Dowling Elementary, its namesake honored at centennial fete

Minneapolis’ Dowling Elementary in May celebrated the school’s centennial with an open house event. Many alumni and current and former […]

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Minneapolis’ Dowling Elementary in May celebrated the school’s centennial with an open house event. Many alumni and current and former faculty and staff members returned to remember their school days and reflect upon their unique experiences at the south Minneapolis school.

Dowling is one of the Upper Midwest’s oldest public schools for students with physical disabilities. It is named for Michael Dowling. 

Longtime Access Press History Note author Luther Granquist told Dowling’s story in a 2010 article, describing his remarkable rise from a young boy on his own to respected statesman. 

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 October 15 for $1.50 a head. He did so successfully despite a sleet and ice storm that struck on October 14 and killed cattle in other herds in the area. 

Dowling was not so lucky on December 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. That investment paid off. 

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 with disabilities. 

Dowling also had a sly sense of humor. Once while checking into a hotel, he sought help removing his prosthetics. His joke about help to remove his head sent a young hotel staffer running. 

Dowling School proudly bears his name 
The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at 

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