A couple of Dalrymple’s favorite subjects converge in this installment of his British Medical Journal column (subscription required):
No doubt it is unusual for the founders of great institutions of learning to be deliberately poisoned to death with strychnine, let alone at the second attempt, but such seems to have been the fate in 1905 of the immensely rich Jane Stanford, the joint founder of Stanford University. First someone put strychnine in her mineral water in San Francisco, and then in her bicarbonate of soda in Honolulu, to which she had escaped to recover from the physical and emotional shock of having been poisoned.The president of Stanford University at the time was a medical man, a keen eugenicist and ichthyologist, called David Starr Jordan, who was much in favour of compulsory sterilisation of so called unfit individuals. For some reason, perhaps never to be explained, he worked hard to cover up the fact that Stanford had been poisoned and was successful in his endeavours. He himself had a motive, namely that Stanford was about to dismiss him from his post; but, unlike Stanford’s personal secretary, Bertha Berner, who was the only person present at both poisonings, he lacked the opportunity. Berner, by contrast, lacked a motive.