|When he died at the age of 78, Willis Bent Morse,
M.D., was celebrated as having practiced medicine in Salem 53
years, longer than any other physician. He is survived by three
institutions. The first -- in 1896 --was establishment of a
non-profit hospital that became Salem General Hospital and then
merged into Salem Hospital. Two Morse initiatives in 1903 led
to the creation of The Doctors' Clinic in Salem and the Oregon
Board of Health, a predecessor of the Oregon Health Division.
Born in McMinnville, OR, on March 21, 1866, Dr. Morse died
July 20. 1944. The Capital Journal speculated that he had
been a victim of World War II, succumbing to exhaustion from
attempting to fill the gap on the home front after almost
half of Salem s physicians had been called into military service.
"If any man ever believed in the holiness and sanctity
of medicine and surgery it was Dr. Morse," newspaper
columnist Don Upjohn wrote. The son of William B. Morse, first
superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, and Nancy
E. McBride, a teacher, Dr. Morse spent his childhood in Salem,
St. Helens, and the Dalles. He earned his medical degree in
1891 at the Willamette University Medical School.
Early in his practice, Dr. Morse became one of the first
Oregon physicians to distinguish between malaria and typhoid
fever, two diseases then common to the state. He traveled
as far north as Wheatland Ferry to make house calls on victims
of malaria, once finding five persons in one residence sick
with the disease. His habit of making house calls, often at
night, continued until his death.
He was married in January, 1899, to Ethel Elaine Cusick,
whose father had been a member of the first graduating class
in the Willamette University Medical School in 1867. The marriage
lasted only seven years, however; Mrs. Morse and an infant
son died of an infection in March, 1906. John E.. Davis, who
chronicled Dr. Morse's life for the Marion County Historical
Society in 1985, said the physician promised his dying wife
that he would never remarry. He remained true to that vow
and lived with the late Mrs. Morse's parents until their deaths.
Dr. Morse and Dr. Charles H. Robertson began a joint practice
in 1903. It had grown to eight physicians by the start of
World War II and is today The Doctors' Clinic.
Informed by continuing medical education at the Mayo Clinic
in Minnesota and in New York City, Dr. Morse became a vigorous
advocate of improved sanitation in Oregon. He served 20 years
on the State Board of Health, including a term as its chair,
and was president of the Oregon Medical Society in 1927. He
also took part in several national commissions that worked
to improve the quality of medical practice in the United States.
Dr. Morse was a pioneer member of the American College of
Dr. Morse left the bulk of his estate, $130,000, to Salem
General Hospital, and his name lives on in the Morse Building
at Salem Hospital's Center Street site.
Compiled and written by John McMillan.
Davis, John E. Doctor Willis Bent Morse: 1866-1944. 1985.
Dr. Willis B. Morse (1886-1944), Panegyric, 1972, Marion
County Medical-Auxillary, Salem, Oregon, Salem Public Library.
Salem in Portraits, page 4, HNC 2767, Salem Public Library