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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day

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  • Bob Huddleston
    I ll net not have a dozen folk have ever heard of Dr. Otis. But these are the unsung but terribly important people who make historical research possible --
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 23, 2001
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      I'll net not have a dozen folk have ever heard of Dr. Otis. But these are
      the unsung but terribly important people who make historical research
      possible -- and, in this case, save lives in the process.

      Take care,


      Judy and Bob Huddleston
      10643 Sperry Street
      Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
      303.451.6276 Adco@...

      -----Original Message-----
      From: ANB Biography of the Day [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Friday, November 23, 2001 12:00 AM
      To: ANB bioday mailing list
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      Otis, George Alexander (12 Nov. 1830-23 Feb. 1881), U.S. Army medical
      officer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of George Alexander
      Otis, a lawyer, and Anna Maria Hickman. His mother remained for some time in
      Boston after his father died in 1831 before returning to her native
      Virginia, and Otis attended Boston Latin School before entering school in
      Fairfax County, Virginia. He received a B.A. from Princeton College in 1849
      and entered medical school at the University of Pennsylvania that same year,
      after spending the summer studying with a local physician. He married
      Pauline Clark Baury in 1850; they had two children. In 1851 Otis received
      both an M.A. from Princeton and his medical degree from the University of
      Pennsylvania. He then studied ophthalmic and general surgery in Paris,
      France, until the spring of 1852, when he returned to the United States and
      opened a private practice in Richmond, Virginia.

      In the spring of 1853 Otis provided the necessary financing and joined
      another physician to start publishing the Virginia Medical and Surgical
      Journal, in which he included many abstracts and translated articles from
      French medical literature. In 1854, having concluded that his practice in
      Richmond would not provide him with the experience as a surgeon that he
      desired, Otis moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where the growing
      population and the presence of manufacturing offered more promise. He
      continued for some years thereafter, however, to serve as a corresponding
      editor for the Virginia Medical and Surgical Journal.

      With the outbreak of the Civil War, Otis joined the Twenty-seventh
      Massachusetts Volunteers as surgeon. In this capacity he served in campaigns
      in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. While on detached duty in the
      Department of the South he made the acquaintance of Charles H. Crane, the
      department's medical director, who soon thereafter became Surgeon General
      Joseph K. Barnes's chief assistant. In June 1864 Otis resigned from the
      Twenty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers to accept an appointment as
      assistant surgeon, U.S. Volunteers, in which capacity he could be assigned
      wherever his services were needed. Not long thereafter he renewed his
      acquaintance with Crane, who had him detailed to assist the curator of the
      newly established Army Medical Museum, John H. Brinton, then deeply involved
      in collecting anatomical specimens representative of Civil War wounds or
      illustrative of damage done by disease. In October 1864 Otis was appointed
      to succeed Brinton as curator, in which position he served sixteen years,
      longer than anyone else has ever served.

      Otis was mustered out of the wartime army in 1866 but immediately accepted
      an appointment as first lieutenant and assistant surgeon in the Regular Army
      Medical Department. Within weeks he had been promoted to captain. He was
      also granted brevet ranks of captain, major, and lieutenant colonel in
      recognition of his wartime services.
      >From this time onward his professional life centered on the museum.
      He was assigned particular responsibility for those sections
      of the museum concerned with surgery and photography. Among his ambitions
      was collecting skulls "from the oldest burial places in our own and other
      countries." His efforts on the museum's behalf led to the transfer to the
      Army Medical Museum of all human skeletons held by the Smithsonian

      Otis's numerous publications in this period covered a range
      of subjects and included many monographs published by the Medical Department
      in the form of circulars. Surgeon General Barnes's concern that guidelines
      be established concerning evacuation during the campaigns of the Indian War
      led him to order Otis to conduct research into the way the problem had been
      managed in the past. The result was Otis's circular A Report to the Surgeon
      General on the Transport of Sick and Wounded by Pack Animals (1877), which,
      appearing after the debacle at Little Bighorn in 1876, was based in part on
      the experiences of surgeons involved in that campaign against the Sioux.

      Otis's greatest contribution, however, was undoubtedly his work as editor
      of the three-part surgical volume of the massive and widely respected
      Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, which was based on
      specimens and records collected for the museum. For this effort, Otis
      oversaw a large team of clerks and technicians who collected and organized
      Civil War medical records. The first part was published in 1870, the second
      in 1876, but in May 1877, before the final part of the surgical volume had
      been completed, Otis was crippled by a paralytic stroke. Although he never
      ceased his efforts thereafter and was promoted to major in March 1880, his
      work had to be finished after his death by David Lowe Huntington, who also
      succeeded Otis as curator of the museum.

      Otis, "a man of culture and social instincts, but always interesting and
      instructive, and one of the most delightful companions" (Boston Medical and
      Surgical Journal 104 [1881]: 261), was also apparently a shy man, especially
      in the presence of those he did not know well. As a result, despite his
      achievements, he worked in the shadow of more aggressive or politically
      astute colleagues. Nevertheless, his work was widely respected. His
      authority in the field of surgery was recognized by his being asked to
      handle the coverage of that topic in the four-volume Johnson's New Universal
      Cyclopaedia, edited by Frederick A. P. Barnard and Arnold Guyot (4[1878]:
      1678-86). The wide range of his interests and the breadth of his influence
      were reflected in his membership in many scientific organizations in the
      United States and Europe, among them the Academy of Natural Sciences of
      Philadelphia, the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Virginia Medical
      Society, the Anthropological Society in the District of Columbia, for which
      he also served as vice president, and the Philosophical Society of that
      city. He became a foreign member of the Medical Society of Norway in 1870
      and a foreign corresponding member of the Surgical Society
      of Paris in 1875. He died in Washington, D.C.


      Letters to and from Otis are in the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in
      Washington, D.C., and scattered throughout the correspondence held in RG
      112, Papers of the Surgeon General, at the National Archives. In addition to
      the works already cited, he wrote circulars for the Medical Department,
      including Drawings, Photographs and Lithographs Illustrating the Histories
      of Seven Survivors of the Operation of Amputation at the Hipjoint, during
      the War of the Rebellion, together with Abstracts of These Seven Successful
      Cases (1867), Report on Excisions of the Head of the Femur for Gunshot
      Injury (1869), Histories of Two Hundred and Ninety-six Surgical Photographs
      Prepared at the Army Medical Museum (1871), A Report of Surgical Cases
      Treated in the Army of the United States from 1865 to 1871 (1871), and A
      Report on a Plan for Transporting Wounded Soldiers by Railway in Time of War
      (1875). He also contributed articles to journals, beginning with eight
      articles written between 1853 and 1856 for the Virginia Medical and Surgical

      References to Otis and his work can be found in Robert S. Henry, The Armed
      Forces Institute of Pathology: Its First Century, 1862-1962 (1964), and
      Wyndam D. Miles, A History of the National Library of Medicine, the Nation's
      Treasury of Medical Knowledge (1982). Obituaries are in several contemporary
      medical journals, among them Transactions of the American Medical
      Association 329 (1881):
      529-34, and the Evening Star, 23 Feb. 1881.

      Mary C. Gillett

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      Mary C. Gillett. "Otis, George Alexander";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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