Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, MD, a longtime Mass General physician, abolitionist and public health pioneer, was no stranger to controversy.

The son of a famous mathematician, the Harvard-educated Bowditch was on his way to living a comfortable, upper-class life as a Mass General physician in the 1830s.

His moral outrage was spurred, however, when he witnessed a mob try to tar and feather William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of an abolitionist newspaper, in downtown Boston in October of 1835.

Bowditch would later say that to see a man being persecuted for speaking about slavery within sight of Faneuil Hall and within steps of Bunker Hill—two symbols of American freedom—instantly transformed him into an abolitionist.

Taking up the cause of abolition was not without consequences, however, as it cost him some friends among Boston’s upper class and prompted some patients to leave his practice.

Bowditch was undeterred by these setbacks, however. He continued to be an advocate for equality and a free-thinker throughout his decades-long career as a physician, researcher and public health expert. Read more