“The best friend a baby ever had.”

That was a description in a 1952 Chicago newspaper article about pediatrician Isaac A. Abt, M.D., FAAP (1867-1955), an AAP founder and its first president in 1930. He was known as a leading clinician, academic, scholar, advocate, writer and leader.

Dr. Abt started out practicing internal medicine in 1894 but gravitated to pediatrics at a time when many dismissed the idea that children have unique medical needs. He was one of the earliest child health specialists and a public health advocate.

The autobiography Baby Doctor (McGraw-Hill, 1944), published when he was 77, chronicles Dr. Abt’s daily struggles over half a century to care for patients amid many challenges, among them poor sanitation and hygiene. Though medical knowledge was advancing rapidly, children had only a 50% chance of living past age 5. Common killers were diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis.

Dr. Abt cared...

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