Michael J. Dowling School

Growing up, many of us lived in close proximity to the Michael J. Dowling School for Crippled Children--now an Urban Environmental Magnet School for the Minneapolis School District.  We were not allowed in the school, nor could we use the pool.  Thankfully, we could use the playgrounds for our neighborhood baseball and football games.Those of us living close to the school witnessed ambulances bringing polio patients to the school during the 1950's polio epidemic, leaving us with a lasting impression of the horrors of the disease.  (I do not know what year the photo of the students and school was taken.)

This entry prompted Doug Butler to write: 

I was one of those kids who grew up near you and Dowling school. Sheltering Arms was near by too. While a student at the U of M, I worked partime as a swimming instructor at Dowling (1961 and '2 I think). My entire career involved working for and with people who were disabled. It all started when Toy Jambeck invited me to work with him at Camp Courage (summer 1957). Incidently, I knew and did some work with Luther Grandquist during the late '70's. He was an enthusiastic outspoken legal advocate for the rights of the disabled.  Thanks for triggering the memories.   Doug Butler
On November 30, 2016, I received the following message from a former student at Dowling!   An amazing story of a life fulfilled through education and rehabilitation!


 Success story:
My name is Jean. I attended the above school from age 2, 1954 to age 8, 1960. My father was stationed Air Force in Minnesota then.  We lived in Minneapolis. I was taught to walk, speech therapy, eat, learned daily living skills, and special education.  Why did I leave? My dad got transferred to Japan. I was mainstreamed in 1960 in public school on base schools.
Shocked & teased. Well, to make a long story short, I successfully finished schooling, went to college here in California.  I learned to drive, I married, worked for 40 years and looking forward to retirement 12/30/16 from the State of California DMV.

Below you will find some interesting information of Michael J. Dowling and the role he played in the Twin Cities and in the education of students with physical disabilities.
Michael J. Dowling was a Pioneer in Disability Rights in Minnesota
by Luther Granquist
 February 10th, 2010
     The 1880 census report for Wergeland Township in Yellow Medicine County gave 14-year-old Mike Dowling’s occupation as “herding cattle.” Although he was listed with the Isaac Anderson family who farmed just northeast of the town of Porter, Dowling worked for himself, as he had done since his mother died when he was 10. At that time, Dowling moved with his father from Massachusetts to St. Louis and Chicago. Then on his own he went to work as a cook in a lumber camp in Wisconsin, on steamboats between St. Paul and St.Louis, as a water carrier on a farm in Cottage Grove and as a “kid cowboy” on a ranch in Wyoming.
     During the summer of 1880 he collected a herd of more than 500 head of cattle from farmers in the Canby area by agreeing to care for them on the open range and to deliver them back to their owners on Oct. 15 for$1.50 a head.  He did so successfully despite a sleet and ice storm that struck on Oct. 14 and killed cattle in other herds in the area.
     Dowling was not so lucky on Dec. 4, 1880. He hitched a ride with two farmers on the back of a lumber wagon to go from Canby to the farm where he kept his pony. They encountered a sudden blizzard, and the horses veered into a plowed field. Dowling was thrown from the wagon, which continued on in the howling storm. 
     After the blizzard cleared the next morning, Dowling struggled to a farm house on frozen legs and with frozen arms. Sixteen days later three doctors amputated both of his legs and one arm. Three years later he convinced the Yellow Medicine County commissioners that they should provide him two terms at Carlton College rather than pay a local farmer $2 per week to take care of him. The youthful cook, cowboy, and cattle herder became a school teacher, a school superintendent, a member of the Minnesota Legislature, a newspaper publisher and the president of a bank.
In 1921 he spearheaded a successful effort by Rotarians to add “crippled children” to the law providing state aid for school districts which chose to serve children withdisabilities. Michael J. Dowling School for Crippled Children in Minneapolis was named for him.  The school was erected in 1924 and added additions in 1936, 1961 and a  garage in1950.
Who Was Michael Dowling?

Michael Dowling was an educator and legislator who succeeded in having the first bill passed providing state aid for handicapped children in 1919. Being handicapped himself, Mr. Dowling realized the importance of equal access to education for all people. 

The land for Dowling School was actually donated in 1920 by William Henry Eustis, a former Minneapolis mayor and realtor. 

From a Sept. 2002 article in the Star Tribune:

And Michael Dowling went from school principal, bank president and mayor of Olivia to speaker of the Minnesota House, a national Republican leader and organizer of the Philippines' educational system -- all despite having lost both legs, his left arm and the fingers of his right hand in an 1880 snowstorm when he was 14.

As a young man, Dowling went to the county welfare board and promised never to be a ward of the state if the county would provide him with artificial limbs and send him to college. After World War I, he traveled to military hospitals to talk with veterans who had lost limbs, urging them not to think their lives were over.

In "The Things We Know Best," the 1976 local history edited by Minnesota poet Joe Paddock, a woman who knew Dowling said he laughed off his handicaps. His favorite story was about the Minneapolis bellhop who, at his request, helped him get ready for bed one night. "Take off my leg," Dowling said, and the bellhop did. Then the other leg, then the arm. "Now, take my head off," he said, and the frantic bellhop ran from the room.

Dowling Rich History

If you move your cursor over the photos, they will be identified.


The Care of the Crippled Child at the

Michael Dowling School of Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Paul W. Giessler, MD, Consultant in Orthopedics

Earl C. Henrikson, MD, Orthopedist

May 1937

   The crippled child living in Minneapolis up to the year 1919 had very little opportuity for educational advancement.  In this year the Board of Education conceived the idea of a school for crippled children and in 1920, after a survey had revealed 40 cripples confined to their homes, the Rotary Club, enlisted by the Board of Education, purchased two buses for the transportation of these children to an old church located on school property.  The school was called the Dowling School in honor of a man, who, in spite of physical handicap, had gained success and prominence in Minnesota.  In 1921 the Rotarians succeeded in obtaining  through the Legislature, State aid to the amount of $250.00 per crippled child.

    In 1924  the school moved into a new, specially-designed, one-story brick building situated on a 21-acre wooded lot on the west bank of the Mississippi River at 39th Street.  This site was given the school by another of Minnesota's cripples, William Henry Eustis.  In 1936 a new addition was constructed through a Federal Grant of $55,000.00, plus $20,000.00 raised by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.  This 80x100 foot addition contains a 20x60 foot L-shaped swimming pool.  In this ell will be two submerged tables for underwater exercises.  A stretcher on an overhead trolley will be used in transporting in and out of the pool children unable to walk.  The water will be kept at 92 degrees.  The design of the pool complies with the Department of Health regulations.  How much this pool will be appreciated can be understood from the fact that for ten years we have been using a tank measuring only 9x6 feet, in which swimming was impossible and which has been far from adequate in giving the needed treatments to an ever-increasing number of pupils.  Besides the pool, the new addition provides a gymnasium for corrective work, treatment rooms, dressing rooms, showers, a drying room, a spectators room, a doctor's office and an office for the physical instructors.

    The Dowling School is part of the public school system of Minneapolis and comes under the direct supervision of Miss May E.Bryne, Director of Special Education for the Board of Education.

    The present enrollment at Dowling School is 226 pupils:  50 of these are heart cases and the balance are orthopedic cases.  These children are transported daily to school in eight Board of Education buses, each bus accommodating about 35 children in charge of a driver and a woman attendant.  Dowling School provides eight regular classrooms from Kindergarten to eighth grade and two special rooms, one for spastic cases and one for the ....

This was the only accessible page, but I thought how the school originated was important information.  It would appear that Minneapolis Public Schools took positive steps to address the needs of their students.

The following are photos from the archives of the Department of Administration, Council on Developmental Disabilities:

Michael Dowling succeeded in having the first bill passed providing state aid for children with disabilities in 1919. This photo shows a girl in a wheelchair at the Dowling School in 1925.

It was all smiles at Michael Dowling School in Minneapolis in 1925. Watch a silent film about Michael Dowling.

Boy in wheelchair at Michael Dowling School, 1925.

Students in music project, with instructor Elmer Clingman, at Michael Dowling School, 1936.

A girl received therapy at Michael Dowling School for Crippled Children, Minneapolis, 1938.

Students from Dowling School awaited the arrival of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. FDR had been stricken with polio in 1921, and privately used a wheelchair he had designed himself.

154 - Remarks at the Dowling School for Crippled Children, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 9, 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This welcome that you children have given me reminds me very much of the welcome that the children give me down in Warm Springs, Georgia. Down there, as up here, there are a lot of them in wheel-chairs and a lot of them with crutches and a lot of them with arm-rests, but they have the same kind of cheerful faces you have.

I am glad the Federal Government has been able to help the School of Minneapolis, especially in building the swimming pool. I hope that all of you will be able to learn to swim, because that is about the only exercise I can take, and I know how much you will enjoy it if you learn.

It is fine to come here today. I am glad to see all of you. I wish I could go through the School and see the work you are doing. Some day I know that I shall be able to come and have the time to see all that you are doing.


Courtesy of the Dowling School archives

FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt at the Dowling School in 1936. Dowling student Martin Croze is at left

A presidential campaign stop in ’36: FDR comes to Minnesota

The presidential motorcade made its way slowly down the West River Road on a balmy fall afternoon in 1936. At 38th Street, the parade of cars turned off the curving roadway and pulled into the courtyard at the Michael J. Dowling School for Crippled Children. The notable visitors riding in an open-air limousine included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor.

FDR had come to Dowling on Oct. 9 to dedicate the school’s therapeutic swimming pool, but his whirlwind Minnesota visit had a broader political purpose. That year, he was running for re-election after ousting Herbert Hoover from the White House in 1932.

The Dowling event, occurring just weeks before the Nov. 3 election, gave Roosevelt an opportunity to showcase the WPA — Works Progress Administration — his signature New Deal initiative used to fund the school’s new pool.

Dowling had opened in 1924 on a 19-acre campus overlooking the Mississippi River. The land for the local public school had been donated by a former Minneapolis mayor, William Eustis, who himself had been crippled as a result of a childhood illness.

A bouquet and a welcome from students

On that Friday afternoon in October, several thousand Minnesotans had crowded on to the Dowling campus in hopes of seeing the president and his famous wife. A small delegation from the school was waiting to greet the Roosevelts. It included Dowling Principal Gladys McAlister and two students, Mavis Whitman and Martin Croze. Tiny Mavis was hoisted up at the side of the presidential limousine to present a bouquet to Mrs. Roosevelt on behalf of her fellow students. Then, 15-year-old Martin, seated in a wheelchair, delivered a short welcoming address to the presidential party. He later admitted that he had pinned a campaign button for the Roosevelt’s Republican opponent, Alf Landon, on the back of his suit jacket lapel.

In his brief remarks at the dedication ceremony, Roosevelt spoke directly to the Dowling students, telling them that their warm reception reminded him of the greetings he receives from the children at Warm Springs, his polio treatment center in Georgia.

‘I hope all of you will be able to learn to swim in this fine pool,” he told Dowling youngsters. Then, in an oblique reference to his own disability, Roosevelt said. “Swimming, as you know, is the only exercise I can take.”

On to Pioneer Square and St. Paul

Just 10 minutes after it began, the ceremony at Dowling was over. The presidential motorcade headed off through South Minneapolis on 38th Street to Nicollet Avenue and then down Nicollet to Pioneer Square, where the president made some brief remarks. Then Roosevelt and his entourage were off to St. Paul, where he delivered a speech on the steps of the State Capitol before heading back to the presidential train waiting for him at Union Station.

Eighty years later, the Dowling pool, now part of an environmental learning center, continues to soothe tired and weakened muscles, just as it did when Franklin Roosevelt visited on that fall day in 1936.