House, Robert Ernest (1875–1930)

By: David Minor

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1995

Robert Ernest House, physician and discoverer of "truth serum," the son of John Ford and Mary Jane (Harper) House, was born on August 3, 1875, at Farmers Branch, Texas. He graduated from Dallas High School in 1893 and attended Washington and Lee University and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston before transferring to Tulane University in 1897. After receiving his M.D. in 1899, he served a one-year internship at Dallas City Hospital. In 1900 he moved to Ferris, Texas, where he met and married Mary Alma Orr and fathered two sons.

Although he originally opened a practice in general medicine at Ferris, House later specialized in obstetrics and conducted research in mental disorders. He originated the Florence-Roser method of obstetrics and discovered what was popularly known as "truth serum." While experimenting with scopolamine hydrobromide in obstetric cases in 1924, he discovered that the drug induced a mental state in the patient that allowed the subject to receive statements but prevented the rationalization of his responses. In effect a patient could not hide his reactions and so would reveal, it was thought, what he considered true. The discovery established a nationwide reputation for the assistant county physician of Ellis County. For the next six years House worked in cooperation with Texas criminologists, using scopolamine hydrobromide to assist in determining the guilt or innocence of suspects. In recognition of this work he was elected an honorary member of the National Police Commission, the Internal Bureau for Identification, and the Texas Sheriffs' Association. He also used the drug to diagnose and treat insanity by detecting patients' delusions and to induce "twilight sleep" in obstetrics. More recently, scopolamine has been used as a preanesthetic medication in veterinary medicine and to control motion sickness.

House was a fellow of the American Medical Association, the Southern Medical Association, the Texas Medical Association, and the International Academy of Historical Sciences. He was the staff physician for the Southern Pacific Railroad and author of a number of articles published in medical journals. His work was cut short by a stroke in 1929, which left him paralyzed. He was a Mason, Odd Fellow, Democrat, and Presbyterian. He died on July 15, 1930.

Dallas Morning News, July 17, 1930. Texas State Journal of Medicine, September 1930. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1.
  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners

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

David Minor, “House, Robert Ernest,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995

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