des médecins (Association Générale des Médecins de France), a corporative association founded in 1858 and still in existence.
In 1862, when he was nearly 70, he was appointed professor of comparative medicine and was dean of the faculty of medicine
Rayer was an outstanding diagnostician whose research comprised pathological anatomy and physiology, special pathology, therapy, epidemiology, parasitology, comparative pathology and natural history. His most important work was a three-volume book on diseases of the kidneys, published 1837 to 1841. In 1837 he was the first to describe glanders in man.
Rayer was a tall man, with a tendency towards stoutness. Politically he was a liberal and rather a free-thinker, although he was married and buried religiously. He was in friendly relations with several followers of Saint-Simon, such as the bankers Gustave and Adolphe d’Eichthal, the naturalist Isidore Geoffroy-Saint Hilaire and the writer George Sand. His friendship with Emile Littré lasted from 1824 until his death.
In 1850 Rayer published a work on anthrax, containing the first description of the Bacillus anthracis, observed by Casimir-Joseph Davaine (1812-1882) in sheep.
From 1822 Rayer was co-editor of the Revue de médecine, and from 1830 also of Journal universel et hebdomadaire de médecine et de chirurgie pratiques et des institutions médicales.