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Dr. E. M. Darrow

1/16/2004:

Today marks the birthday of Edward M. Darrow, who was born in 1855 in Wisconsin. He was one of the earliest and most influential physicians in the Red River Valley.

In 1878, Darrow graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago and moved to Fargo to begin a medical practice. In his very first year, he started up the first hospital in the region, the Cass County Hospital. Fifteen years later, Edward’s brother, Daniel, built the Darrow Hospital across the river in Moorhead.

In 1904, Edward was on the first medical staff of St. John’s Hospital, which was housed in Bishop Shanley’s former residence. Their first patient was a victim of typhoid fever.

Dr. Darrow became the first superintendent of health in Dakota Territory and was given the task of issuing to physicians their license to practice. A story has been handed down through his family that he had issued five licenses when he suddenly realized that he, himself, didn’t yet have a license. So he became the sixth licensed physician in Dakota Territory. He also served as Surgeon General under Governor Burke and was also a member of the “insanity board.”

Much of Darrow’s practice took place in surrounding towns and rural homes. It wasn’t unusual for him to have to operate on patients who were stretched out on their kitchen tables. Dr. Darrow brought with him sheets, dressings, his instruments and gloves, and all had to be boiled in a wash boiler. Patients were draped with the wet sheets; then a country doctor or family member was given the job of draping – or “dropping” – a piece of gauze, laced with drops of chloroform or ether, over the patient’s face so the operation could begin.

Darrow’s son, Kent, later said, “I was greatly surprised, when I went to Johns Hopkins in 1909, to see ether being poured into a tight cone, which was slapped on a patient’s face, practically choking him, the patient struggling violently and often turning blue. My roommate would not believe me when I told him that our patients seldom struggled when we used the open drop method.”

Besides his hospitals and private practice, E. M. Darrow left another legacy: his children.

His daughter, Mary, received a degree in chemistry at the North Dakota Agricultural College and married Dr. Ralph E. Weible, another long-time Fargo physician. Mary founded the first kindergarten in North Dakota and also organized a women's suffrage association. Weible Hall, a women's dormitory at NDSU, was named in her honor.

Two sons, Frank and Kent, as well as Kent’s brother-in-law, and Mary’s husband, Ralph E. Weible, started the Dakota Clinic in 1926. Another son, Dan, graduated from Johns Hopkins as well. He was Professor of Pediatrics at Yale University and became an authority on various pediatric diseases.

E. M. Darrow died in Fargo in December 1919.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm