Life and Thought

• Home
• Life & Thought
• Musician
• Stories
• World Issues
• Interviews
• Discussions
• Links
• Site Map

This site is supported by:

Dr. Schweitzer's Hospital Fund

Friends of Albert Schweitzer (UK)

A Brief Biography of Albert Schweitzer

Alsace.Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965): Albert Schweitzer was born the son of a Lutheran pastor, and brought up in the quiet valley villages of the Vosges Mountains, Alsace, then part of Germany and later part of France. He showed no sign of early talent, but in his teens suddenly developed a late flowering of impassioned curiosity. In his twenties he wrote seminal works on Bach, on the Historical Jesus and on organ building. He became an acclaimed organist, a church pastor, principal of a theological seminary and a university professor with a doctorate in philosophy.

None of this satisfied him, and at the age of 30, aware of the desperate need of Africans for medical care, he decided to become a medical doctor and devote the rest of his life to serving the people of Africa. In 1913, at the age of 37, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife, Hélène, opened a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon – then a province of French Equatorial Africa. Here, 150 miles into the interior, with one of the worst climates in the world, he devoted his life to providing health care for the desperately deprived and primitive people of the area.

In 1915 he hit upon the phrase "Reverence for Life" as the elementary and universal principle of ethics which he had been seeking. From the "will to live" evidenced in all living beings, Schweitzer demonstrated the ethical response for humans – Reverence for Life. By stressing the inter-dependence and unity of all life, he was a forerunner of the environmental and animal welfare movements of to-day.

As German citizens working in a French colony, the Schweitzers were technically enemy aliens and were interned in France, where both fell sick, and where their daughter Rhenawas conceived. It was some years before Schweitzer was able to return to Lambarene, while Hélène, suffering from tuberculosis and with a small child to care for, was never able to take up full-time work there again.

The hospital never stopped growing. Schweitzer survived another World War, and in 1953, at the age of 78, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1952. In the speeches and writings during the last years of his life, he emphasized the dangers of nuclear weapons and the nuclear arms race between the superpowers, and was instrumental in reversing American military policy on the testing of hydrogen bombs.

Although no longer practising medicine, he continued to oversee the hospital until his death at the age of 90. By this time there were 72 buildings, with beds for six hundred patients, and the staff comprised 6 doctors and 35 nurses. He passed the administration of the hospital to his daughter Rhena.

Albert Schweitzer and his wife are buried on the hospital grounds in Lambarene.

(back to top)

site by