John Martin (1904 – 1996) was born in Keithsburg, Illinois, the youngest of six children. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the Lewis Institute of Chicago in 1930. He then attended Northwestern University Medical School earning his M.S. in 1934 and his M.D. the following year. Continuing his education, Dr. Martin went on to study neurophysiology and his Ph.D. was granted in 1941.
Dr. Martin began his professional career at his alma mater, Northwestern University Medical School. He rose through the ranks to the position of associate professor of surgery. His tenure at Northwestern was interrupted by World War II. He entered the military in 1942 and served in hospitals in North Africa and Italy. He was awarded a bronze star and retired from the armed forces as a colonel. After the war, Martin returned to Northwestern where he remained until 1952. Returning to the Army Medical Corps, Dr. Martin was instrumental in the establishment of a neurosurgical residency program at Walter Reed Hospital. He was chief of the neurosurgical service there from 1952 to 1955. After retiring from the military with a disability, Dr. Martin moved to the small Iowa town of Clarinda, where he had a limited hospital consulting practice in neurology. He was appointed clinical professor of surgery at the University of Iowa’s College of Medicine in 1978. He published some fifty scientific papers and between 1935 and 1978, gave over seventy-five presentations on subjects ranging from anatomy to clinical neurology and neurosurgery.
Dr. Martin began collecting rare and valuable medical books in 1947. His first purchase was a first edition of Andreas Vesalius’ De Humanis Corporis Fabrica Libra Septum, published in 1543. He continued to collect these books whenever he could afford to do so, and often when he could not, for the rest of his life. In 1971 he gave his collection to the University of Iowa. The collection constitutes the core of the John Martin Rare Book Room in the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. The collection numbered over 3000 entries at the time of his death and continues to grow thanks to his generous endowment. He considered this collection as the work for which he would be remembered as making a difference. Dr. Martin died in Iowa City, Iowa at the age of ninety-one.