John Gabbert Bowman, first Executive Director of the ACS

John Gabbert Bowman - Photo from the Archives of the American College of Surgeons

Dr. Bowman
Archives of the American College of Surgeons

At the February 6, 1915, meeting of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Board of Regents, Franklin H. Martin, MD, FACS, recommended that John G. Bowman, PhD, serve as the first director of the College. Dr. Bowman, former president of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and secretary of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, was an educator, not a surgeon. Before the meeting, many of the founders had met with Dr. Bowman regarding a possible affiliation with the College, and all felt their aim of ensuring the ACS was recognized by the public and could create and promote its own standards could better be accomplished by “a practical man, probably an educator, not necessarily a medical man.”1 The Regents approved Dr. Bowman’s appointment as Director of the ACS at that meeting, effective immediately.2

Dr. Bowman was born in Davenport, IA, in 1877, and had served as both chief administrator of the University of Iowa and the first alumnus to become its president. Serving as president from 1911 to 1914, he oversaw the formation of the University of Iowa’s Colleges of Education and Fine Arts and promoted the work of the extension civision, created on the principle that the university should become a real, practical influence in the lives of the state’s inhabitants.3 At the University of Iowa, Dr. Bowman also dealt with medicine-related issues, most notably the issue of fee-splitting—which many of the university’s medical school professors had been accused of practicing. Dr. Bowman took on this ethical issue, leading to a struggle throughout his entire presidency and eventually culminating in his departure.4

Letter from John G. Bowman to Franklin H. Martin, March 10, 1916

Letter from John G. Bowman to Franklin H. Martin, March 10, 1916

Dr. Bowman strongly believed that education should take precedence over politics, and his commitment to that belief drew him to the College’s founders. After joining the ACS, Dr. Bowman brought his passion and commitment to informing and extending knowledge to a larger audience to launch the College into national prominence. He dove into his new role with the aim of creating positive policy in the surgical profession that would ultimately improve access and elevate the standard of patient care. As Director, he was involved in most of the College’s efforts, but his biggest area of influence was the hospital standardization program. Dr. Bowman spent much of his time over the next several years traveling in the U.S. and Canada, meeting with Fellows and the local committees they had organized, visiting hospitals, and gathering information on best practices. He kept in frequent contact with Dr. Martin, then Secretary General of the College, and in January 1919 Dr. Bowman wrote an extensive article in the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons detailing the value of case records.5 After years of research, travel, and input from the leaders and Fellows of the College, he presented the first formal Minimum Standard for Hospitals on October 29, 1919, to the Board of Regents.6 He continued to work on the program over the next year, facilitating the receipt of a financial contribution from the Carnegie Foundation to assist in the continuation of the program.7

Dr. Bowman resigned from his position as Director of the College in December 1920 after accepting the chancellorship at the University of Pittsburgh, PA. He read a letter in front of the Board of Regents expressing his admiration for the College and its Fellows, and his hopes for the future of ACS, stating the following:8

 Cover page of “Case records and their use

Cover page of “Case records and their use

No group of men in the world, it seems to me, have in the last decade so clearly demonstrated their desires and capabilities to utilize their experience for the advancement of their work as have the Fellows of the College… For many years to come at least your task is to make the motives of surgery articulate, first, to the surgeons themselves, and, second, to the public. Headway in this aim will be abundantly reflected in scientific progress. For your clear insight and for your courage to proceed along such principles you have my highest admiration.

Dr. Bowman served as chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh from 1921 to 1945 and as its president from 1945 until his retirement in 1947. During his tenure, he led the controversial effort to build the Cathedral of Learning, then the tallest educational structure in the world, as a symbol of “some of the power that is in good teaching.”9

Dr. Bowman was one of only two nonsurgeon Directors of the College; however, his experience in educational policy and commitment to the principle of sharing knowledge played an integral role in the early years of the ACS, and the overall success and longevity of the College’s hospital standardization program.

Material related to Dr. Bowman, including correspondence with both Franklin H. Martin and his longtime Secretary Eleanor K. Grimm, can be found in the ACS Archives.


References

  1. American College of Surgeons. Board of Regents: Minutes June 22, 1914. Complete Minute Book I. Chicago, IL: Archives of the American College of Surgeons; 1915.
  2. American College of Surgeons. Board of Regents: Minutes February 6, 1915. Complete Minute Book I. Chicago, IL: Archives of the American College of Surgeons; 1915.
  3. Extension bureau booklet published. The Daily Iowan. November 5, 1913. Available at: http://dailyiowan.lib.uiowa.edu/DI/1913/di1913-11-05.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2019.
  4. Davis L. Fellowship of Surgeons: A History of the American College of Surgeons. Chicago, IL: American College of Surgeons; 1973:166-168.
  5. Bowman JG. Case records and their use. Bull Am Coll Surg. 1919;4(1):1-14.
  6. American College of Surgeons. Board of Regents: Minutes October 29, 1919. Complete Minute Book I. Chicago, IL: Archives of the American College of Surgeons; 1915.
  7. American College of Surgeons. Board of Regents: Minutes May 1, 1920. Complete Minute Book I. Chicago, IL: Archives of the American College of Surgeons; 1915.
  8. American College of Surgeons. Board of Regents: Minutes December 14, 1920. “To the Regents of the American College of Surgeons,” by John G. Bowman. Complete Minute Book I. Chicago, IL: Archives of the American College of Surgeons; 1915.
  9. Pitt honors Dr. Bowman. Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. March 8, 1956. Available at: https://archives.post-gazette.com/image/524023566/?terms=Pitt%2Bhonors%2BDr.%2BBowman. Accessed March 27, 2019. [Subscription required for viewing.]

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