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Figures of the past

Prominent Owen physician excelled in politics and led Anchorage Asylum | BY MOLLY HAINES RIDDLE


Born in New Liberty on Jan. 25, 1828, Robert Gale's journey began as the son of physician John Gayle and Malinda Brassfield Gayle. Excelling in his studies, Robert graduated with distinction from Transylvania University in Lexington. He earned his professional diploma from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1848.

Robert started his medical career in Covington, quickly making a name for himself. He was elected as a staff officer at the Cincinnati Commercial Hospital, where he served for a year before returning to Owen County. He built a thriving practice there and earned a stellar reputation as a surgeon. His success in medicine led him into politics, and by age 25, he was elected County Judge. In 1859, he represented Owen County in the state legislature.

With the onset of the Civil War, Robert enlisted in the Confederate Army as a surgeon in Col. D. Howard Smith’s regiment. He served until his health declined, forcing him to leave the field. 

After the war, Robert moved to Louisville, where he was appointed surgeon of the city’s shortline railroad in 1873 and, a year later, became the surgeon for the Paducah railroad. He also held roles as Secretary of the American Mutual Beneficial Association of Physicians and served on the Judicial Committee of the Code of Ethics in the American Medical Association. Robert’s expertise and leadership led him to become President of the Board of Medical Officers of the City Hospital. In 1879, Governor Luke Blackburn appointed him Medical Superintendent of the Anchorage Asylum.

Robert married Mary C. Green on Dec. 31, 1846, and they had eight children together before her death on April 11, 1880. Shortly before his own death, Robert married Susan Hughes of Bloomfield, Kentucky.

On May 2, 1884, Robert resigned from the Anchorage Asylum. He passed away later that day at his daughter’s home in New Liberty, Owen County, after a brief battle with stomach cancer. 

His obituary in Louisville’s Courier-Journal notes the “great improvements” made during his superintendency at the Anchorage Asylum, “Accommodations for the patients were increased, the grounds were extensively improved and beautified, and a great saving was made in the expenditures of the institution. He built the branch railroad from the station to the asylum, by which a vast saving was made in the cost of handling freights, and inaugurated many other important changes. His administrative ability was one of his decided characteristics, and the government of the institution was never in more capable hands.”


Editor's Note: The varying spellings of "Gayle" and "Gale" in this text are intentional. Historically, many surnames have undergone changes, and it seems that Dr. Gale chose to drop the "Y" in his early years. While his parents' and siblings' gravestones read "Gayle," Dr. Gale and all eight of his children's gravestones are inscribed with "Gale."

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