Henry Pickering Bowditch Papers Open to Research

By , May 8, 2018

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the Henry Pickering Bowditch papers, 1833-1961 (inclusive), 1860-1900 (bulk), are re-processed and open to research.

Henry Pickering Bowditch was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 4, 1840 to Lucy Orne Nichols (1816-1883) and Jonathan Ingersoll Bowditch (1806-1889). He entered Harvard College in 1857 and graduated in 1861 with a bachelor’s degree; he began studies at the Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge the same year, but left to volunteer for the Union Army. Bowditch served as a cavalry officer until 1865 when he resigned his command and returned to the Lawrence Scientific School and Harvard Medical School. He received his M.D. in 1868 and travelled to Europe to study medicine. Bowditch studied in France and Germany between 1868 and 1871, eventually specializing in the study of physiology under the tutelage of Carl Ludwig (1816-1895) in Leipzig, Germany.

In 1871, Bowditch returned to the United States with his wife, Selma Knauth (1853-1918), and accepted an assistant professorship in physiology at Harvard Medical School. Bowditch established his first physiological laboratory in the old medical school building on North Grove Street in 1872. Bowditch accepted a promotion to full professor in 1876. In 1903, he was given the newly established George Higginson professorship in physiology. Bowditch taught at Harvard for 35 years, resigning in 1906.

Bowditch studied physiology throughout his teaching and research career, focusing on studies of the nerves and the cardiac muscles. He was interested in long-term growth studies and presented data from one of the first, on Boston schoolchildren, at a Boston Society of Medical Sciences meeting in 1872. Bowditch continued to work on comparative growth studies through the 1890s. He was an active pro-vivisectionist, campaigning in favor of animal experimentation in the 1890s when efforts were being made to restrict the use of laboratory animals. He was one of the founding members of the American Physiological Society in 1887 and served as the Society’s second president after S. Weir Mitchell. Bowditch was also on the first editorial board for the American Journal of Physiology when it was founded in 1898.

The collection consists mainly of correspondence but also includes family research records, personal papers including military records, and a small amount of writing and manuscript material.

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