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Biography of Dr. George M. Kober

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Associate Editor of this Journal
MARCH- 1 920
The story of Dr. Kober’s life falls into three periods, the period of his A r m y activities,
his period as teacher, practitioner and scientijic invesligakr, a d the period o j his social
activities as philanthropist.
Dr. George Martin Kober, the son of Jamb and Dorothea (Rehr) Koher, i i n s born at
Alsfeld, Hessen-Darmsladt, Germany, on March 28, 1850. He received his early
education at the public and grand-ducal Realschule of his native town, and emigrated,
at lhe age of sevenleen, from Germany to the United States in 1867. Shortly after his
arrival he entered the Hospital Corps of the United Stales Army at Carlisle Barracks,
Penna. I n January, 1870, he iiias appointed hospital steward and ordered lo Frankford Arsenal, where he remained until September 1871, when he was ordered to the
Surgeon General’s Ofice, Washington, D. C. During this period his preceplors were
Dr. J . J . B. Wright, U.S. A., and Dr. Robert B. Burns, Philadelphia. I n the fall of
1871, he entered the Medical Department of Georgelown Univer.sily where he came under
the instruction of such physicians as Drs. Johnson E l i d , Noble Young, S. C . Rusey,
Francis A. Ashford and Rohert Reyburn, and received his medical degree in March,
187% The folloiaing winler, he was the first graduate jrom a post graduale course
instituted at Columbia Hospital, D. C. I n the spring of the year, in opposition to the
proposal to establish a German dispensary, he helped to reorganize the “Central Dispensary” with a special German-speaking stafl. During these three years, he was serving
as a hospital steward detailed in a clericd capacity in the Surgeon General’s Ofice, where
he rendered valuable aid to Dr. Billings in indexing and classifying titles in German
medical periodicals. I n J d y , 1874, he was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon in the
United States A r m y , remaining o n dilly in this capacity unlil Noaeinber, 1886. During
this period, he was Post Surgeon at Alcatraz Island, California, J u l y lo Novemher,
1874; post surgeon a1 Fort McDerniit, Nevada, u p to July, 1877, during which lime he
took part in the southeastern Nevada ezpedition.agains1 hostile Indians in {he fall of
1875, and in the Nez-Perd expedition (1877);from July to October, 1877, he was in
charge of the Peld hospital at Kamiah on the Clenrinnler, Idaho; was subsequently post
swgeon at camp near Spokane Falls and Fort Coeur d’Alhne lo November, 1878-1879,
Fort Klamath, Oregon, to June, 1880, and Fort Bidwell, California, to November 1886.
I n post orders No. 104, relieving him f r o m duty at t h latter slation in November, 1886,
the post adjutant states:
“ I n recognition of the long and faithful professional services rendered lo the government during the past tinelve years in the field in pursuit of hostile Indians and at various
posts, the commanding oficer cannol part with him without some expression of his feelings of regret, as part of t f i s service was rendered under his immediale command.
“ His devotion to his prafessional dulies has been warmly recognized not only by this
commanding oficer, but by olhers and has stamped him as one of the most skillful surgeons in the U.S. Army.”
While at Fort Bidwell, he was also engaged in medical praclice among the civilian
population, remaining at this station until June, 1887, when he traveled extensively in
America and Europe, retiirning to Fort Bidwell the following year. I n the fall of 1889
he settled again in Wushington, I). C., und in 1889 w m uppointed Professor of State
Medicine in Georgetown Medical College. I n August, 1890, he was honorury secretary
of the Section of Medical Geography and History in the 10th International Congress. I n
December, 1890, he returned to Fort Bidwell, where he engaged ugain in the practice of
medicine and where on J u n e I , 1895, he becume once more Attending Surgeon at the post.
During his urmy period, he became keenly interested in the physical anthropology
of the North American Indians, which gave h i m a natural inlerest in the work of unlhropological societies. A t the suggestion of Lieut. Colonel George A . Otis, Curator of the
A r m y Medical Museum, he sent lo Professor Rudolf Virchow a collection of Indian
crania which are described in Virchow’s “Craniu Ethnica Americana.”
I n the fall of 1893, Dr. Kober returned to Washington where he has since been one of
the most prominenl physicians in the city. I n 1889, he becume president of the Medical
and Susgical Society of the Uislrict of Columbia and has been Ueun of the Medical
Department of the Georgetown University since 1901. He wus also president of the
Medical Association of the District of Columbia i n 1898, of the Medicul Sociely of the
District of Columbia in 1905, of the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1907,
of the National Association for the Study u d Prevention of Tuberculosis in 1915 and
of the Washington Sunitury Improvement Compuny since 1916. R e has been three
times president of the Anthropological Society of Wushington, in 1906-7,1918-19, and
1919-%O. He was president of the section o n industrid and occuputiorml hygiene of
the 15th International Congress on Hygiene and Demography, chuirmun of the sub-seclion on sociological medicine at the Second Pun-American Scientific Congress (1916)
and i s a n honorary member of the Associalion of American Physicians and ulso of the
Associalion of Military Surgeons. Dr. Kober i s u member of the advisory council of
the American Associalion for [he Adcancement of Science, fellow of !he American
Medical Associalion. member of the Cosmos Club, Vice Psesident of the Washinglon
Academy of Sciences, Vice President o j lhe Board of Chasities and President of [he
locul Social Hygienic Associalion.
During his long and useful life, Ur. Kober has written several medical books and
over 240 journal articles in the American periodicals. H i s first contributions to medicine
were a n essay on Infanlile Paralysis , published in the Pacific Medical Journal in
Nocember, 1874, and a small 100-page book on Urinologg, reprinted f r o m Me Richmond and LouisL.ille Medical J o u r w l , 1874, xviii. This was followed by treatises
o n Milk in Relalion to Public Heulth (1902), Indutriul und Personal HygierM
(1908), Water Supply (1908), House Sanitation and i n 1916 his ardent labors for
the improvement of the hygiene of occupations were brought to u focus in his ,treatise
upon Diseases of Occupation and Vocationul Hygiene, which he ediled wilh Dr.
Willium C . Hanson. This treatise is also of consideruble interest to anthropology.
H i s contributions to the periodical literature of medicine and related sciences are
of the most varied character, covering such themes as the Medical Geogruphy,
Diseases and Climate of Surprise and Goose Lake Valleys, Californiu, 1886,
the Relation of Soil und Wuler to Heallh and Disease (1894-96), the Place of
Military Medicine and Surgery in Ordinary Medical Education (1897), the Eflect
of Modern Firearms in W a r (1899), the Canteen (19OS), his study of S30 outbreaks of nailk-borne diseases (1901), his long report o n butter and butter substitutes
(1902), two nolable papers o n the progress and achievements of public hygiene (1897),
and the history of hygiene i n the 19th century (1901). I n 1875, fie published notes on
treatment of chronic dysentery with potassium chlorate lotion and of tubercular udenitis
with injecirions of carbolic acid and glycerine. I n October 1876, he described a n important
case of recovery from gunshot injuries of knee joint which had been treated with antiseptic
injections of iodine and carbolic acid. Dr. Kober was also one of the earliest to emphasize
the importance of $ies as transmitters of disease (1898) and in his report on typhoid
fever in the District of Columbia (1896), he definitely located the fact of JEy transmission
in connection with a house epidemic of typhoid from box privies.
During the last 25 years of his life, Dr. Kober has not been engaged in the actual
practice of medicine and has devoted his attention to work in public hygiene, social
welfare, and anthropology. H i s demonstration of the transmission of typhoid fever by
flies in a local epidemic, an investigation made at the request of the Health O m r , D. C.,
was the starting point of these activities. B y public addresses and by individual researches into the relative merits of sand and mechanical filtering of water, he did much to
secure proper legislation and appropriations from Congress in aid of a proper water
supply and sewage system for the District of Columbia. H i s tabulation of $30 milkborne epidemics (1901), his writings o n industrial hygiene, particularily on the efects
of diminished atmosphere upon the health of aviators (1916) and his very active labors in
aid of securing better housing for the working classes in Washington are all in the same
trend. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Associated Charities, he became
interested in the removal of slums and the improvement of habitations for people in less
than moderate circumstances. Thus he was one of the principal promoters of the Washington Sanitary Housing Companies, organized in 1897 and 1904, which have prowided
sanitary homes at reasonable rentals for over 800 wage-earners and their families. This
work lead to further improvements in sanitary housing in the District and in other cities
and Dr. Kober had the gratification of receiving the award of a gold medal at the Paris
International Exposition in 1900 in appreciation of these activities. His report o n
housing of the laboring classes was published in the same year (1900), and his history
of the housing movement in the city of Washington in 1907.
Dr. Kober also designed the Tuberculosis Hospital for the District of Columbia, and
was awarded a Medal at the Exposition connected with the Sixth International Congress
o n Tuberculosis, held in Washington, September 28th to October 6th, 1908. I n the same
year he was also a Member of President Roosevelt's Homes Commission, and in addition to his Monograph o n Industrial and Personal Hygiene, prepared a Report onSocial
Betterment containing among other articles a plea for the prevention of permanent disabilities in childhood.
Dr. Kober's life has been one of untiring labor, of devotion to duty, of loyalty and
gratitude to his adopted country, cf many-sided interests, of obstacles triumphantly
overcome. The essential trait in his life history has been a sincere interest in the public
good. I n the city of his adoption he has been identijied with almost every movement
which has had to do with social hygiene and the well-being of his fellowmen. A publicspirited man in the truest sense, he has been one whose approaches have always been
accessible where any enterprise of social moment had to be carried through. People come
to h i m naturally for help of this kind. What he has done has been accomplished not
reluctantly or for self-advertisement, but unobtrusively and with a good-natured disregard for the demands made upon his time.
I n anthropology, his chief interests have been in demography, racial pathology, and
somatology. His publications give no adequate idea of his interest in these lines; but
this has found appreciation in his repeated election to the presidency of the local anthropological society, in addition to which he served as a member of the Organizing Committee
of the Nineteenth International Congress of Americanists and as a member of the first
Committee on Anthropology of the National Research Council. Besides which he has
been one of the Associate Editors of the AMERICAN
ANTHROPOLOGY, since the establishment of the JOURNAL.
That the beneficent activities of DT.Kober may be wntinued far beyond the scriptural
span of life is the hope and wish of his many friends.
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