Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa - 1896 - R

1896 Index

A Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa
Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1896


Unless otherwise noted, biographies submitted by Dick Barton.

Dr. Charles Hamilton Rawson, deceased. - When one passes from the scene of life's action to eternity the world questions what has been his work, his career. What example has he left worthy of emulation, and why do those who still remain honor his memory? The answer to this question involves the story of a well spent life. Prominent in professional circles, in politics and in the social world, Dr. Rawson lived so as to merit the high regard of all and won eminence by a true ability that quietly commanded recognition. Charitable and benevolent, broad-minded and liberal, true to every trust of both public and private life, his integrity and fidelity above question, he had the unqualified respect of all who knew him.

Dr. Rawson was born in Orleans county, Vermont, July 16, 1828, and was a son of Elijah and Susan (Allen) Rawson. From early boyhood he had a desire to enter the medical profession and at the age of twenty entered the office of Dr. A. P. Barber, under whose capable direction he studied for some time. He was graduated at Woodstock, Vermont, and entered upon his professional career in Canada, where he spent two years. Desiring to further perfect himself in the science of medicine he then attended lectures in the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, and was graduated with high honor at that institution. His ability won him the position of house surgeon in Bellevue Hospital, and his eighteen-months experience in that institution rounded out his theoretical knowledge and made him competent to take rank with the foremost of the profession. Among his first cases were some smallpox patients, and in his treatment of this disease he was quite successful. The discovery of gold in California led to a change in his residence. In 1849, when many were flocking to the gold fields on the Pacific coast, he secured the position of surgeon on the steamer S. S. Lewis, which made trips around the cape to San Juan, and thence to San Francisco. He served in that capacity until the steamer was wrecked near Acapulco, when he went into the Marine Hospital at San Francisco as surgeon. Five years passed and he then returned to his native State on a visit, and by friends was influenced to locate in Iowa, and decided to make Des Moines his future home, and here began the practice of his profession.

The capital city of Iowa gained one of its most valued citizens in October, 1856, when Doctor Rawson came to the West and here opened an office. "Though an avenue of life seems to be crowded there is always room at the top." It does not take long for one of superior ability to secure public recognition and gain a deserved patronage, and Dr. Rawson had been numbered among the physicians of Des Moines only a short time when his business was all that he could attend to. He successfully prosecuted his chosen profession until the breaking out of the war, but could not then content himself to remain at home. He was among the first to respond to the call for troops, and, enlisting in the Fifth Iowa Infantry, was appointed Regimental Surgeon. Soon afterward he was commissioned Brigade Surgeon, and participated in many of the most important battles of the Western army, but at length, worn out through watching and almost constant labor, he was forced to resign, being no longer able to attend to his duties. "The battles fought without guns" were often more arduous than those in which shot and shell made such havoc. Immediately after his return from the war, Dr. Rawson admitted to partnership Dr. W. H. Ward, which connection continued until 1881, when it was dissolved by mutual consent. During those many years of hard work and successful practice not a single circumstance ever occurred to cause an unfriendly word or feeling.

Dr. Rawson's health remained impaired for some time after his return from the South, but when he had once more gained sufficient strength he resumed the practice of medicine, and met with a success that comes only to those who occupy the most prominent places in the fraternity. Of him one of the papers of Des Moines in giving an account of his death said: "During his professional career in this city, extending over a period of twenty-five years, it is said by his associate physicians, that beyond a doubt, either in his own practice or in consultation, Dr. Rawson has visited every family in this city. Was there a case demanding the most consummate skill and profound knowledge procurable, his assistance was sought. Upon numberless occasions has he been called upon to make final decisions in consultation at which the most prominent members of the profession of the State were assembled. All this may be said with a trueness that will be warmly acknowledged by the eminent physicians of this city, who survived to maintain the nobility of the calling which was his and continues theirs." His practice embraced not only Polk county but extended to many adjoining counties. Upon the establishment of the Pension Bureau, Dr. Rawson was appointed president of the board, which position he held for about twenty years. It was ofttimes his desire to resign, but he was repeatedly urged to continue in the office, which he held until death called him hence.

Though he may have been prominent in public life a man's true character is best known in his home. That the Doctor was all that goes to make up a devoted husband and father his family and friends well knew. He considered no personal sacrifice too great that would promote the welfare or enhance the happiness of his wife and children. He was married November 17, 1863, to Miss Mary E. Blake, a native of Swanton, Vermont, and a daughter of Hon. William H. Blake, deceased, who resided in Franklin county, that State, and was one of its most prominent citizens, whose influence in public affairs was widely felt. Eight children graced the union of the Doctor and his wife, of whom three are yet living. William B., the eldest, born September 17, 1864, died while a student in Ames College, May 11, 1882, at the age of seventeen years and eight months. He was a young man of excellent ability, making rapid progress in his studies and the bereavement fell heavily upon his parents. Lizzie, born August 19, 1866, died October 28, 1869. Carrie, born July 24, 1872, died February 22, 1879. John, born April 11, 1877, died September 9, 1879. Anna B., born June 4, 1867, is the wife of Charles L. Woodbury, and resides in Burlington, Vermont. Frank B., born May 30, 1869, died May 16, 1892. Nellie M., born November 7, 1875, and Laura H., born February 27, 1880, are still under the parental roof.

In his social relations Dr. Rawson was a Mason, and in politics was an ardent advocate of Republican principles, but the demands of his practice made it impossible for him to hold office had he so desired. He was never too busy, however, to lend his support and influence for the promotion of any object calculated to advance the general welfare and aid in the upbuilding of the city with which he became identified during its pioneer days when it contained only a few log cabins and fewer frame buildings. The experience of the pioneer physician was his in those early days, and many times he rode for miles over bleak and desolate prairies that he might relieve the suffering of one of this fellow creatures. It made no difference whether a call came from rich or poor; it was answered with equal readiness, and those in need often received more substantial aid than the medicine which he gave. He was sympathetic and tender in his ministrations and his professional duties were attended with a kindliness that arose from a sincere and deep interest in his fellow men.

In manner Dr. Rawson was quiet and unobtrusive, but his nobility of character was recognized by a host of warm friends who honored him for his upright life. He was firm in his convictions and accorded to others the right of opinion. One of his most marked and commendable characteristics was that he never spoke reproachfully or critically of the methods or means employed by other physicians, a fact which is known through his once partner and life-time friend, Dr. Ward. His professional course was always straightforward, allowable of no misconstructions or misconceptions, and it is seldom that one has been so honored by members of opposing schools as Dr. Rawson. About six weeks previous to his death he labored almost incessantly, for at the time many of the physicians of Des Moines were in attendance at the American Medical Association in Washington. His arduous labors undermined his health and he who had so long faithfully ministered to others now needed the care of those whom he had served. He was forced to take to his bed, and from the first four of his illness Drs. Ward, Hanawalt and Swift remained at his side. Back of the high skill which those gentlemen lent the case there was a warm and profound fellow love which urged them on to still greater endeavors than perhaps ever were put forth by them before. Probably every physician in the city called at Dr. Rawson's home during his illness with kind inquiries and expressions of regret, for he was equally loved and respected by his professional associates. At length he who had come off conqueror in contest with disease and death many times, ended the struggle by quietly passing away on the 27th of June, 1884. The city, his professional brethren, his social associates all mourned the loss of one who had endeared himself to them, while his family suffered a bereavement which only time can heal.

Mrs. Rawson and her children still reside in Des Moines, in the pleasant home which was left to them. The lady is most highly esteemed, for her many excellencies of character have gained her the confidence and regard of many friends. In social circles she and her children occupy an enviable position and the Rawson family is to-day one of the most prominent of Des Moines.