KATHERINE LOUISE EAGER BOWDLE
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: August 11, 1883, Primary Grouse Creek, Utah
Died: February 16, 1940, East Ely, Nevada
Maiden Name: Katherine Louise Eager
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: 1913 to Dr. Ralph Alvin Bowdle
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Salt Lake City, Utah, Ely, Ruth, and McGill, Nevada
Major Fields of Work: Wife, Registered Nurse, Physician, Hospital Administrator
Other Role Identities: Member of community non-profit organizations and Contributor to numerous charities
Although not the first woman doctor to practice in Nevada’s White Pine County, Katherine Bowdle was perhaps the first woman physician in the Ely district. Lost in a time when women deferred to their husbands, her achievements are not mentioned. Yet she created her own role in a man’s world and profession. Her most obvious accomplishment was the beautification of the Steptoe Valley Hospital and its grounds. As hospital administrator, she made changes that brought professionalism, expertise and comfort to what could have been a dreary and unpleasant experience for patients and employees alike.
Dr. Katherine Eager Bowdle, one of the five children of Mr. and Mrs. Naum Eager, was born at Grouse Creek, Utah, on August 11, 1883. She was educated in Salt Lake City, graduated as a registered nurse from St. Mark’s Hospital in 1903 and became employed by the chief surgeon for Utah Copper Company in Copperton, Utah. Encouraged to follow her medical interests by family and colleagues, she enrolled in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as a medical student and graduated with honors as a M.D. in 1909. Upon returning to Utah, she again affiliated with Utah Copper. In 1913 she married Dr. Ralph Alvin Bowdle, a young surgeon, and together they practiced medicine in Salt Lake City until 1916. When Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, a subsidiary of Utah Copper Company, needed medical doctors for their Steptoe Valley Hospital in East Ely, Nevada, the Bowdles were hired, Katherine as the anesthesiologist, hospital manager and superintendent, and Ralph as chief surgeon. They came with recommendations from the Utah medical community and from Nevada residents who had received care from them in Salt Lake.
The completion of the Nevada Northern Railway from Cobre to Ely in 1906 connected the area to the transcontinental railroad. This connection to the copper mines in Ruth and Kimberly and the building of the mill and smelter at McGill in 1908, enabled blister copper to be sent to eastern refineries. The large financial enterprises of the Guggenheim-owned Nevada Consolidated Copper Company and Nevada Northern Railway brought a boom of prosperity and stability to the area. Schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, fraternal clubs, and Steptoe Valley Hospital were built. Tent houses and wooden shacks were replaced with well built homes and businesses.
In 1916 when the Bowdles arrived in Ely, they were given the job of reorganizing and modernizing the hospital. The Steptoe Valley Hospital was built by NCCC to serve emergency and medical needs of the mine, mill and smelter workers and their families. Isolated from the rest of the town of East Ely, the hospital was located on a desolate wind swept sagebrush flat in the vast Steptoe Valley with not a tree or green bush in sight. There were no houses on the hospital grounds so the Drs. Bowdle roomed some distance away at the Steptoe Hotel near the Nevada Northern Railway Depot.
Under Katherine’s supervision, trees and grass was planted around the hospital grounds to beautify the stark landscape. A solarium with potted plants, sofas and books was added making a more pleasant environment for patients and visitors. Katherine worked as anesthesiologist, and also assisted with surgery, emergencies and illnesses. In her capacity as superintendent, she took charge of nursing and housekeeping matters. She hired only graduate registered nurses. Conditions rapidly improved so that the hospital gained accreditation by the American College of Surgeons and a reputation for excellent medical care. The staff increased and the hospital was enlarged. Equipment and supplies at the Steptoe Valley Hospital and the emergency hospitals in Ruth and McGill were the best the company could buy and superior to what was found in most hospitals at that time. The hospital was built on a cottage plan of five buildings to separate various patients thus avoiding the spread of diseases. Quarters for nurses and orderlies had been included on the hospital grounds and soon beautiful brick houses for doctors were built next to the hospital. Fourteen registered nurses complimented the staff of four doctors. The company doctors took postgraduate work in Salt Lake and San Francisco to keep up on the latest procedures with emphasis on industrial medicine and surgery necessary to treat injuries caused by accidents in the mines, mill and smelter Although the hospital was mainly for the use of company employees and their families, private patients from outlying towns and ranches were also seen.
Besides her professional duties, Katherine contributed to religious, community and civic organizations including PEO and Rotary Anns. She fit well in an exceptional age of medicine when doctors treated patients as friends, providing counseling to individuals and families. Jack Fleming states that because of her desire for privacy, the full extent of her charities will never be known. Although maintaining the best help that could be given anyone was the opportunity to help themselves, she aided those recovering from mental illness, physical handicaps and prison parole.
In 1932, the leading official of Utah Copper Company, D. C. Jackling, awarded Dr. Katherine Bowdle the twenty-year service medal. That same year, she became ill and discontinued her official positions while continuing to help the hospital, local citizens and the unfortunate. After a long and painful illness, this exceptional woman died February 16, 1940 at her home in East Ely. Her remains are at the Memorial Mausoleum in Salt Lake City.
Researched and written by Jill Barnard, grandniece of Katherine Bowdle and Doris Drummond. Posted to Web site October 2016.
Sources of Information:
- Fleming, Jack. Copper Times, Murray Publishing Co. Seattle, Washington.1987
- Geuder, Dr. Patricia. Pioneer women of Nevada, Carson City: AAUW-DKG Publications,1976.
- “Mrs. Bowdle Dies At East Ely Home.” The Ely Record, February 23, 1940.
- “Mrs. Bowdle Dies At East Ely Home.” Ely Daily Times, February 17, 1940.
- Nevada Northern Railway and the Copper Camps of White Pine County, Taylor Publishing Co. Dallas, Texas, 1991.