Healthy Bodies and Trained Minds

As we celebrate the anniversaries of both the founding of Towson University in 1866, and its move to this campus in 1915, the Towson University Archives and Special Collections department is taking time to look back over the school’s history and some of the important but lesser-known people who have influenced it.

The move to a new campus in Towson in the fall of 1915 presented the Maryland State Normal School with opportunities it had not had in the almost 50 years of its existence: a building devoted to small classrooms for more intensive learning instead of large lecture halls, a dedicated library for both the teaching students and students of the model elementary school, an auditorium to showcase all the talents of students and staff alike, dining halls, open fields for exploration and physical education, and dormitories for most of the student population of 300 people.

But those opportunities came with challenges, and the reality of housing students meant that a new position had to be created on staff — the school physician.  Prior to the move to Towson, any time a student was taken ill, a physician was brought into the school to treat her.

Excerpt from the Class History

“A member of the Junior II Class was taken violently ill about half past nine, and was unable to be removed for several hours later,” wrote Lillian E. Butchenhart on October 17th, 1895 as part of a class diary. “A physician was called who pronounced it a decided Fit, and also said she must leave school, as she was unable to attend such duties.”

Public health concerns, like vaccinations, were also done en masse by outside doctors.  But beca
use the MSNS school had never before had resident students, the cost of a physician on staff was not necessary until the move to Towson.

For the first school year at Towson, Mary A. Waters was employed as the school physician. However, by 1918, the school relied on a nearby physician in the town of Towson. This may have been due to war-time economics: World War I would have meant an increased need for doctors, as well as an economic crunch for the school as fewer students enrolled because of the war.

From the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Collection.

It wasn’t until 1923 that a school physician was once again listed on the staff, and this was because of another outcome of the war effort.

According to Seventy-Five Years of Teacher Education, during World War I, “the Interdepartmental Social Hygiene Board gave $4000 to the Normal School to introduce courses in social hygiene into the curriculum.  It was intended largely to disseminate
knowledge about syphilis and venereal diseases because of the conditions found in the army during the World War.”

The money given allowed MSNS to start a hygiene department and a physical education instructor, and that was when Towson hired Dr. William Burdick.  He would later go on to help find the American Academy of Physical Education and become director of the Playground Athletic League of Maryland.  He also would become the Supervisor of Physical Education for the Maryland State Department of Education, and Towson would name our new athletic building for him in 1968.  His part in this history though has more to do with his daughter, Dr. Dorothy Burdick, who served as the campus physician intermittently from 1923 until 1929.

Dr. Dorothy Burdick was a graduate of Western High School in Baltimore.  She went on to attend Mt. Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, and then got her doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins.

She did not serve as the school physician between 1925 and 1927.  At that point, Dr. Helen Reitsma, another graduate of both Mt. Holyoke and Johns Hopkins filled the position, until Dr. Dorothy Burdick’s return in 1927.

Undated photographs of the infirmary rooms in Newell Hall.

During this time, care was made to mention in the course catalogs the amenities offered by the school’s healthcare staff: ” A suite of five rooms, four for the women students and one for the men, at the extreme southeast end of the main corridor of [Newell Hall], where there is much privacy and sunlight, is set aside for infirmary purposes, and here, any student taken sick may be cared for, if necessary, away from all other students.  There is a special diet kitchen for the infirmary service; and there are a full-time physician and a trained nurse in residence.”

When Dr. Burdick came back to MSNS, she also established a precedent for giving full physical examinations to every student both when they entered the school and at the start of their senior year.  “Parents are notified of the results” states the course catalogs from that time.  “A student is expected to correct defects within seven months after entering the school.  We aim to produce healthy bodies as well as trained minds.”  These “defects” are described in later catalogs as “dental caries and the need for eyeglasses”.

“All contagious disease cases,” the catalog goes on to say, “are sent immediately to Sydenham Hospital or the Johns Hopkins Hospital, after parents have been consulted.”

After the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 which killed over 500,000 people in the US, contagious diseases were of big concern, so it’s no surprise that MSNS had back-up plans for such a possibility.  Sydenham Hospital, later called Montebello State Chronic Disease Hospital, had been constructed only a few years before and was just about six and a half miles away, about a mile closer to MSNS than Hopkins.

Dr. Dorothy Burdick left again in 1929 and the mantle was taken up by Dr. Anna S. Abercrombie, a graduate of the Maryland Women’s Medical College of Baltimore.  She not only served as the school physician, but also taught classes in Health Education.  Under her tenure, which lasted until 1942, students began receiving examinations every year.

In 1942, Dr. Mary S. Bulkley, a native of Nebraska and graduate of the University of Nebraska, became the College Physician, and remained so until 1951.  Dr. Bulkley taught classes in “Mental Hygiene”: “This course deals with mental habits, attitudes, and ideas which present and promote mental health.  The student constructs a picture of his own mental organization which will enable him to avoid the common unwholesome deviations from mental health.”

While Dr. Bulkley was teaching about Mental Hygiene, Dr. Anita S. Dowell was teaching the Health classes.  She’d started work at the Maryland State Normal School while it was still in Baltimore in 1913, working first as an assistant teacher in English and Biology instructor, tackling Physiology and Mathematics classes as well by 1918, adding Hygiene — the precursor to Health — by the 1920s, and that was also about the time Dr. Dowell became assistant to Lida Lee Tall, Principal and later President of the State Teachers College at Towson.  Dowell would go on to serve two more Presidents — Wiedefeld and Hawkins — as well as chair the Health Department and serve as one of the first Deans, before retiring in 1953.

Photo of Dr. Phelan from 1969

Dr. Bulkley was succeeded by Dr. Patrick C. Phelan, Jr., a surgeon with a private practice in Towson.  He had graduated from Loyola and then gotten his doctorate at the University of Maryland in 1942.  He trained at Mercy Hospital, and ended up serving as its chief surgical resident for two terms because there was a shortage of doctors due to the second world war.  He opened his practice after the war and taught at the University of Maryland until his tenure began at Towson.

Shortly after Dr. Phelan’s arrival, the infirmary moved to the Cottage, a former summer home that was part of the original campus purchase.  It had been used as a residence for male students and caretakers, but part of it served as the new Health Center from 1954 until 1963.

The Cottage in 1917

When Dr. Phelan began his tenure at Towson, there were less than 1,000 students enrolled at the school.  He still performed yearly physicals on all of them, and unless they could provide other documentation proving they did not have tuberculosis, lung x-rays were also performed yearly.  When a student graduated from the State Teachers College at Towson, Dr. Phelan certified that the graduate was able to meet physical standards as required by the State of Maryland.  This would mean that the graduate could enter the retirement system of the state as a teacher.  The campus health services were also available to the children who attended the Lida Lee Tall School.

In January of 1963, the newly constructed campus Health Center was named after Dr. Dowell.

Dr. Phelan, Mariana Ward who served as the school nurse, Anita Dowell, and Dr. Hawkins at the dedication of the new Dowell Health Center in 1963.

Not only was there room for a waiting area, offices for the staff, and examination rooms and beds for the ill, but until about 1970, there was also residence space for a nurse.

At about this time, Dr. Phelan stopped doing all the student physical examinations himself.  The school became Towson State College, a liberal arts college, in 1963, and enrollment topped almost 5,000 students by this time.  There was no way Dr. Phelan would have been able to examine them all.  Plus, now that students had the option to study something other than teaching, there was no longer a reason to make sure they all fit the physical fitness standards required by the state.

By 1966, the College had hired on counselors to address the need for mental health services for the campus community.  Those counselors worked out of the Dowell Health Center until 1972 when Counseling and Psychological Services was moved to Glen Esk.

After Dr. Phelan’s retirement in 1983, Dr. Jane Halpern was named as the new director of the Dowell Health Center.  A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she earned her MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and received another doctorate in Public Health from Johns Hopkins.  Dr. Halpern’s focus on Public Health changed the focus of the Health Center from individual health and physical well-being to community concerns.  Under her leadership the Health Center has established services to assist students with family planning, nutrition, immunizations, and smoking cessation as well as the standard physical exams and first-aid treatment.

In 2011, the Health Center introduced an online system for students to set up appointments as well as serve as a depository for health records.  Students can now access their own lab results as well as fill out medical release and other forms right online.

As of January 2014, the Health Center and Counseling Center are again under one roof with the official opening of the new facilities at Ward and West.

The new Health and Counseling Centers.

January is also National Blood Donor Month.  Towson is hosting a blood drive from 8am until 8pm at the University Union on Wednesday, January 29th.  The Red Cross has put out a call for donors as the recent weather events have cancelled drives and there’s a shortage of all blood types.  If you can, please consider donating

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