For most of the twentieth century Cotuit enjoyed the presence of the Taussig family.

In 1896 Mary T. Gorham, heiress of the famous silver company of Providence, bought a new shingle style house in the south end of Cotuit.

Mrs. Gorham enjoyed having her daughter Edith and her children spend their summers on the beach and sailing here. Edith had married the famous Harvard economist Frank W. Taussig (1859-1940) in 1888. His classic “Tariff History of the U.S.” came out the year of his marriage, followed by books partly written in Cotuit, the standard American textbook “Principles of Economics” (1911) and “International Trade” (1927).

Professor. Taussig said of himself, “In politics I am a disgusted independent, awaiting a new party.” But he served President Wilson as first chairman of the U.S. Tariff Commission 1917 tp 1919, reforming the antiquated system of customs and introducing free ports and free zones. Most importantly, he was adviser to President Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference where many economic issues of the postwar period were determined.

Prof. Taussig’s remarkable father, Dr. William Taussig (1826-1913) was a frequent summer visitor. An immigrant from Czechoslovakia, he had half a dozen successful careers, as a chemist, a pistol-packing doctor who called on patients on horseback, mayor and top judge in St. Louis, banker who financed the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi, the longest in the world, and railroad operator. One story he told in Cotuit was how he turned down a share of a venture of Andrew Carnegie, but remained a friend of the multimillionaire until they vehemently disagreed about the character of an acquaintance. Taussig apologized, but Mr. Carnegie would never forgive him.

The Taussigs’ son and three daughters grew up summering in Cotuit, sailing with of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club from its beginning in 1906, winning 11 championships in the skiff named “Swastika”, which was then an ancient good-luck symbol before it was used by the Nazis.

The most famous of these children was Dr. Helen Taussig (1898-1986) whose discovery of a cure for blue babies in 1944 saved the lives of thousands of children. Honored as “The First Lady of American Medicine”, she won all of the highest awards in medicine, and President Lyndon Johnson gave her the national Medal of Freedom.

Helen Taussig was dyslexic, and developed deafness, handicaps that increased her powers of observation. She wanted to become a doctor like her grandfather, but her father said public health was more suitable for a woman. When she applied to the Harvard School of Public Health, the dean said she could study, but not get a degree. She told him angrily: “Who is going to be such a fool as to spend two years studying medicine and two more years in public health and not getting a degree?” The dean said “No one, I hope”, to which she replied “Doctor, I will not be the first to disappoint you.”

After graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical School, Helen Taussig asked the head of the heart institute, Dr. E. P. Carter, what form of heart disease was least understood. He said congenital heart disease. She told him she intended to learn more about that than anyone in the world. She did.

Dr. Taussig made medical history in 1944, beginning a whole new area of cardiac surgery with the Blalock/Taussig procudure that restored oxygen to failing children’s hearts. In 1960 she played a major role in warning of the dangers of the sedative thalidomide which caused babies to be born without limbs.

Never married, Dr. Taussig retired to her beloved summer home in Cotuit, where at age 88 she wrote a paper on hearts of birds, seeking to reveal the origins of congenital heart disease.

Published in The Barnstable Enterprise 9 March 2012


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  1. Gene Meier Says:

    I am writing the first book from the American point of view about 19th century rotunda panoramas.These were the biggest paintings in the world,50 x 400=20,000 square feet, housed in their own rotundas which were the biggest paintings in the world.Chicago in 1893 had 6 panorama companies and 6 panorama rotundas.At hand is a copy of the corporation papers for the INTERNATIONAL PANORAMA COMPANY which brought Louis Braun’s BATTLE OF SEDAN panorama from Frankfurt am Main to The World’s Industrial & Cotton Exposition, New Orleans 1884-1885.William Taussig of 47 5th Avenue, Chicago[today Wells Street]purchased 10 shares of International Panorama Company stock for $1,000.I seek biographical info on Mr.Taussig and of course have questions for his descendants.

  2. Pat Says:

    Jim, I will be in Cotuit either July 6-7 or 11-12. Could I interview you and ask about finding more on HBT in Cotuit Hist Society? Love what you wrote so far

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