Biographical / Historical
Ernst Philip Boas was born on February 4, 1891 in Worcester, Massachusetts where his father, Franz Boas, held a docentship in anthropology at Clark University. Later, the family (including Ernst Boas's mother, Marie Krackowizer Boas; his three sisters, Helene, Gertrude, and Franziska; and his brother, Henry, moved to the New York City area.
Boas attended the Ethical Culture School through high school and then went on to receive his B.S. from Columbia University in 1910. He remained at Columbia to receive his M.A. in 1912 and his M.D. in 1914, the latter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he graduated first in his class.
After some trouble finding an internship, apparently because of anti-Semitism, Boas became an intern at The Mount Sinai Hospital from 1914 to 1916. In 1917, he was appointed Instructor in Pathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. On August 6, 1917, he was drafted into the Army as First Lieutenant in the Medical Section of the Officers' Reserve Corps and was appointed Captain on April 20, 1918. While in the Army (including some duty in France), he served as a cardiovascular specialist.
When Boas was honorably discharged from the Army on 24 May 1919, he began his first private practice from an office in his home on West 96th Street in New York City. He practiced there until 1921 when he joined the staff of the Montefiore Hospital for Chronic Diseases as Medical Director. From 1920 to 1921, Boas was Instructor in Physiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Later, from 1926 to 1951, he taught post-graduate courses in diseases of the heart at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
In 1929, Boas left the medical directorship of Montefiore Hospital but retained the position of Attending Physician there for one year, from 1929 to 1930. Also in 1929, Boas moved to The Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was Associate Physician until 1951, at which time he became a consultant to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Boas resumed his private practice in 1929 (he was certified as a cardiovascular disease specialist by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1941), opening an office at 41 West 83rd Street. He later established a permanent office at 1185 Park Avenue, where he entered into a partnership with Hyman Levy in 1949. One of Boas's sons, Norman F. Boas (also a physician), was his assistant from 1949 to 1951. Some of Boas's famous patients included William Laurence, science editor of the New York Times; Charles C. Burlingham, New York lawyer and politician; Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; Henry A. Wallace, a United States cabinet official and presidential candidate; Karl Menninger, founder of the Menninger Clinic; and Dr. Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture Society.
From 1937 to 1943, Boas was a Special Lecturer at the Teacher's College of Columbia University where he specialized in the education of the handicapped. From 1938 to 1951, he was Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Boas was a prolific writer of articles and books on scientific topics (such as cardiology), as well as on topics in the popular media, such as geriatrics and chronic illness. Many of his publications advocate compulsory national health insurance. He served as Associate Editor of Modern Hospital from 1923 to 1929. Some of his books include Treatment of the Patient Past Fifty, The Unseen Plague--Chronic Disease, and The Heart Rate. This latter book grew out of Boas's research with Ernst F. Goldschmidt in developing the cardiotachometer, an electronic device that measures the heart rate continuously over many hours. Other research included his discovery of the calcification of the pineal gland; studies of neurocirculatory asthenia in soldiers in World War I; studies of the physiology of capillaries; and studies on cholesterol and its role in the pathogenesis of arteriosclerosis.
Boas also served as a medical consultant to numerous organizations and health care institutions, including Beth Israel Hospital of Passaic, New Jersey; the Group Health Cooperative, Inc.; the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind; the Sidney Hillman Health Center (where he directed a large research program on atherosclerosis); Irvington House; Lexington Hospital; Long Beach Hospital; Moosehaven; the New York Metal Trades Council and Hotel Association; and the Workmen's Circle.
Boas was involved with city, state, and federal organizations that dealt with health care. He was Chairman of the Committee on Chronic Illness of the Welfare Council of the City of New York. His work with this committee encouraged the construction of the Municipal Hospital for Chronic Diseases (now called Goldwater Memorial Hospital) on Welfare Island, as well as the elimination of many of the almshouses there. He also served on the Advisory Council of the New York City Department of Health and on the General Advisory Committee for the Cardiac Program of the New York State Department of Health. He was a consultant to the Social Security Board of the United States Federal Security Agency. He also testified in compensation hearings to show that heart attacks may result from unusual effort or trauma.
Besides his purely medical work, Boas was deeply involved in social causes. He worked with such agencies as the China Aid Council, Inc.; the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Medical Scientists (serving as Secretary in 1945); the Committee of Physicians for the Improvement of Medical Care, Inc.; the National Committee for Resettlement of Foreign Physicians; the Physicians Committee of the National Refugee Service (serving as Chairman in 1943), and the United Service for New Americans, Inc. He founded The Physicians Forum, Inc., in 1939, to study and discuss health care issues, resist McCarthyism, and counter the American Medical Association's opposition to national health insurance. He also continued to work against discrimination in any form and was instrumental in the appointment of African-American physicians and nurses to hospital staffs.
He was a member of the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the American Society for the Study of Arteriosclerosis (founding member), the Authors' Guild, the Child Study Association of America, the Committee for the Nation's Health, the Committee of Citizens Against the Feinberg Law (a law to eliminate subversives from the New York state public school system), the Harvey Society, the Medical Society of the County of New York, the National Medical Committee of the NAACP, the New York Academy of Medicine, the New York Heart Association, Inc. (founding member and Chairman), the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association (Chairman of the Heart Committee), and the United States Committee, Inc. (founding member), an organization created in support of the World Medical Association. He also belonged to the honorary societies of Alpha Omega Alpha, Phi Beta Kappa, and Pi Gamma Mu.
Boas died on March 9, 1955 in New York City of pancreatic cancer. He was survived by his wife, Helene Tuthill Sisson Boas, and his children, Donald P. Boas, Norman F. Boas, and Barbara G. Crutchley.
Biographical note courtesy of the Ernst Boas Papers, American Philsophical Society.