James E. Bowman, MD, FASCP, FCAP (February 5, 1923 – September 28, 2011) was an African-American physician was internationally renowned as a specialist in pathology, hematology, and genetics. He was a professor of pathology and genetics at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago.
James Edward Bowman was born on February 5, 1923, in Washington, D.C. where he attended Dunbar High School. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Howard University in 1943 and 1946. He did medical internships at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington D.C. and at Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. His residency in pathology was at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago where he was the first African American resident.
Following residency, Bowman served as chair of pathology at Provident Hospital. He was drafted again and spent 1953 to 1955 as chief of pathology for the Medical Nutrition Laboratory at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. After leaving the military Bowman decided to move overseas. “My wife and I decided that we were not going to go back to anything that smacked of segregation,” he recalled. He became chair of pathology at Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz, Iran. “We were recently married, so we took a chance,” he said. “It changed our lives completely.” Their daughter, Valerie, was born in Iran.
In Iran Bowman saw many diseases for the first time. “I saw smallpox, brucellosis, rabies, all sorts of things,” he said. One of the most common diseases among certain ethnic groups in Iran was favism, a metabolic disease caused by an enzyme deficiency in red blood cells. The mutation, which is the most common human enzyme defect, renders those who have it unable to break down a toxin found in fava beans. Favism fit with Bowman’s lifelong focus on inherited blood diseases and led to a series of important discoveries about the genetics of these diseases and the populations they affect, especially in the Middle East, Africa and America. It enabled him to travel all over the world collecting blood samples for DNA testing. It also led to frequent contacts and collaborations with University of Chicago researchers, who had first described the enzyme deficiency (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, or G6PD) and its connection with antimalarial medications.
Bowman joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1962 as an assistant professor of medicine and pathology and director of the hospital’s blood bank. He was promoted to full professor and director of laboratories in 1971. From 1973 to 1984, he directed the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center of the University of Chicago, funded by the National Institutes of Health. He was a member of the national advisory group that urged the Nixon administration to initiate the inception of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, which served as a model of patient-centered disease management and research. He also served as assistant dean of students for minority affairs for the Pritzker School of Medicine from 1986 to 1990.
In 1972 Bowman declared that mandatory sickle cell screening laws were “more harmful than beneficial.” These laws could “revive many of the past misadventures and racism of eugenics movements,” he argued at the time, adding that adult screening programs create “inaccurate, misleading, politically motivated propaganda which has left mothers frantic.” In 1973, he was named to two federal review committees designed to oversee sickle cell screening and education and to evaluate laboratory diagnostic techniques.Bowman was certified by the American Board of Pathology in pathologic anatomy (1951) and clinical pathology (1952).
He was the first tenured African-American professor in the University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Division. He served as the medical school’s Assistant Dean of Students for Minority Affairs from 1986 to 1990. He was a fellow of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institution.
He was married to educator Barbara Bowman and they had one daughter, Valerie Bowman Jarrett, who is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.
Dr. Bowman died of cancer on September 28, 2011, at the University of Chicago Medical Center, at the age of 88.