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Name: George Wald, Ph.D. (1906-1997)


Website: (Opens in a new window)

Website 2: (Opens in a new window)

Birthdate: November 18, 1906
Gender: Male

Education: Completed Post-Graduate College
Occupation: --- LIFE SCIENTISTS
Biology professor, Harvard University
Award/Prize/Recognition: Nobel Laureate - Physiology or Medicine (1967)
George David Wald, 1906-1997, was a Nobel Laureate, Higgins Professor
of Biology at Harvard University, and a promoter of progressive
political and social causes.

Wald wrote in 1975 a so-far unpublished essay entitled "CIRCUMCISION".
About circumcision he says, among many other things, "I'm against it."

Dr. Wald was a member of the Professional Advisory Board of the
Circumcision Resource Center at from
December 22, 1992, until his death on April 12, 1997.

His obituary in the Harvard Gazette gives more information about his
life and work and is available at 
as does the Harvard University website at

and the Nobel Prize website at

and a memoir by a student of Wald's, 

"George Wald
November 18, 1906 April 12, 1997
By John E. Dowling"

available on the website of the National Academies Press  at http://

About "CIRCUMCISION", George Wald's 1975 Essay; Still Unpublished 

by Van Lewis

November 2002

(Updates can be found below.)

George Wald won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for discovering Vitamin A in
the retina of the eye and how it functions with light there to form
the molecular basis of vision.

I had been Dr. Wald's student in the early nineteen sixties and I
still treasure him as one of the finest teachers and people it has
ever been my privilege and pleasure to meet.  I am very fortunate to
have been his student and friend.  Many people feel the same.

In February, 1975, Dr. Wald gave a lecture at Florida State University
in Tallahassee, the state capital.  I attended, went to the reception
afterward, and asked if I could take him to the airport when he was
ready to go.  He agreed, and I picked him up early the next morning.

Four years earlier, on December 17, 1970, I had been arrested with my
younger brother, Ben, for protesting against infant circumcision,
peacefully, on the public sidewalk near Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Now instead of facing the impenetrable ignorance and prejudice of my 
hometown police and judge I was riding with my deeply revered biology
professor, the great social activist and Nobel Laureate, George Wald. 
I knew what I had to ask him:

"George, have you ever thought much about circumcision, from a
biological point of view?"

His eyes grew big, bright lights in a very dark world.

"No", he said. "I never have.  I'll have to go home and do that."

He did.

We arrived at the airport to find that his plane was late, so I had
him to myself in the Tallahassee airport for two hours.  We had a
wonderful visit and remained friends until his death in 1997.

Six months after our ride to the airport, on August 5, 1975, George
mailed a large envelope to me.  When I opened it, I found inside a
photocopy of his 39 page typewritten manuscript - "Circumcision" -
which he subsequently edited and expanded to 42 pages.  I wrote back
to express my profound gratitude for his important essay.

He also submitted it for publication to William Shawn at The New Yorker, 
saying, in part:

August 18, 1975

Mr. William Shawn
The New Yorker
25 West 43rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10036

Dear Mr. Shawn

I have been absorbed all summer in writing the enclosed paper.  The
beginning of it will tell you how that happened.  Gradually I realized
that I was writing it for you.  I don't know how strange you will find
that; but I think that The New Yorker has the weight and depth and the
readership that I want most to reach and that will most respond.  If
it jumps off from there it will go far.

The subject has its fascinations of many kinds -- social, theological,
anthropological, deeply personal; but this essay is trying also to
meet a problem, it takes a position.  The medical literature turned
anti-circumcision ten years ago, but almost none of that has filtered
through to the mothers.  Perhaps this paper will do that job.  There
will be plenty of flak.



George Wald

Shawn responded:

September 8, 1975

Dear Dr. Wald:

Broad as our range may be, this subject seems somehow beyond it.  What
you have to say is, as always, important and sounds right.  We are
most grateful to you for letting us consider this.  I hope that all is
well with you.

Warm regards,

William Shawn

George continued to seek a publisher for "Circumcision" for over two
decades but never found one.  He died on April 12, 1997.  The essay
remains unpublished today, but he insured its survival by leaving a
copy of his final version of it with his extensive papers in the
Harvard Archives, where it rests today in his box 103.  The only other
copy I know of is the slightly shorter and earlier version he sent to
me, which I still have.

George mentioned to me in Cambridge in the early nineteen nineties
that he was serving on the advisory board of a "local Jewish
anti-circumcision group".  I was unaware at the time that there was a
significant national and international movement against male genital
mutilation and, much to my current regret, didn't realize then the
importance of what he was telling me.

On April 5, 2002, I was privileged to tell this story to the
Seventh International Symposium on Human Rights and Modern Society held 
at Georgetown University in Washington,
D.C.  After my talk, Ronald Goldman, Director of the Circumcision
Resource Center in Boston - - told me that
George had served on CRC's Professional Advisory Board from December
22, 1992, until his death in 1997.  CRC is the group George had
mentioned to me.

The proceedings of that memorable 2002 conference will be published
soon [see "January 2004 update" below], and will include my  review of 
"Circumcision", but I continue to hope that some day the essay itself will be 
published in complete form, just as George wrote it and just as he left it for the 

You can read Dr. Wald's entire essay, CIRCUMCISION, in the Harvard 
Archives, or request from them a single unpublishable photocopy for your 
own research purposes only. The main web address for the archives is

At the following location you may fill out and email
your request for such a photocopy. The manuscript is in Wald's box 103:

March 2003 update

I was invited to and gave a presentation about this to the 16th World 
Congress of  Sexology, held in Havana, Cuba, from March 10 through March 
14, 2003.  That presentation, entitled 

Francis Crick - George Wald

telling most of the story above in more detail, along with important quotes from 
Wald's essay, CIRCUMCISION, is now available on the internet at http://

February 2004 update:

The book of presentations that were made at the 7th International Symposium 
on Human Rights  and Modern Society, mentioned above, entitled FLESH 
AND BLOOD: Perspectives on the Problem of Circumcision in Contemporary 
Society, has now been published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. 

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