In 1700s America, there were no laws that enforced specific qualifications to become a doctor, pharmacist, or surgeon. Medical practice in the colonies was far behind Europe’s methods and educational requirements. There is one particular doctor – a German immigrant who settled in Reading – that deserves recognition for his accomplishments during the American Revolution.
Dr. Bodo Otto was born in Germany in 1709. He was introduced to the medical field at age 13, interning under several master surgeons until he was certified twelve years later. Although well established in his field, Bodo Otto set sail for Philadelphia with his family in 1755. For the next two decades, he served as a community doctor in various locations until finally settling in Reading in 1773.
Bodo Otto was 65 years old when the American Revolution began. Even in his older age, he insisted on serving the cause for independence however possible. Casualties from battle and the transmission of various diseases created a great demand for legitimate doctors. Because of his expertise, George Washington appointed Dr. Bodo Otto as a Senior Surgeon of the Continental Army. During the harsh winter of 1777, they were stationed at Valley Forge, where the sick and injured list increased daily due to dreadful conditions; the army couldn’t stand to lose men at such a critical time of the war. Because of Otto’s suggestion, a military hospital was built nearby where soldiers could be effectively treated. Under Otto’s management and experience, the number of casualties decreased significantly. If not for doctors like Reading’s own Bodo Otto, the outcome of the war could have ended much differently.
Berks History Center