A leader in the founding of Allegheny General Hospital
Robert B. Mowry was born in Pittsburgh in 1818, a son of Philip Mowry, one of the earliest residents in Allegheny. By the time Robert was ten years old he was a student of Rev. Joseph Stockton, who taught him a general course of studies for a year. Later, he completed his college studies at the Western University (now the University of Pittsburgh). Mowry’s uncle, Dr. Peter Mowry, was the professional partner of Dr. Nathanial Bedford, the first physician to settle in Pittsburgh. Having lost his two sons in their early adulthood, Dr. Peter Mowry mentored his nephew, Robert, and gave him access to his unrivaled medical library. Robert Mowry went on to earn a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1836, several months before he turned 18. He set up shop in Allegheny City, where he practiced medicine for 59 years.
On December 15, 1881, Dr. Mowry attended a meeting at the home of Allegheny Mayor, Lewis Peterson, to discuss the possibility of the city founding a general hospital. Dr. Mowry’s practice had made him acutely aware of the need for such a hospital, especially in light of the many epidemics (including typhoid, which he is credited for identifying during a virulent breakout in Allegheny) that frequently swept through the ever increasing population of the city. Dr. Mowry accepted an appointment to a permanent committee whose sole purpose was to solicit funding for what would become Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). AGH opened to the public on February 1886, the initial facility consisting of two private homes renovated to accommodate 50 beds. In the first years of the hospital, the majority of the patients were there for medical as opposed to surgical care. The average stay for a patient was 18 days at the per capita cost of $0.96 per day.
Dr. Mowry was a prominent and active man, both in his field and in general. He was a member of the Allegheny County Medical Society of which he served a term as president. He was a member of the Medical Society of the State of Pennsylvania, an Associate Fellow of the College of Physicians, Philadelphia and an honorary member of the medical society of the state of California. From 1854 until his death he was a trustee of his alma mater, The Western University. In 1864, he was one of several prominent local physicians who founded the Nathaniel Bedford Medical Society, a social and professional society that both entertained and presented papers. Through the Society, Dr. Mowry crossed paths with Samuel Langley, whose brother, Dr. John Langley was a member. Papers presented could thus be medical in nature, (“The Chemistry of Nutrition,” “The Theory of the Microscope”) more specifically about astronomy (“The Moon,” “The Hypothetical Ether”) or of general interest, (“An Hour with a Medium”). The Nathaniel Bedford Medical Society was an early advocate for the founding of a Medical School in the area, which finally came to be with the 1886 establishment of the West Pennsylvania Medical College, now The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. By 1881, the Nathaniel Bedford Medical Society had evolved into The Fortnightly Club. Concurrent with all his professional and social activities, Dr. Mowry was a high ranking mason and a family man. He and his wife, Arianna Rebecca Riddle, had eight children, five of whom survived into adulthood.
Dr. Mowry continued his private practice until about a year before his death, when he stopped taking new patients but continued his long time work as a consulting physician for AGH. Dr. Mowry died on March 14, 1895.