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Albert Schweitzer

[shvI' tsur] medical missionary to Africa

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer was born on January 14, 1875, at Kaysersberg, Alsace (then part of the German Empire, now part of France). Both his father and maternal grandfather were ministers, both grandfathers were talented organists, and many other relatives were also persons of scholarly achievement. He spent his boyhood in Gunsbach, and was educated in both France and Germany.

Like his grandfathers, Schweitzer seemed to have a natural talent for music, and began performing organ recitals at the age of nine. He could easily have made a career in music, but decided at the age of 21 to spend the next nine years of his life studying science and music and preaching, and then the rest of his life to serving humanity directly. He subsequently entered the University of Strasbourg, from which he received a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1899, a Licentiate in Theology in 1900, and a Doctorate of Medicine in 1913, as well as an honorary Doctorate in Music. He paid his college expenses by preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg. By the age of 30 he had gained an international reputation as a writer on theology, as an organist and an authority on organ building, as an interpreter of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, and as an authority on Bach's life. He was appointed curate in Strasbourg in 1902, and became principal of St. Thomas Theological College at Strasbourg in 1903.

Schweitzer was inspired to become a medical missionary after reading an evangelical paper regarding the needs of medical missions. After earning his medical degree he began raising money for a hospital at Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon), and began serving there in 1913. His first consulting room was in a chicken coop, but over the years he was able to raise enough money to build a large hospital and a medical station. He raised the money by giving concerts and lectures, and from the royalties earned by his many scholarly works.

In 1917, Schweitzer and his wife were sent to a French internment camp as prisoners of war, since he was technically still a German citizen. Released in 1918, he spent the next six years in Europe, preaching in his old church, giving lectures and concerts, taking more medical courses, and writing. He returned to Africa in 1924, and, except for brief periods of time doing appearances, spent the rest of his life there. Schweitzer was rewarded for his work by receiving the 1952 Nobel Prize for Peace, and in 1955 was given Great Britain's highest civilian award -- the Order of Merit -- by Queen Elizabeth II. He died at Lambaréné on September 4, 1965, and was buried there.

Principal Writings

J.S. Bach (1905)
The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), on which much of fame as theological scholar rests
The Philosophy of Civilization (two volumes, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, 1923)
Memoirs of Childhood and Youth (1924), autobiography
The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1930)
Out of My Life and Thought (1931)
Indian Thought and Its Development (1935)
From My African Notebook (1939)


Nobel Foundation

See Also

Nobel Prize for Peace
Queen Elizabeth II

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This page was last updated on 01/14/2019.