Henry Ingersoll Bowditch
Henry Ingersoll Bowditch (1808-1892) was an American physician and an abolitionist. Apparently spurred on by his steadfast devotion to Christ, Bowditch fought indefatigably against slave-hunters in his native Boston while praying that God would forgive them of their sins. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch exemplified the intelligent, energetic, and faith-driven people abolitionism utilized.
Early Life and Introduction to Abolitionism
Born to Nathaniel Bowditch, a renowned mathematician, Henry was sent to Europe in order to study medicine. There, Bowditch observed the funeral of William Wilberforce, "a great and constant advocate for the abolition of slavery" (Bowditch, 55). Doubtlessly affected by Wilberforce's example and ideals, Bowditch grew more sympathetic towards the movement. Shortly after returning to Boston from Europe, Bowditch observed the attempted lynching of William Lloyd Garrison and declared himself an abolitionist. Bowditch thereafter received the customary ostracism of society and close friends who “would even stare and scowl without speaking when we met after I had openly declared myself as one of the hated Abolitionists” (Bowditch 101). Bowditch's medical practice also lost business as a consequence of his abolitionism; however Bowditch remained in the movement.
Bowditch was an active, passionate abolitionist. He gave lectures and kept company with abolitionist leaders such as Charles Sumner, Charles C. Emerson, and Fredrick Douglass. After briefly participating in Warren Street Chapel, a charity for impoverished children, Bowditch left the institution because of his conviction that their policy of exclusively serving white children was outside of the Lord's will. Bowditch resented such culture-driven racist religious institutions, and proclaimed that his "soul arose indignant...to the whole race of priestly sycophants" who refused to combat racism and slavery (115). Bowditch had adopted a radically egalitarian ideology.
Radical Abolitionist Action
He also took on radical action in association with fugitive slave episodes. Armed with pistol, and shaking with the untested nerves of a middle class professional, Bowditch drove the runaways Warren and Ellen Craft to a safe house for shelter while they waited for their ship to freedom. Later, Bowditch became a founding member of the Latimer Committee and an editor of The Latimer Journal. Each was created in response to the plight of George Latimer, an apprehended fugitive slave in danger of deportation back South. Bowditch's efforts led to a massive petitioning of the Massachusetts General Court (legislature) that resulted in legislation forbidding the use of state and municipal jails from detaining fugitive slaves, a blow to slave-hunters. However, Bowditch was also a witness to a vast number of unjust fugitive deportations.
His response was the organization of the Anti-Man-Hunting League. This radical organization trained members to capture and hold slave-hunters in exchange for the ransom of a fugitive slave's freedom. Although the league was given no opportunity to prove its efficacy, this society was useful both in uniting anti-slavery men, and preparing their paradigms for the violent opposition of slavery manifested in the Civil War. During the Civil War, after his son died from battlefield wounds Bowditch published a pamphlet which helped extend to the whole Union the "Letterman system" of care for the wounded. After the Civil War, Bowditch kept ties with the completed movement by contributing to the historical discussion of abolitionism by providing an interpretation of historical abolitionism that was sympathetic to the plight of John Brown.
Contributions to Medicine and Public Health
Bowditch also made significant contributions to the fields of science and public health. He introduced inductive reasoning into American medical science, popularized the stethoscope, contributed to the understanding of tuberculosis, and laid the groundwork for public health by chairing the Massachusetts State Board of Health. He published Preventive Medicine and the Physician of the Future to propagate inductive reasoning as well as Public Hygiene in America to explain the concepts behind State Health. He also served as president of the American Medical Association.
Notes and references
- A Brief Plea for an Ambulance System for the Army of the United States, as Drawn from the Extra Sufferings of the Late Lieut. Bowditch and a Wounded Comrade
- In Have we the best possible ambulance system? the author of the "Prefatory remarks" — which is H. I. Bowditch according to Google Books — even suggests that the members of the ambulance corps on the battlefield should be "inviolate in their persons", an idea reminiscent of the contemporary work of Henri Dunant. //books.google.com/books?id=fDsZz61tgA8C&pg=PA6
- Freemon, Frank R. (2001). Gangrene and glory: Medical care during the American Civil War : Medical care during the American Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 88. ISBN 9780252070105.
- Bowditch, Vincent Y. Life and Correspondence of Henry Ingersoll Bowditch VI. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902.
- Bowditch, Vincent Y. Life and Correspondence of Henry Ingersoll Bowditch VII. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902.
- Clark, Richard H. “Bowditch, Henry Ingersoll.” The National Cyclopedia of American Biography 1898: 214-15.
- Fulton, John F. “Bowditch, Henry Ingersoll.” Dictionary of American Biography 1929: 492-4.
- “Henry Intersoll Bowditch.” Lamb's Biographica Dictionary of the United States 1900: 359.
- Warner, John H. "American National Biography Online: Bowditch, Henry Ingersoll". 27 Jan 2008.
- The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, v.126, 1892. Cf. "Obituary: Henry Ingersoll Bowditch", p.67, v.126, n.3, January 21, 1892