The Remarkable Life and Tragic Death of Dr. R. Harvey Reed.

Robert Harvey Reed was born on October 8, 1851 in Dalton, Ohio, a village about 13 miles east of Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio.  According to Robert G. Patterson, at an early age Reed was taken into the home of his uncle, Robert H. Reed, who raised and educated him.  It was his uncle’s second wife, Eliza, who became a mother figure to him.  R. Harvey attended Union High School at Dalton.  Sometime between the age of 17 and 18 Reed began teaching school; he earned $20 a month.  Around this time, thanks to the money from teaching and other odd jobs, he started attending Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio.[1]

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Robert Harvey Reed, age 16 or 17, from Patterson’s Robert Harvey Reed.

In 1873, at the age of 22, Reed began studying medicine under Dr. Wormer of Alliance, Ohio.  Reed returned home to Dalton and continued to study medicine with Dr. David Y. Roebuck.  Against the wishes of his foster-father, Reed entered medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1874.  After his first class, Reed was selected by the faculty to be resident physician at Mission Hospital in Philadelphia and graduated with honors on March 10, 1876.

After graduation Dr. Reed briefly work as a surgeon for the Delaware Copper Mining Company at Lake Superior, Keweenaw County, Michigan.  While there he also was asked to botanize and report on the flora of Keweenaw Point Michigan, which appeared in the “Forestry Report” published by the U. S. government.   On June 20, 1876, Reed came home to marry Miss Melissa A. Stinson of Dalton, Ohio.  In 1877 Reed returned to Ohio, where the next twenty years of his work would take place.


The Daily Shield, 11 NOV 1880

Reed first began working in West Salem, Ohio with Dr. C. C. Stouffer, who was also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.  He worked there for 3 years before moving to Mansfield, Ohio in November of 1880.  Dr. Reed’s first ad appeared in The Mansfield Herald on December 30, 1880 and his office was located on N. Park St. for about two years, until he moved to West Third where he had his office next to his residence.


The Daily Shield, 30 DEC 1880

During his time in Mansfield, Dr. Reed was an active member in the Mansfield Lyceum and Reading Union.  It was here that many of his papers were read on sanitation and public health.  Reed would become a pioneer in this field with papers like “The Sanitary condition of Mansfield,” which suggested the establishment of a board of health in the city, and “Sewers and Sewerage,” which discussed the best sewage system adaptable to Mansfield.  It was also in Mansfield where Dr. Reed received his first public office when he was appointed physician to the Richland County Children’s Home on June 30, 1883. Dr. Reed was also involved in the creation of the Richland County Sanitary Association and the Mansfield Board of Health; he served as health officer from 1887 until he left the city in 1894.

Also while in Mansfield, Dr. Reed contracted an infection that remained with him for the rest of his life.  During an operation, Dr. Reed was pricked by a needle and despite several treatments and operations, including many for his life-long friend the famous surgeon Nicholas Senn of Chicago, the infection never cleared up.

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Dr. Reed about 1892, from Patterson’s Robert Harvey Reed.

Later Dr. Reed helped with the establishment of the Ohio Medical University in Columbus, Ohio.  “Chartered in 1890, Ohio Medical University opened in 1892 to teach the medical and collateral professions.  It originally offered schools of medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy.  For a short time OMU had a school of midwifery.“  In 1892 Reed was appointed to the Chair in the Theory and Practice of Surgery and Clinical Surgery.  He traveled between Mansfield and Columbus for two years before moving to Columbus to teach surgery and serve as chief of the surgical staff of the Protestant Hospital. “In 1907 Ohio Medical University merged with its Columbus competitor–Starling Medical College.  In 1914 the Starling-Ohio Medical school accepted an offer to become the medical department of Ohio State University.“[2]


Ohio Medical University

In 1897 Dr. Reed accepted positions in Rock Springs, Wyoming where he worked for the next ten years.  On January 1, 1907 due to failing health, Dr. Reed resigned his position with the Union Pacific Railroad and moved further west to Los Angeles.  By the end of the month, Dr. Reed was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  According to his obituary in a Rock Springs Miner from February 9, 1907: “at half past twelve o’clock Wednesday afternoon [January 30, 1907], Dr. Reed was left alone in his apartments for a short time. During this brief period he secured a revolver and placing it to his right temple, fired one fatal shot. The report of the shot attracted the attention of the hotel attaches who immediately entered the room, and found his body stretched on the floor, with life extinct. Near his right hand was lying the revolver with which the tragedy was committed.”[3]

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Dr. Reed about 1902, from Patterson’s Robert Harvey Reed.

According The Mansfield Daily Shield, The Los Angeles Times reported that “the man of mystery, who was never seen outside of his hotel room at the Lankersham Hotel, killed himself there yesterday, blowing out his brains with a big .44 caliber revolver.”  They continued to say that “having lost his position, his family and friends through drink, he lay in bed in his room, in charge of his valet, drinking in joyless, helpless, abandonment to the end.”  The night clerk on duty reported the grisly scene: “the body was half turned on one side, and the entire top of the skull was gone – smashed to pulp.  Each of the four walls of the room was splattered with blood and brains. A piece of the skull had been buried to the celling with such force that it broke the plaster and remained imbedded there.  The large revolver lay nestled in the hollow of one of the arms.”[4]


Lankersham Hotel abt. 1907, from the USC Digital Library

Though alcohol may have been the immediate cause of Dr. Reed’s suicide, others claim that his mental health had been deteriorating for years.  According The Daily Shield, Dr. Reed “had written a number of very queer letters to former Mansfield friends which clearly indicated that his mind was wrecked.”  In the same article it was reported that due to the infection Dr. Reed and contracted years ago, he had become addicted to cocaine.  It was due to these addictions and loss of mental faculties that his wife felt compelled to leave him about a year before his death.[5]

Diseases and addiction destroyed a brilliant mind; Dr. R Harvey Reed was at the top of his profession.  He was a pioneer in sanitary conditions in Ohio and during his time in Mansfield and made many great improvements to the city.  Dr. Reed led a remarkable life that should not be overshadowed by his grisly death.


[1] Patterson, R. G., (1935). Robert Harvey Reed: A Sanitary Pioneer in Ohio. The Ohio Public Health Association.
[2] Ohio Medical University, America’s Lost colleges, Retrieved from
[3] Rock Springs Miner, February 02, 1907
[4] The Mansfield Dailey Shield, February 07, 1907.
[5] The Mansfield Dailey Shield, February 02, 1907.


2 thoughts on “The Remarkable Life and Tragic Death of Dr. R. Harvey Reed.

    • They do not appear to be related, but I was unable to find much information on Dr. R. Harvey Reed’s biological parents. Myron, Elizabeth and Barbara’s father was a John A. Reed who was also a physician according to census records. They were originally form Knox County. Thanks for commenting.


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