Monday, December 06, 2010

Shields Warren: pathologist, radiation researcher, hobo

The National Library of Medicine's History of Medicine Division recently launched a new interface for its oral history collection. The content includes full-text searchable transcripts as well as audio.

I ran across an intriguing 1972 interview in which Dr. Shields Warren (1898-1980) described his "hobo years" in the Pacific Northwest. After graduating from Boston University in 1918 and serving in WWI, Warren set out to see the country:
"I had picked up a bicycle at the Dalles and went down to, among other places, Portland, Oregon which I liked very much; it was a very clean city. Shipyards there--they were still building the iron ships--and I worked on the night shift again; this was from eleven to seven. I remember it very vividly because it was always foggy or raining in Portland and the effect of the lights on the unpainted and the red painted iron in the hulls shining in the wet, the arc as the rivet was tossed from the forge to the riveter."
The young adventurer did much of his traveling by bicycle:
"Well, after I had explored the Oregon territory quite thoroughly and I was greatly taken by the Columbia River Valley, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, all that area, I got restless again and took my bike and went up to Seattle...I wrote up for the Boston Herald (I worked on the Herald as a reporter when I was in college to get some extra dough) accounts of the work in the shipyard and how things were in the West of that time and conned them into thinking that it would be a good thing to write a series of stories on riding a bicycle around the Olympic Peninsula."
The conditions were not ideal:
"I worked my way down the coast going up the various streams until I made a series of zigzags up to the Olympics on the western side and back down and then came to another Indian settlement at the Bogachiel River and that was too deep and too swift or me. I ordinarily put my things on a log and swam them across but I couldn't do it. I got one of the Indians--he had sort of a half raft affair--and we were almost over to the other side when the current caught the thing against a rock and it tipped and spilled my gear and bike into the water. Boy, that water was cold to retrieve it."
After Warren had his fill of hoboing, he used the money he saved from working odd jobs to enroll in medical school at Harvard. He became an internationally renowned pathologist, and was particularly concerned with radiation and atomic energy. He conducted the first systematic examination of radioactive fallout and worked to control radiation's health threats and benefits. He earned the Enrico Fermi Award in 1971.

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