The legacy of French physician and microbiologist Didier Raoult : genealogical investigation

Professor Didier Raoult, an infectiologist at the Marseille University Hospital who emerged amidst the din linked to the Coronavirus epidemic, may have appeared strangely detached and insensitive to fears, while being determined to treat as many people as possible. So he challenged the authorities by proposing systematic screening of the population in his institute, the “Institut hospitalier universitaire Méditerranée infection”.

Raoult reminds us of a peculiarity of medicine since antiquity, empiricism and scepticism, in the face of the systems of thought of the moment and the interests that organize scientific research. In any case, his case is remarkable for the fact that during the Coronavirus epidemic, he was the promoter of the only treatment used worldwide to contain the development of the virus. Courage is undoubtedly linked to social position, but it also owes much to the fact that the individual is first and foremost a cultural heir, as Louis Paul Le Gendre, Didier Raoult’s great-grandfather, suggested in 1924 :

« Taine’s ingenious environmental influence theory [1] is powerless to explain alone the formation of all works, of all spirits and of all characters; but it contributes to it. ” In his own way, Emmanuel Todd also reminds us of the importance of the family in individual choices.

Caricature of Dr. Le Gendre

(Paris médical : la semaine du clinicien, 1912, n° 06, partie paramédicale)

Commitment and openness to the world

The Raoult and Le Gendre families were reunited in 1942 at the hospital by the union of a nurse, Francine Le Gendre, and André Raoult, a military doctor. In the 20th century, at a time when France’s influence was based on a mixture of political economy, colonialism and universalist idealism, the Raoult family projected itself very widely in the world. Didier Raoult was born in Dakar. His father was Breton. His paternal grandparents were teachers near Saint Brieuc.

In 1907, the grandfather, André Marie Raoult, born in Plélauff, in the “red” (far left-wing) part of Brittany, taught at the Lycée Français de Salonique, the first establishment of the French Lay Mission in the world. During the First World War, he was mobilized in aviation groups, a sector in which France was at the forefront. First in the 1st group in Dijon and then in the 3rd group in Bordeaux. In 1917, he was at the Châteauroux aviation school. [2]

André Marie Raoult. Military Aviation Personnel Database – Service historique de la Défense

His son André Raoult (1909-1978), Didier’s father, became a military doctor. From 1931 to 1933, he was a student at the Dinan Health Service School. In 1934, he entered the Colonial Troops Health Service. Having become a medical lieutenant, he was promoted to the rank of medical captain of the 11th RAC (colonial artillery regiment, navy troops) in December 1938, while serving in Togo. During the War, André Raoult was a member of the Franco-British resistance network “Mithridate” of the French Fighting Forces (FFC), a group specialising in military intelligence, in liaison with the MI6. [3]

Review by the General Physician Inspector Debenedetti. Dr. André Raoult can be recognized by his military salute. [circa 1960]

Source : Ceux du Pharo, n°58.


In 1946, the government that emerged after the Liberation launched a vast investigation to solve the problem of hunger in the Sahel, “l’Organisme d’enquête pour l’étude anthropologique des populations indigènes de l’AOF (alimentation et nutrition)”, commonly referred to as the “Mission anthropologique”.

André Raoult is one of the five doctors of the Mission based in Dakar, in addition to four pharmacists, all from the colonial troops stationed in AOF (French West Africa). In 1953, as a medical colonel, he took the head of the new organization that resulted from it, the “Organisme de recherches sur l’alimentation et la nutrition en Afrique” (ORANA) in whose building little Didier Raoult lives. The work is experimental and attempts to decipher the causes of mortality in the different tribes studied.[4] Applied biochemical treatments reduce mortality by 80% to 20%. [5]

In the 1960s and 1970s, André Raoult published several studies under the aegis of the United Nations (FAO) on the food and health situation in Africa and the Pacific. [6] Since 2015, a bacterium has been named after him, Bacillus andreraoultii. [7]

Participants in the Brazzaville Congress on Children’s Problems in Tropical Africa (1952). The doctor Lieutenant-Colonel Raoult intervened as the representative of the AOF (French West Africa). Source : Centre international de l’Enfance


Empirism and the spirit of the Enlightenment

The Legendre family comes from a family of notables from the Eure department, who were notaries throughout the 18th century. The most illustrious of these notaries was the grandfather of Louis Paul Le Gendre, Pierre Nicolas Chrisôstome Legendre (1759-1853), who was also a “laboureur”, i.e. an owner, in Heuqueville.

Elected member of the Legislative Assembly (1791-1792), he sat in the majority group, without ever intervening in the gallery. [8] He belonged to the group of the centre known as the “Constitutionals” (the future “marais”). [9] Legendre resigned on 2 April 1792 for “health reasons”. [10] He remained a departmental administrator during the Empire and was mayor of Heuqueville between 1806 and 1837. One of his sons, Narcisse, succeeded him at the town hall.

Salle du Manège, in the Tuileries, where the Legislative Assembly was held (by Louis-Joseph Masquelier)

Doctor Bouchard, a model

Charles Bouchard, a French republican, grandson of a soldier of “An II” who spent eighteen years on the battlefields, was the master of Louis Paul Le Gendre, who devoted a biography to him that laid the foundations of his personal vision of medicine.

Thus he wrote: “The great Rector intended to attribute to Charles Bouchard, by the qualification of ‘physician-philosopher’, not a tendency to bring into the temple of Medicine the metaphysical idols that had been definitively banished, but the concern to tackle the deepest and most general problems, to carry out the synthesis of methods and the synthesis of results, the need to order in broad classifications the facts analyzed, the concern to fix by doctrinal generalities the point of convergence of his research. Philosopher still was Bouchard by a prudent circumspection in the march towards progress. (…) Philosopher finally by the conviction of the growing importance of the social role of Medicine and of the need to make the Physician worthy of fulfilling this role, by harmonizing his instruction with the needs of contemporary society. ».[11]

Le Gendre, infectiologist

Louis Paul Le Gendre (Paris 1854-1936) was, like Didier Raoult, an infectiologist and laureate of the Institute.

Destined for the Ecole Normale Supérieure, but too young to enlist during the war of 1870, he volunteered at the Navy Hospital in Rochefort-sur-Mer, guided by a former Navy doctor, father of a friend. He then became a doctor at the Tenon Hospital and spent most of his career at the Lariboisière Hospital in Paris.

In the medical literature, there are still 260 publications in several languages and 653 references by Dr Le Gendre.[12] His work focused on paediatrics and therapeutics related in particular to poisoning and infectious diseases. Le Gendre was himself afflicted with tuberculosis while treating officers returning from the war front.

He survived but had to cut short his career. At the end of his life, he was president of the French Society for the History of Medicine. He is the author of a biography of the Revolutionary Lakanal [13], whom work in public education is considerable. [14]

Louis Paul Le Gendre was a good republican, a rationalist: “We were republicans, but patriots above all.” [15]. In his autobiography, he points out that his interest in medicine was not due to any particular passion or interest-based motivation, but was provoked by the circumstances of the war of 1870: “Like Hauben [16] almost became a seminarian, I almost became a professor of literature [17] ; like Hauben, I loved the medical profession with passion, where chance had thrown me. There are vocations that only come to light through use, and sometimes the habit can make the monk. » [18]

Louis Paul Le Gendre

(coll. BIU Santé)

Louis Paul Le Gendre had waited twelve years to recognize his son, Paul le Gendre (1878-1965). Born in Sèvres, Paul Le Gendre joined the African Hunters at the age of 18. He passed through Saigon, Oran. He distinguished himself during the First World War and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre (vermeil star) and the Legion of Honour. In Marseille, Paul Le Gendre met Lucienne Jorge, who gave him Francine (1912-2009), Didier Raoult’s mother. Lucienne Le Gendre took part in the Resistance and was deported in a nazi camp. [19]

Cahiers de doléans de la paroisse d'Heuqueville

[click to enlarge]

On April 4, 1789, Pierre Nicolas Legendre was the first person to appear in the register of the Cahiers de doléance of the parish of Heuqueville. (Archives de l’Eure, 17 B 3/58)



[1] Louis Paul Le Gendre, Charles Bouchard, son œuvre, son temps, Paris, 1924. The middle theory inspired Zola for his Rougon Macquart. The theory is summarized as follows in 1882 by Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu in La Revue des Deux Mondes: “a system according to which ideas as well as living beings, governments and political forms, as well as arts, literatures, philosophies are the product of variable conditions and multiple antecedents, the product of place and time, soil and climate, the changing fruit of a race, a social or religious state. » (t. 49, p. 126).

[2] Not to be confused with Jean Raoult, Deputy for Civil Affairs to the Governor General of Madagascar, patented by Blériot in Pau.(1911).

[3] Administrative files of resistance fighters, Service historique de la Défense, Vincennes, GR 16 P 499684 (homologué FFC).

[4] Vincent Bonnecase, Pauvreté au Sahel. La construction des savoirs sur les niveaux de vie au Burkina Faso, au Mali et au Niger (1945-1974), thèse de doctorat en histoire, Paris 1, 2008.


[6] E.g : Rapport au gouvernement du Niger sur la situation alimentaire et nutritionnelle, FAO, Rome, 1962. A Contribution to The Study of Matabolic Disorders in The Pilot Area of Aitutaki, South Pacific commission,Noumea, 1977. Nutritional Problems in the pilot area of Aitutaki (Cook Islands), 13-22 January 1975 / avec Miss Bushra Jabre, South Pacific commission, Nouméa, 1976.

[7] « Noncontiguous finished genome sequence and description of Bacillus andreraoultii strain SIT1T sp. nov. », in New Microbes and New Infections, vol. 10, 2016/03.

[8] Dictionnaire des parlementaires français… : depuis le 1er mai 1789 jusqu’au 1er mai 1889…. IV. Lav-Pla / publ. sous la dir. de MM. Adolphe Robert, Edgar Bourloton et Gaston Cougny, (Paris), 1889-1891.

[9] Not to be confused with the MP Louis Legendre.

[10] Archives parlementaires, 3 avril 1792, T. XLI, p. 163.

[11] Louis Paul Le Gendre, Charles Bouchard, son œuvre, son temps, Paris, 1924.

[12] Catalogue WorldCat identities.

[13] Louis Paul Le Gendre, Lakanal, préface par M. Paul Bert (Paris), 1886.

[14] An outstanding personality with an excellent reputation abroad, he received from the U.S. Congress a parcel of land from the “Society of the Vine and the Olive Tree”, a French colony in Alabama, and became an important planter and president of the University of Louisiana.

[15] Louis Paul Le Gendre, Du Quartier latin à l’Académie. Réminiscences. Le Crin-crin d’un mire, Paris, 1930.

[16] Théodore Haubenbelgian doctor (1835-1927).

[17] Didier Raoult also set his sights on a literary career at first.

[18] Paul Le Gendre, Ibid.

[19] Administrative files of resistance fighters, Service historique de la Défense, Vincennes GR 16 P 311320.




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