Cox, George Washington (1879–1963)

By: Justin Lien

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

George Cox, director of the Texas Department of Public Health (now the Texas Department of Health), was born in Gonzales County, Texas, in 1879. After working on his parents' farm and his brother's ranch, he decided that he wanted to be a doctor, like his father and grandfather before him. He obtained a medical degree from Tulane University in 1906, after studying at Polytechnic College in Fort Worth, the University of Texas, Vanderbilt University, and Northwestern University. In 1907 Cox began his public-service career as a quarantine officer appointed by Governor Thomas M. Campbell to stations in Galveston, Brownsville, and Corpus Christi. After working as assistant surgeon for the Gulf Coast Railroad and practicing privately in Corpus Christi, Ozona, and Del Rio, Cox was appointed to the State Board of Health by Governor James Allred in 1935. The next year he became director of the board.

He was as controversial as he was successful. He was constantly criticized for being so outspoken on health issues, but what he accomplished was significant. During his tenure, he concentrated on pollution, garbage and sewage disposal, and particularly disease control. In this period deaths due to contagious diseases dropped sharply: syphilis by 74 percent; malaria, 99 percent; typhoid fever, 98 percent. In addition, maternal death rates decreased by 84 percent, and infant mortality decreased by 54 percent. Cox also lobbied heavily for the construction of a new State Board of Health headquarters building and twenty-two county health units. When he retired in 1954, due to the lingering problems of insufficient funds and resources, he commented, "I feel I had better take a rest and go fishing." He died on October 29, 1963, leaving one son. Cox was married to Maud French. He was buried at Rosehill Memorial Park in Corpus Christi.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Health and Medicine
  • Public Health Officials

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Justin Lien, “Cox, George Washington,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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