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A Doctor's Warning


1941-1963

February 3, 1951
A Doctor's Warning

New York Times clip, 1951

In December 1928, one House member dropped dead and two others collapsed from causes attributed to overwork. Although officials in each case immediately summoned medical assistance from city hospitals, several hours passed before a physician arrived to render aid. In 1928 alone, incumbent members of the Senate and House were dying at the appalling rate of almost 20 per year.

On December 5, 1928, the House passed a resolution directing the secretary of the navy to detail a medical officer to be present near the House Chamber while that body was in session. The secretary assigned Dr. George Calver, who initially took up residence in the House Democratic cloakroom. Not to be outdone by the House in a gesture of concern for the well-being of its members, the Senate in April 1930 adopted a concurrent resolution extending Dr. Calver's jurisdiction to its premises. Although the House subsequently ignored that concurrent resolution, the navy secretary, on the strength of the Senate's action, directed Dr. Calver to "look after both houses." Thus was born the Office of Attending Physician, which moved to two ground-floor rooms in its current location near the midpoint of the Capitol's west-front corridor. Within several months, both houses recognized the office's existence by providing funding for its operations.

Soon after he took office in the darkest days of the Great Depression, Dr. Calver earned national headlines with a stern warning to members. Following the collapse of the House Ways and Means Committee chairman during an influenza outbreak, and the sidelining of dozens of senators and representatives, Calver cautioned against overdoing committee work.

The Congress that began in December 1931 suffered a particularly large toll. Before it was four months old, that body witnessed the deaths of four senators and 16 representatives. Many others took to their beds under a legislative strain that long-serving members considered unprecedented.

For the next 35 years, until his retirement in 1966, Dr. Calver routinely captured national media attention with his advice to hardworking members. On February 3, 1951, the New York Times Magazine reported on his "nine commandments of health," which were printed on large placards and displayed throughout the Capitol. They included: "Eat wisely, drink plentifully (of water!). Play enthusiastically, and relax completely. Stay out of the Washington social whirl—go out at night twice a week at most." His ultimate advice: "Don't let yourself get off-balance, nervous, and disturbed over things."