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Dudley Coe Health Center

Dudley Coe Health Center

Coe Health Center. Date unknown. Catalog no.: 1516.1.

Bowdoin did not lag behind the most progressive institutions in the decision to build an infirmary to provide systematic and centralized care to students. Not until just before the turn of the century was a need felt for sequestering and treating sick students. The need for an infirmary at Bowdoin was first formally voiced in President Hyde's Report for 1912-1913, and was repeated with more urgency in the following two years in the reports of Dean Sills. An open letter from students urging that an infirmary be built was reprinted in the Report of the President of 1915-1916.

In the same year the gift for building and endowing an infirmary was announced. The donor was Thomas Upham Coe, class of 1857. After graduating from Bowdoin, Coe had received a degree from Jefferson Medical College and practiced medicine in Bangor from 1863 until 1880. That year he turned his attentions to "timberlands development, real estate, and financial affairs." He was a nephew of Thomas C. Upham, Bowdoin professor of mental and moral philosophy from 1824 to 1867.

Dr. Coe, like John Sedgwick Hyde only a few years earlier, wished to cover the total expense of the construction rather than share it with other donors. He asked that the building be named for his only son, Dudley, who had died when he was fourteen.

The chairman of the building committee was, once again, Franklin C. Payson, lawyer and Trustee from Portland. He was joined by Overseer Ernest B. Young, class of 1892 and a Boston physician, and Dr. Frank N. Whittier, class of 1885. Dr. Whittier had been the first director of the first gymnasium. He had received his medical degree from Maine Medical School, where he also taught, in addition to supervising undergraduate physical training and health at Bowdoin. The committee selected the architectural firm of Allen and Collens, with Felix Arnold Burton '07, associate. This firm had done the Sargent Gymnasium and Hyde Athletic Building complex, and they were also designing the newest dormitory, to be named Hyde Hall. Six years earlier, Allen and Collens had completed Thompson Infirmary at Williams College, where they had also designed a number of other buildings.

While the Thompson Infirmary at Williams is a larger building, it is like Bowdoin's in that both are built on sites removed from the center of campus, and both are domestic in scale and exterior elevation. Aside from considerations of infection, an infirmary needed quiet, but it was also an ancillary service to the real occupation of learning and scholarship. President Hyde had, in his Report of the President of 1913-1914, referred to the needed building as a "cottage hospital." This view of the home as a place of retreat during illness persisted at colleges, if not at universities, for many years.

If the exterior suggested a dwelling, the interior did not. The kitchen, laundry, and nurses' dining room were in the basement. Operating and consulting rooms, reception areas, wards, and a wide sleeping piazza were on the first floor. The second floor was designed to be divided into two separate wards for infectious diseases like diphtheria and scarlet fever. Not only was there a separate exterior entrance to the second floor, to the right of the principal door, but there were also two staircases to the third-floor nurses' suite.

The architects described the exterior as "severely Colonial,"1 but like most Colonial Revival designs it drew inspiration from many sources. The three-story elevation is typical of Federal period dwellings. The crowning cornice and parapet and the central second-story tripartite window are also Federal period details.

The entranceway has been changed significantly since 1917. In place of the present double door, the center opening was originally a single six-panel door flanked to the left and right by sidelights and crowned by the present elliptical fan light. What are now windows in the entranceway projection were at one time also six-panel doors, narrower and recessed slightly from the central door and with access steps. Only the door that led directly to the second floor was operable. The doors and the shutters were a dark color, making the effect of the building as originally planned more felicitous.

The sun porch was enclosed in 1936; a wing to the north and an endowment for maintenance were donated in 195 8 by Mrs. Sherman N. Shumway h 1962, whose husband had been a member of the class of 1917. The rear wing was added in 1974.

In the early days, the infirmary staff treated infectious diseases, did emergency appendectomies, and nursed students through prolonged convalescence. From its opening in 1917 until 1962, infirmary reports and statistics formed part of the Report of the President, chronicling the advent of widespread immunizations, drugs to control infection, and the growth of sports medicine. (By whatever name, there was always what Daniel F. Hanley '39, college physician emeritus, diagnosed as "Bowdoinitis.") Today the building is called the Dudley Coe Health Center and houses the Counseling Service as well as the medical staff.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

1. In a quotation in the Report of the President, 1916-1917, p. 9.

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