Michael J Dowling

Citizen from Renville County, MN

Dowling was born in Huntington, Massachusetts. His family moved frequently while he was a child and he spent periods living in New York, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin before settling near Olivia, Minnesota. In 1880, Dowling suffered extreme frostbite when he was stranded outside during a blizzard. He lost parts of both legs, his left arm, and fingers on his right hand. For several years after he was a ward of the state.

In 1883, he made a deal with the county where he agreed to live independently if they paid for artificial limbs for his missing legs and arm. He attended Carleton College for a year and later worked as a school principal in Granite Falls, Minnesota and Renville, Minnesota. He was later involved in the newspaper business, insurance, and real estate in Olivia. He also became active in local Republican politics, serving as village recorder and mayor of Olivia as well as justice of the peace for Renville County, Minnesota.

Dowling served as an assistant clerk in the Minnesota State House of Representatives from 1892 to 1894 and as chief clerk from 1895 to 1898. He was elected to one term as a representative, serving from 1901 to 1903. He also served as speaker of the house during that term.

A short silent film of Dowling was made showing how he was able to live his life normally and go about his work despite his missing limbs. The film was shown at the 1918 American Medical Association conference and has been digitized.

Dowling died in 1921. He is buried in Olivia, Minnesota.

Dowling School in Minneapolis, Minnesota is named in his honor.


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Renville County, MN


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