Early Life and CollegeJoseph Lister came from a prosperous Quaker home in Upton, Essex, a son of Joseph Jackson Lister, the pioneer of the compound microscope, and Isabella Harris.
He attended the University of London, one of only a few institutions which was open to Quakers at that time. He initially studied the Arts but at the age of 25 became a Bachelor of Medicine and entered the Royal College of Surgeons.
In 1854, Lister became first assistant surgeon to James Syme, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The two became close friends and Lister ended up marrying Syme's daughter Agnes, a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church, leaving the Quakers, perhaps because his religion did not permit marriages with non-members. He once stated,
“I am a believer in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.”
Discovery of Antiseptic Treatment of Wounds
After six years he got a professorship of surgery at the University of Glasgow. At the time the usual explanation for wound infection was that the exposed tissues were damaged by chemicals in the air or via a stinking "miasma" in the air. The sick wards actually smelled bad, not due to a "miasma" but due to the rotting of wounds. Hospital wards were occasionally aired out at midday, but Florence Nightingale's doctrine of fresh air was still seen as science fiction. Facilities for washing hands or the patient's wounds did not exist and it was even considered unnecessary for the surgeon to wash his hands before he saw a patient. The work of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis and Oliver Wendell Holmes were not heeded.