Selected Photographs of George Rosen

George Rosen

June 23, 1910—July 27, 1977

in memoriam,  July 27, 2007
30 years ago today

George Rosen was a man of prodigious productivity, drive, creativity, and curiosity. He was born in Brooklyn, the son of Morris Rosen, a shirt presser, and Rose Handelman Rosen, but grew up in Manhattan, attending the prestigious and highly competitive public high school Peter Suyvesant. At sixteen he was accepted at the College of the City of New York, a public institution, famous for its renowned faculty and a student body of exceptional ability and promise. Upon graduation, he left the United States to study medicine in Berlin at the Kaiser Wilhelm University,  in 1930, where he received his degree in 1935. Like many children of working-class immigrant Jewish families, he had been denied admittance to an American medical school, due to restrictive clauses directed at Jews, that were in force at that time. It is no small irony that just as Nazism emerged in Germany, George Rosen found a haven in the eye of a storm that soon engulfed the world. His studies in Germany influenced him greatly; he became fully fluent in German and German culture; he began his career in the history of medicine, writing his dissertation on William Beaumont, the American physician-physiologist; and he observed and experienced at first hand the rise of a muderous dictatorship. He also met his wife-to be, his beautiful co-student Beate Caspari in January 1933. Their courtship was brief, due to Nazi regulations which would have expelled Beate from medical school in June. Protected by George’s citizenship, they married in early July, which permitted Beate to complete her degree. In 1935 they left Germany and settled in New York City. After an internship at the Beth-El Hospital in Brooklyn (1935—1937) and a Clinical Assistantship at Lutheran Hospital, Brooklyn, Rosen established a private practice in his specailty otolaryngology. In 1941 he took a civil service examination for a position in the New York City Department of Health, where he received the highest grades among applicants. Beginning as a clinician in the Bureau of Tuberculosis, he shifted his orientation from direct treatment to developing and implementing public--health policies, which led to his appointment as Director of the Bureau of Health Education. My father’s commitment to public health and preventive medicine officially begins here, but its origins were established in early life experiences.

His career consisted of two specialties: public health and preventive medicine and the history of medicine. Wearing both hats, he obtained public recognition in both fields, becoming  professor of Public Health Education at Columbia University, and at Yale University, professor of the History of Medicine and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health. In 1946, he was  founder, with John Fulton, of The Journal of The History of Medicine and Allied Sciences; throughout the remainder of his life he served as editor or as an editorial board member until his death in 1977. But whereas the audience reached by the history of medicine was  rather limited  at that time, public health and preventive medicine was an area of enormous concern to the public at large, be it within the arena of politics, commercial interests, medical institutions and practitioners, health care recipients, that is the patient, potential or actual, and many others as well. In this respect George Rosen occupied a particularly influential role as editor and member of the board of the American Journal of Public Health (1948—1973). To professionalize in these fields he received a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, his dissertation, The Specialization of Medicine: with particular reference to ophthalmology  (1944) and in 1947 he obtained a masters degree in public health, also from Columbia University. In 1950 he became a Diplomate of The American Board of Preventive Medicine. In the same year, he was appointed Director of The Division of Health Education and preventive Services of The Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York (HIP). An advocate of prepaid medical care, he wished to see universal health coverage implemented by the federal government.

Not only did George Rosen teach the history of medicine but he was also an active member of The American Association for the History of Medicine, twice serving as its president as well as receiving numerous awards and honors from that institution.

Much has been omitted from this brief biography, but one experience that should not go unmentioned is Rosen’s military service (1943—1946). Knowing at first hand Nazism and fascism, he enlisted in the Armed Forces in World War II. He was appointed to the Medical Intelligence Division, Preventive Medicine Service, Surgeon General’s Office and The European Theater. He was sent abroad to London during the second blitz and was in Versailles, at the American headquarters. Among his tasks was the interrogation of Nazi generals. 

Rosen’s publications are numerous: more than 200 articles and nine books and  translations of numerous medical--historical texts and medical texts. Among the books are The Reception of William Beaumont’s Discovery in Europe (1942); The History of Miner’s Diseases, A Medical and Social Interpetation (1943); The Specialization of Medicine (1944); Fees and Fee Bills: Some EconomicAspects of Medical Practice in 19th-Century America (1946); Four Hundred Years of a Doctor’s Life, co-author Beate Caspari-Rosen (1947); A History of Public Health (1958); Madness in Society. Chapters in the Historical Sociology of Mental Illness (1968); From Medical Police to Social Medicine. Essays on the History of Health Care (1974);  Preventive Medicine in the United States, 1900—1975 (1975).

George Rosen, though incredibly busy, was a loving devoted father who fostered the talents and interests of his children Paul Peter and Susan Joan. Always curious, his huge library—ever growing-- abounded in books on literature, poetry, history, art, economics, indeed, all aspects of human endeavor. The spoken word was heard too—the Sitwells, Dylan Thomas, Latin authors, all and more; and the same was true for music. Music from all regions of the world, including Asian, “modern jazz,” work songs, medieval, baroque, and classical, in every permutation could be heard on the record player. And then there were trips to museums, lengthy walks in New York City, summer vacations in rural New York, Connecticut, Maine, and later in Mexico and Europe, all these formed the fabric of life. As did our dachshund Schatzi who adored my father. During the summers George practiced one of his great talents--art. Water color was his preferred medium. Sitting beside him, I learned how art was practiced.

Throughout his all too brief life George’s was intertwined with his dearest love Beate, who shared his joys and sorrows for forty-four years.

[I have drawn extensively on Saul Benison’s “Dr. George Rosen: An Appreciation,” in Healing and History: Essays for George Rosen, ed. Charles E. Rosenberg (New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1979), 242—251. For a bibliography of Rosen’s writings, see ibid, 252—262.]
by Susan Rosen Koslow, July 27, 2007


Selected Photographs of George Rosen

George Rosen "Self Portrait" and "Portrait of George Rosen" by Susan Rosen

Susan Koslow - Homepage

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