Monday, March 30, 2009

Frederick Roscoe Bowersox, d. 1969


While on the hunt for other information, I found myself looking through the Subject File on the old Willamette University Medical Department. A random assortment of materials are collected there, including a handwritten list of what appears to be an equipment inventory, dated 1913; a list of alumni from 1867-1913; a photocopy of the introductory address from 1867; and a reminiscence of the "old Medical School years" by Class of 1900 alumnus Dr. Frederick Roscoe Bowersox.

The interview of Bowersox, published in the Willamette Alumnus in Spring, 1963, tells the reader as much--or more--about Bowersox than about Willamette and its short-lived medical school. Bowersox was the very model of the turn-of-the-century physician: committed to his community, concerned about the commonweal, cantankerous caretaker of chipmunks (seriously: see the cage behind him in this photo of his living room?)

Bowersox, born about 1878, completed his premedical courses and his medical degree at Willamette and did his clinical coursework (in a precursor to today's internship) at Salem's General Hospital. Venturing out into the Oregon territory, he set up practice in Glendale and Kirby, caring for gold miners, ranchers, and other members of the small Rogue River communities. Describing his early practice, Bowersox recalled:
And I have set many a broken leg in a mine shaft. We had no x-rays. When we had to reduce a fracture, we'd just feel around, find the bone ends, and join them the best we could. I often wonder what doctors today would do if they suddenly were forced to work under the conditions that we worked under.
In 1904, Bowersox relocated to Ashland where he practiced for four years before suffering a nervous breakdown. In 1909, he moved to Monmouth and opened the Perkins Pharmacy. It wasn't until the flu pandemic of 1918 hit his adopted home that the doctor considered reentering medical practice: after Monmouth's only practitioner, J.O. Mathis, was called to service in the Army, the nearest physician for the town's residents was O.D. Butler in Independence. Bowersox initially stepped in to help cope with the pandemic--and remained in active practice in Monmouth for the next forty years.

While taking care of the physical health of his neighbors, Bowersox turned to politics, serving as mayor of Monmouth for several terms. He was also instrumental in forming the Monmouth Public Utilities District and securing Bonneville power for the community.

An avid outdoorsman, camper and hunter, Frederick R. Bowersox died in Feburary 1969 at the age of 91.

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