Search Finding Aids
Agnes Gowdey papers
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Drexel University. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
- Drexel University: College of Medicine Legacy Center
- Agnes Gowdey papers
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- 2.25 Linear feet
- Dr. Agnes Gowdey graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1935, after attending Carroll College in Wisconsin. She was in general practice with a concentration in obstetrics for most of her career, practicing first in Philadelphia and later in Riverton, New Jersey. She had an ongoing relationship with the American Youth Foundation (AYF), especially their Camp Merrowvista. The collection documents this ongoing relationship with the camp and its champions. After retirement, Dr. Gowdey was very involved with elder care initiatives in Moorestown, N.J. The collection is most informative about Dr. Gowdey’s time as a student at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, her early private practice in the 1940s, and her involvement with Camp Merrowvista. Dr. Gowdey’s most influential work in the areas of obstetrics, elder care, and sex education for young people, is strongly represented here. The collection consists of correspondence, patient records, family papers, anatomical drawings, lecture notes, autobiographical writings, poems, photographs and press clippings, as well as manuscript drafts of the book she wrote with Ray Budde, eventually titled “Bread Crumbs and other Founder Wisdom.”
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Agnes Gowdey was born July 8, 1907 in Philadelphia. Her parents, Samuel Gowdey and Mary Agnes Wallace Gowdey, both died when she was eight years old. She left Philadelphia to live with elderly relatives in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Idaho, and didn’t return to Philadelphia to live until she was an adult.
Dr. Gowdey was a lifelong Presbyterian. Her first interest in medicine stemmed from a desire to be a missionary in Persia, but she later determined that she didn’t have the temperament for the work. She discovered after deciding to enter medicine that she came from a long line of male doctors, and her mother was a nurse. As a young woman, Gowdey met John L. Alexander and Preston G. Orwig, who later went on to found the American Youth Foundation. Dr. Gowdey first attended the AYF’s camp in 1926, and remained involved in it for the rest of her life. She taught social hygiene classes to young people at Camp Merrowvista, and later in life she wrote an inspirational book with Ray Budde of the AYF.
Gowdey attended Carroll College in Wisconsin. She returned to Philadelphia after college, where she worked in a lab for two years to save money for medical school. She enrolled at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania as part of the class of 1935. Gowdey received a scholarship from the Presbyterian Church, used a small inheritance from her parents, and pieced together many small loans in order to get through school.
After medical school, Gowdey interned at the American Hospital in Chicago, and then at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lancaster. She did a residency at Women’s Hospital in West Philadelphia, specializing in obstetrics. Dr. Gowdey purchased the practice of Dr. Yette Deitch in the Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia after leaving Women’s Hospital. She also assisted Dr. Edith Clime Weber (WMC 1903) and practiced in Philadelphia from about 1939 to 1972. At some time she began practicing in Riverton, New Jersey as well. She retired from her Philadelphia practice in 1972 but continued to practice in New Jersey until 1977.
Dr. Gowdey was recorder for the Maternal Welfare Committee for many years, and participated in a maternal mortality study under the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia. During her years in private practice, Gowdey delivered 1,628 babies. She was proud of her obstetrical work.
Once she began practicing in New Jersey, Dr. Gowdey lived in an 18th century stone house in Cinnaminson that she bought in 1943. After retirement, Dr. Gowdey was very involved with elder care initiatives in Moorestown, N.J. She founded The Tender, an adult daycare facility, in 1977, and in 1981 she started a support group for people who provided care for elderly relatives called “Living Room”. Toward the end of her life, she lived in the Samuel Miller Christian Retirement Center in Mt. Holly, N.J.
Scope and Contents
Acquisition Agnes Gowdey donated the first group of materials to the Archives in 1985 (ACC 241). She made one additional donation in the early 1990s (ACC X.2001.9). Grace Palmer, who cared for Dr. Gowdey toward the end of her life, donated some of Gowdey’s papers in 2003. After Grace Palmer died, her sister-in-law donated a final group of materials in 2004.
Original Order of Papers The papers arrived in various states of order. In most cases, items in the same folder related to the same professional period or activity, so this order was maintained as much as possible. However, the folders themselves had very little discernable order, so an order was imposed when the folders were arranged into series.
Content To repeat, the five accessions making up the collection are not linear and materials from the same period can be found in different accessions. To clarify this, the scope note introduces the content, and then briefly describes each accession.
The collection spans exactly 100 years. The earliest materials belonged to Edith Clime Weber, whose practice Gowdey took over in the early 1940s. Coverage is inconsistent. The collection contains very detailed professional records from Dr. Gowdey’s early Philadelphia practice in the 1940s, but similar records for the rest of her career are not included. It contains both sides of a correspondence between Dr. Gowdey and her long-time time friend Barbara Fuller (“Bobby”), but there is very little other personal correspondence. The American Youth Foundation, with which Gowdey remained involved all her life, is strongly represented here, but Gowdey’s equally important work in maternal mortality and elder care is less well represented.
One of the richest parts of the collection is the material on Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (see Series III). We have Edith Clime Weber’s course notes from 1902 and 1903, as well as Dr. Gowdey’s course notes and other student records from the 1930s. Gowdey also made a series of anatomical drawings during her time as a student, which are included here. We also have the records that document Gowdey’s continued involvement with the College’s Alumnae Office during the 1950s. In 1960, Dr. Gowdey made a scrapbook for the 25th reunion of the Class of 1935. This scrapbook is included in the collection, along with correspondence between Gowdey and her classmates.
A short video oral history briefly describes Gowdey’s background, medical practice, and training at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
The collection contains a number of newspaper clippings and a few photographs to document Gowdey’s work at The Tender, a day care facility for the elderly that Dr. Gowdey founded in Moorestown, N.J. in 1977. There is rather more documentation of Dr. Gowdey’s involvement with Living Room, a support group for people involved in the care of elderly relatives. This group was formed in 1981, and was still active in Moorsetown, N.J. in the mid 1980s.
Series I: Personal
Dr. Gowdey’s personal papers include letters, poems, autobiographical writings, financial records, legal documents, and a few photographs. Dr. Gowdey corresponded with her friend Barbara Fuller for many years. The collection contains letters from this correspondence dated from the 1950s through the 1980s. There are also a handful of letters from other people dated 1933-1999, and a collection of the Christmas letters Gowdey herself wrote throughout the years.
Gowdey wrote many short autobiographical vignettes, either by herself or with the help of Grace Palmer, who typed Gowdey’s notes or took dictation. Gowdey called these writings “Ramblings”, and the collection contains many of these fragments. Gowdey also wrote poetry, some of which she sent out with holiday letters.
This series contains some of Gowdey’s personal financial records, which document, especially, her efforts to repay the many loans from friends and relations that helped her get through medical school. The financial records, like the correspondence and professional records, are strongest in her early years, 1933-43.
Toward the end of her life, she also wrote several drafts of her own obituary and made notes about where her belongings should go. These are included here, along with copies of Gowdey’s will and other legal documents.
Also included is a video oral history on VHS tape. This short oral history was filmed when Gowdey received the Boots Cooper award in 2002. Notes on the content are filed with the video.
The series is represented in Accessions 241, 2003.7, and 2004.19.
Series II: Professional
This series includes publications, correspondence, event announcements, and other miscellaneous materials related to medical organizations and hospitals where Dr. Gowdey worked or with whom she was involved. Represented organizations include Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Living Room, and The Tender. But the largest group of records in this series relates to the American Youth Foundation. Gowdey taught social hygiene classes there starting during World War II. In the 1990s she co-wrote a book with the AYF’s Ray Budde. Several drafts of the book and correspondence between Budde and Gowdey are part of this collection.
The series also contains Gowdey’s professional correspondence and other miscellaneous professional records, dated 1938-2002 (bulk dates 1938-1956). She appears to have retained the medical records of a few friends, which are included here but are restricted.
The series also contains certificates and documentation of awards received by Gowdey from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Carroll College, the Burlington County Girl Scout Council, and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Most of the clippings from this series have been stored separately in a newspaper box due to their large size.
The series is represented in Accessions 241, 2003.7, and 2004.19.
This series also includes Gowdey’s books, which are now housed off-site. These included a number of WMC directories and publications, in addition to the following titles:
Pioneer Works, by Elizabeth Blackwell Medical Woman’s Directory, 1945 A Woman Surgeon: The Life and Work of Rosalie Slaughter Morton 100th Anniversary: The Philadelphia County Medical Society, 1849-1949 Madame Curie Dr. Gunn’s Household Physician History of Woman’s Medical College,by Gulielma Fell Alsop Ewell’s Medical Companion, by James Ewell, 1819
Series III: Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania
Dr. Gowdey’s involvement, first as a student and later as an alumna, with Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania is well represented in the collection.
This series includes the materials generated during Gowdey’s student years, including curriculum materials, course notes, assignments Gowdey completed, and a few pieces of ephemera representing student culture at WMC during the 1930s. Also included are Gowdey’s anatomical drawings, which can be found in Box 4.
Series III also contains materials which belonged to Edith Clime Weber, a 1903 graduate of WMC. Agnes Gowdey worked for Dr. Weber early in her career, and acquired three notebooks containing Weber’s class notes from her student days at WMC. Dr. Weber died in 1946.
This series also includes correspondence and publications from WMC’s Alumnae Office during the 1950s. Gowdey was in close contact with this office until her 25th reunion in 1960. Gowdey made a scrapbook for the reunion, which is included here in Box 5.
This series is represented in accessions 241, X.2001.9, and 2004.19.
Accessions and Series List
241 X.2001.9 2002.27 2003.7 2004.19 Series I: Personal Papers X - X X X Series II: Professional Papers X - X X X Series III: WMC X X X - X
Processing Information note
The papers of Agnes Gowdey are in several accessions. While the accessions are chronological, the dates of the materials overlap between accessions, i.e., Dr. Gowdey’s professional practice records from the 1940s may be found in more than one accession. This scope note addresses the collection as a whole, identifying the accessions as necessary in indicating where materials are housed. Following the finding aid are two box lists, one a straight inventory of each box and the other sorted by series. Given the overlapping nature of the collection, the box list sorted by series might prove the most useful in identifying and locating material of interest.
Some parts of this collection are restricted to protect patient privacy. Boxes 2 and 7 each contain some folders marked “RESTRICTED”.
Accessions 241 and 2004.19 have been intermingled.
Breakdown of individual accessions ACC 241 .5 lin feet 1902-1973 ACC 2003.7 .2 lin feet 1932-67 ACC 2002.27 1 videocassette 2002 ACC 2004.19 1.5 lin feet 1938-2002 (bulk 1950-2002) ACC X.2001.9 .2 lin feet 1929-38
Related Archival Materials note
Associated Collections Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania records.
Other Finding Aids note
This accession was donated by Agnes Gowdey in 1985. It consisted of Gowdey’s WMC class notes and student drawings, a few pamphlets from WMC and Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia, her chemistry notebook from Carroll College in 1927, and her personal financial records from 1941. Several books were also included in the collection and are now stored offsite. An inventory of these books is included in the box list for Series II. Accession 241 has been interfiled with Accession 2004.19. Materials from this accession can be found in all three series.
Agnes Gowdey donated these materials some time in the early 1990s. They focus on her years at WMC, and include lecture notes (1933-34), syllabi (1932), and some materials related to her residency at the WMC Hospital. All of the materials in this accession are in Series III, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
This short oral history was filmed when Gowdey received the Boots Cooper award in 2002. Notes on the content are filed with the video.
This small group of records touches on several different aspects of Gowdey’s life. It includes professional correspondence dated 1939-45, financial records from Gowdey’s early medical practice dated 1939-41, personal financial records from 1932-56, and a small folder of genealogical records. It was donated by Grace Palmer, Gowdey’s friend, after Dr. Gowdey passed away. Materials from this accession are in Series I and Series II.
This material was collected by Grace Palmer, and was donated to the Archives by Ms. Palmer’s sister-in-law after her death. It includes the bulk of her professional and personal papers, and her correspondence. This accession also includes the account books of Edith Clime Webber, for whom Gowdey worked as an assistant. This accession has been interfiled with Accession 241. Materials from this accession can be found in all three series.