Friday, February 24, 2012

Uranus Owen Brackett Wingate (1848-1911)

  This wonderfully named gentleman is Uranus Owen Brackett Wingate, an influential physician and resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I first discovered Wingate in the Who Was Who in America, 1897-1942 edition, which was located in my high school library. I've been wanting to profile Mr. Wingate for quite awhile on the blog here, and before getting too in depth on his life, I must clarify the fact that he is NOT a politician......and I'm certain this is bound to elicit some bewildered stares from some of you readers! 
   I can see it now...."if he's not a politician.....why on earth are you writing about him?" An excellent question to pose, but, while he isn't an elected public official, Wingate did hold the posts of Health Commissioner of Milwaukee and Secretary of the Wisconsin State Board of Health! Both of the latter positions are mentioned in Wisconsin government registers of the time, and, as he was the head of a state agency (the state board of health), it is that post that earns him a place here! 
   With that diatribe out of the way, I must mention that I've always been a bit hesitant when it comes to adding state officials that served in offices like "State Railroad Commissioner", "State Health Commissioner" or "Commissioner of Insurance". All of these positions sound non-political but are public offices within the perimeter of the state government, and the men and women who attained these offices were either appointed or elected to them. This places Wingate squarely in the category of "sort of political figure" if that makes sense!
    U.O.B. Wingate was born in Rochester, New Hampshire on September 4, 1848, the son of David and Lydia Thompson Wingate. Wingate looks to have been bestowed his unusual name in honor of Uranus Owen Brackett (1836-1899), a Berwick, Maine resident who served terms in the Maine House of Representatives, the State Senate and the Governor's Council. At age sixteen Wingate signed on for service during the Civil War, joining Sherman's Army, and later served as a member of a military railroad construction outfit until the close of the hostilities.
   After leaving the service, Wingate began pursuing medical studies at Harvard University and graduated from the Dartmouth Medical School in 1875 with a degree in medicine. He established a medical practice in the villages of Haverhill and Wellesley, Massachusetts soon after his graduation. Sources vary on the exact year that Wingate left Massachusetts, but it is known that he resettled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in either 1885 or 1886.
  Soon after his relocation, Wingate reestablished his medical practice and on July 11, 1889, he married Nellie West Schoonmaker.  In the year following his marriage, Wingate was appointed as Health Commissioner of the city of Milwaukee and served four years in that post. In 1893 he launched an investigation into the sanitary condition of the Milwaukee school system, and during the course of his analysis, found that six of these schools needed to be shut down due to their being in "unwholesome condition, owing to poor sewerage." An article mentioning his examination is posted below. In addition to his service as Health Commissioner, Wingate also served as the President of the Milwaukee County Medical Society and a visiting neurologist to both the Milwaukee County and St. Mary's hospitals.

                    This article appeared in the Feb. 1, 1893 edition of the Painesville, Ohio Telegraph.

  In the last year of his term as Health Commissioner, Dr. Wingate was appointed as the Secretary of the Wisconsin State Board of Health. He served ten years as the head of this board and during his tenure proved to be a man of remarkable foresight and readiness. A New York Times article from January 1898 notes that Wingate gave an extensive response to a questionnaire filed by the New York Board of Trade and Transportation in regards to a "uniform system of quarantine in the United States." In his response, Wingate advocated the establishment of a new governmental department whose sole responsibility was the supervision of the country's sanitary and health affairs. 
  After reading this article (which has been posted below) one should take note that Uranus Wingate actively encouraged the installation of a U.S. health department nearly sixty years before the creation of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President Eisenhower in 1953. This department was later broken up into two separate cabinet entities in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter.

   Wingate resigned from the Wisconsin State Board of Health in 1904 and in the years following his service authored numerous articles that were published in medical journals of the day, mainly relating to hygiene, diseases of the nervous system, and neurology. It is noted in the 1906 work "History of New Hampshire Surgeons in the War of Rebellion" that soon after his resignation, he established a "private institution near Milwaukee for the treatment of mental diseases.
  Uranus O.B. Wingate died at age 62 on February 19, 1911, as the result of pneumonia. In the course of research on him, I've been quite surprised at the number of medical journals and local histories that mention his public service and medical career, especially considering the overall obscurity of the man. I also must mention the American Journal of Public Health, Volume II, where most of this information was located. This work gave quite an extensive chronology of Wingate's life and times, right up until his death in 1911. 

    This portrait of Dr. U.O.B. Wingate was discovered in the "Notable Men of Wisconsin" 1902 edition.

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