New interest sparked in history of sisters’ land conservation efforts
A mystery has been solved and a new historic interest has been sparked in Dr. Anna Bowie, which recently led the members of the Bowie Historical Committee (BHC) to welcome a visitor from Texas.
Dr. Paula Summerly was scheduled to travel from Galveston to Nashville to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Museums Association and the American Association for the History of Medicine, where she presented her paper “Stilled Lives: Beyond the Human Anatomical and Pathological Specimen.”
In addition to visiting Nashville, she also wanted to follow the trail of Dr. Anna Bowie’s life which led her to view the Bowie Historical Committee’s collection of Bowie family memorabilia.
The mystery behind the life of Dr. Anna Bowie was recently solved when an Internet search put a researcher in touch with Fairview’s Bowie Museum.
Nancy Stephens/The Fairview Observer
Her specific interest in Dr. Anna Bowie, an alumna of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston, where Dr. Summerly now works, was generated by her research into America’s early female doctors.
“I first learned about Dr. Anna Bowie’s role as a pathologist at UTMB while developing an exhibition for Women’s History Month a few years ago,” explained Summerly.
“By looking through the university’s archives, I discovered that she was a victim of bubonic plague in Galveston in 1920. I wanted to know what happened to Anna after her recovery and searched for her, but drew a blank,” she shared.
The mystery was solved after Summerly discovered Dr. Anna Bowie was a member of a medical society, and an index card recorded that she was living in Tennessee.
Summerly said, “After a few Internet searches, I found the Friends of the Bowie Nature Park website. The history of the park included a photograph of Anna in Old Red, the UTMB’s original 1890 medical school building. And you could say ‘The rest is history!’”
After contacting the Friends of Bowie Nature Park, Summerly met with Eva Harris, who provided her with further details of the unique and invaluable Bowie family archive.
Bowie family has left Fairview and Tennessee a wonderful legacy. I am indebted to the Friends for their kindness and warm welcome to Fairview,” stated Summerly.
In addition to viewing the archives, Summerly also photographed several pieces from the Bowie Collection including documents, letters and photographs from Anna’s medical school days at UTMB Galveston where she studied beginning in 1915.
“We were delighted to be able to expand Dr. Summerly’s understanding about Anna’s early life and family background,” said Eva Harris, BHC chairperson.
“The exchange was a two-way street,” she said, adding that Summerly had given the committee documentation of Anna’s work history that was previously unknown.
Summerly’s afternoon visit also included a short drive through the park and tea in the Nature Center, where BHC membersJohn Stark and Rosa McKinney shared stories about Anna, who they knew personally for a number of years.
Other members Diane Runnels and Eileen Brogan joined the group for more discussion and dinner to end the visit.
It is hoped the collaboration will result in the publication of a paper about Dr. Anna Bowie, co-authored by Summerly and Brogan.
Brogan is the author of Bowieland, a book published by the Friends of Bowie Nature Park in 2008.
The Bowie Historical Committee is a sub-committee of the Friends of Bowie Nature Park. New members are welcome. You can visit friendsofbowienaturepark.com for more information.
More about Dr. Anna Bowie
Dr. Anna Bowie is one of the three Bowie sisters, who are credited with creating with Fairview’s crown jewel, the city’s 700-acre Bowie Nature Park.
Anna Mary Bowie was born in Nashville in 1890 to Walter and Eugenia Farley Miller Bowie.
She did her undergraduate work at Peabody College and Vanderbilt University before graduating from the University of Texas Medical School.
She was at UTMB in 1920 during the bubonic plague epidemic and contracted the disease from a finger prick while doing an autopsy on someone who had succumb to the disease.
After being one of the first people to recover from the plague, Dr. Bowie completed her internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
In 1922, she was elected to serve as superintendent of the Women’s Hospital in Nashville. She served as a member of the Vanderbilt Medical School staff.
From 1925 until 1943, she worked as a resident physician at Peabody College; and then at Scarritt College from 1943 until 1956.
In 1954, she and her sisters purchased 180 acres of eroded farm land in Fairview.
Over the next 15 years, the Bowie sisters purchased an additional 620 acres and began terracing the land, creating lakes and planting trees to generate a tree farm.
After the deaths of the sisters, the land was bequeathed to the City of Fairview. Today, local residents enjoy the Bowie sisters’ conservation efforts in what is now known as Bowie Nature Park.
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