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News & Press: History of the Osteopathic Profession

Allen Page Howells, DO - History of the Osteopathic Profession

Tuesday, June 7, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Stiger, DO
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In early 1908, the state of Oregon licensed the first group of DOs to practice in the state of Oregon. Out of the original 71 applicants 64 were licensed. We have their names but absolutely no information as to where and how they spent their careers.  On April 21 of this year it was our privilege to interview Marceil Howells the widow of one of the earliest DOs to practice in the state, offering us the first glimpse of DOs who practiced in Oregon in the years following 1908.  Her recollections were so vivid and accurate that they will also be videotaped and will be part of the archive being created at the new school in Lebanon.

Dr. Howells “AP” to those who knew him was born in upstate New York in 1882. Apparently at an early age he was treated by a DO and was so impressed with the result that he decided to make osteopathy his life’s work.  Prior to attending Colgate University, he was employed by an important book dealer in New York City, Gotham Book Store, and it was during that time that he developed his lifelong passion for study and reading.  Upon graduation from Colgate he was accepted at the AT Still College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville graduating in 1911.  (His diploma can be seen at the new school). His sister, Mary Howells graduated from Kirksville at about the same time.  The two new DOs located and practiced together in Corvallis, Oregon starting around 1911.  After two years AP relocated to Albany, Oregon and continued to practice general practice until he died in 1964. Mary pursued a career in psychiatry, and after completing studies with Karl Jung in Switzerland moved her practice to Portland, Oregon.  

AP continued to practice in Albany until the outbreak of WW I at which time he volunteered to be a physician in the army.  As a DO, he was refused.  He was so determined to serve that he applied and was accepted at the Kansas City University of Physicians and Surgeons and received a MD degree in 1919 after the war had ended.  Some of the receipts for tuition for various fields of study he completed are available at the new school. $100 for surgery, $40 for “colon” etc.  It is not clear whether Dr. Howells interrupted his practice while attending medical school, but it is clear that he did return to Albany to practice and continued to do so until his death in 1964.

His office was located over a local store in downtown Albany.  The office was equipped with a full array of X Ray, Laboratory equipment and a surgery plus two rooms for exams and osteopathic treatments. The office was also equipped with a large medical library as was his residence.  He was trained to provide complete care to his patients including surgery and treatment of emergencies of all kinds.  He read his own xrays, performed his own blood tests, did his own pathology reports and in office surgeries including hysterectomies, gallbladders, T&As etc. He had a “drug room” from which he often dispensed various medications as required.  Mrs. Howells stated that when she was a girl her family came to Dr. Howells as their doctor and that when her mother needed a hysterectomy the procedure, with the assistance of a doctor Vierich, a DO associate, was performed  right there in Dr. Howells office!  

Dr. Howells routine consisted of seeing his patients at the office and making house calls every day in the afternoons or evenings.  If an emergency arose he would often go to the patient.  He also had a large “probono” practice of families who could not afford medical care.  This was especially true during the time of the great depression.  At that time office visits were $3 and 
 Later $5, with extra if  an Xray or lab was required.  His notes consisted of what could be carried on a clip board and filed in a manila envelope. The records were destroyed shortly after Dr.Howell’s demise and so we will never know his system exactly.  Mrs. Howells stated that the confidentiality of the patient’s records was a critical trust and that the identities of the many “probono” patients should never be betrayed.  In fact at the time of the settlement of  Dr.Howells’ estate it was suggested that these folks should be billed for services rendered.  This was firmly resisted by Mrs. Howells and the records were destroyed.

As was typical throughout the state at the time, DOs were not accepted by the local MDs and were often criticized and made the recipients of various tactics designed to bar them from practice.  The most onerous of these practices was the barring of DOs from practicing in the local hospitals.  In Albany, Dr. Howells and some other DOs formed their own hospital where they were able to admit their patients for surgeries or more intensive care than could be provided in their own offices. The DOs of the area had a close relationship and provided close support to their colleagues in the area.  The state association also put on excellent continuing education programs which were well attended by all the DOs.   Dr. Howells was often called upon to lecture on various topics including discussions of what would today be labeled as “preventive medicine.”  In fact, he also wrote and published pamphlets for his patients on health topics that he felt were important.

In a profession where constant study was a mandate, Dr. Howells stood out.  His wife tells us that he read constantly from medical journals and books.  When a patient showed up with an unusual problem he would learn what the problem was and then what was the most up to date treatment.  Because of his wide range of medical studies he was able to practice a “holistic” type of osteopathic medicine.  He often collaborated with his sister Mary who had become a Jungian psychiatrist and applied the concepts of “psychoanalysis” to his practice.  Because of the breadth of his knowledge he was often called upon by colleagues to consult on the “tough cases.”  He was clearly a scholar to the end.  In fact on his last day he saw patients at the office, began to experience the chest pains that he often had, came home sat in his chair and asked his wife to read from a medical journal to help him relax. He refused his injectable medication and died that night.

Mrs. Howells, Marciel, also gave us a glimpse of the doctor’s personal life.  She revealed that she was his 4th wife and that she was over thirty years his junior. In fact Marciel attended high school with one of Dr. Howells’ sons.  Dr Howells had two stepchildren with his first wife, four children with his second wife, several stepchildren with his third wife and three children with Marceil!  The romance consisted of two dates. The first was an afternoon fishing expedition and the second a foray to Portland to attend a play.  Apparently he proposed on the return trip to Albany!  Marceil stated that she replied that she had to think about it, which apparently didn’t take very long.  Despite their age differences, they had a wonderful marriage.  Marciel was an accomplished artist, specializing in the fine arts, raising horses, designing and making clothing, farming, flying airplanes, and raising children.  Despite this she was very active in the Osteopathic auxiliary and community affairs as  well.  Apparently Dr. Howells had a very discriminating eye! He also made it clear that raising the children and running the household were her responsibilities and that if he wanted her to know something he would tell her.  This situation lasted for a time but over the years she became his confidant and support in all of his activities to the point that she read his medical journals to better understand what was occuring in particular cases. She often drove the car as he made his house calls and occasionally worked in his office as a “fill in.”

There is no doubt that Dr. Howells was a remarkable Osteopathic Physician who made an important contribution to the health care of the people in and around the city of Albany.  There is also no doubt that he married a remarkable woman who made it possible for him to be the physician he wanted to be!  

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