Joseph Gilbert, surgeon and founder of the University of Texas Student Health Center, was born on May 8, 1873, at Hornsby Bend near Austin, the son of George and Mandana Hornsby Gilbert. He was the great grandson of Reuben Hornsby, holder of a land grant from Stephen F. Austin. He obtained his early education at Hornsby Bend and in Austin and graduated from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) in 1894 and the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1897. He did postgraduate work in New York, Boston, Minnesota, Canada, and Europe.
After receiving his M.D., Gilbert practiced for a short period at Bastrop and Hornsby Bend before moving to Austin in 1898. In 1902, while maintaining a private practice, he was appointed surgeon of the Texas Confederate Home and two years later became the health officer for the city of Austin and Travis County. He moved to Bryan as physician for Texas A&M in 1906 but returned to Austin after two years. In 1914 Gilbert became a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and began specializing in surgery. He retired from practice in 1946. In 1909 he was asked to inaugurate a student health service at the University of Texas. Except for ten years, he served as director of that service until 1946. During much of this period he was also the physician for the university's athletic teams and a member of the council of the Texas Ex-Students Association.
Gilbert was a member of the Travis County Medical Society, the Texas Medical Association, and the American Medical Association. He was both secretary and president of the county society and president of the state organization (1927–28). During his 1928 presidential address he proposed a plan to empower the State Board of Medical Examiners (see EXAMINING BOARDS) with the authority of enforcing medical law and to fund the board by an annual registration fee from all physicians. This plan went into effect in 1932.
Gilbert was one of the founders of St. David's Hospital and a member of the staff there and at Seton Hospital, both in Austin. He was a member of the State Board of Health during the 1920s, and during both world wars he served on Selective Service examining boards. In medical school he met Daisy Thorne. During the Galveston hurricane of 1900 Gilbert, who was in Austin at the time, joined the first rescue party on the island to find Miss Thorne. They were married on September 13. They had one son and two daughters. Gilbert died of myocardial failure in Austin on October 11, 1951.