Sunday, August 15, 2010

Charles Hale Cogswell

Years Served: 1887 to 1893

Charles Hale Cogswell, M.D., son of George B. and Catherine (Brown) Cogswell, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 23, 1859 and graduated from the Easton High School in 1876. He graduated from Dartmouth College, June 24, 1880 and studied medicine at the Harvard Medical School, graduating June 27, 1883. He was a very athletic young man, having won the quarter mile and half mile while on the Dartmouth track team at the Mott Haven games in 1879.

On August 20, 1883 he was appointed assistant port physician and sometime around 1885 the city appointed him as an attending Physician at Deer Island which was less than a mile away by boat. Mayor Hugh O’Brien, the city’s first Irish Mayor, promoted him to be 12th port physician on October 1, 1887. On December 8, 1887 the Massachusetts Militia commissioned him as a surgeon with the First Calvary. These military duties must have been limited in scope because he remained the Port Physician until he resigned on March 20, 1893 to whole heartedly pursue his military related professional interests. During his ten years with the quarantine department he was fully engaged with hospital work on both Deer Island and Gallop’s Island, facts that were revealed during an investigation conducted later in his career.

An indication of his unique discipline was his decision to marry Margaret Ward on April 18, 1889 while fully engaged in the affairs of the Quarantine Station seven miles out to sea. While there is no mention of whether Margaret stayed with him on the island, it would appear most likely that she lived with her husband in the housing provided for the Port Physician. Their marriage record indicates that Charles was a resident of South Bridgewater before their marriage while she came from Cambridge.

From 1889 to 1893 he served as a surgeon of the First Battalion Calvary of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (MVM) and was even a decent marksman according to the 1893 annual report of the Adjutant General. From 1893 to 1897 he served as the Superintendent and Resident Physician of the Home for Paupers (also known as the Long Island Institution).

His work as port physician occurred during the height of American anti-immigration sentiment when cholera was pervasive in Eastern Europe. Cogswell was charged with keeping germs at bay without adequate resources to complete his work. His ability to combat the cholera outbreak that emerged in 1892 was testimony to his military discipline and the support he received from Dr. Durgin, the Chairman of the Boston Board of Health. Thanks to the cholera scare of 1892, Mayor Matthews visited Gallop’s Island and found the conditions there so deplorable that he immediately called for a sweeping improvements in the sanitary standards used at the quarantine station. Dr. Cogswell must have been delighted by the public attention given to quarantine matters and its positive impact on his budget.

In the years following this service he undertook interesting public health work including working in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then starting a hospital in Middlesex Falls Reservation using the Langwood Hotel for this purpose. He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Sons of the American Revolution tracing his lineage through a line of physicians to his great grandfather Private William Cogswell who served as a hospital surgeon’s mate in the Revolutionary War.


1. Harvard University Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates, 1636-1920, Cambridge, MA, 1920, p. 731.
2. Boston City Documents, Documents of the City of Boston, Volume 6, 1894, Boston, 1895, Published by Boston City Council, p. 2857.
3. New England Historical and Genealogical Society online vital statistics data base, accessed, August 15, 2010;
4. Annual Report of the First Adjutant General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for the year ending December 31,1892, Boston, 1893,
5. Warren, Aldice, G., editor, Catalogue of the Delta kappa Epsilon Fraternity, New York, 1910, p. 634.
6. Medical news, JAMA, Vol. 37, No. 20, November 16, 1901, p. 1325.
7. Cornish, Louis, National Register of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, New York, 1902, p. 473. Accessed online:

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