Howard Townsend Swain, M.D.

Howard Townsend Swain, M.D. was the much-loved and revered patriarch of my grandmother’s family.


He was called “Buppie” by close kin. That’s at least the way I’ve chosen to spell his nickname.

(A note to younger readers who have never heard it pronounced: I don’t know if it was ever written out. At any rate, it is said with the “u” sounding like “oo” in look, or book. So think, Bookie, and then substitute a p for the k. Buppie. Or if you want to really be technical, /ˈbʊpi/, but I never learned to read “dictionary-speak,” and come to think of it, don’t know anyone who did. Continuing with this minutiae on the subject of names, he appears to have been named, actually named, for a Dr. Howard Townsend, Professor and Chair of Obstetrics at Albany Medical College where his father, William Dexter Swain, M.D., had studied medicine.  Dr. Townsend died in January, 1867, shortly before Howard Townsend Swain’s birth.)

As a young man, Buppie came from a relatively simple rural life, but he rose within the Boston medical establishment to become a widely respected and sought-after physician.

It was said – often – that although he was an ob/gyn, men would nevertheless make appointments with him just to seek his counsel, coming to see him in his home-office at 226 Commonwealth Ave.

My grandmother, Helen Swain Burgin, his daughter, mentioned him in passing at least once every couple of days when we were together, and I think she thought of him even more often. It would not be overkill to say his presence, the fact of having known him, was one of the great anchors or touchstones of her life.

After he died, an unknown Boston newspaper dated Thursday, Dec 10, 1936, took note of his passing with a small two paragraph notice entitled “Affection,” which reads as follows:

“Rarely has such a tribute been paid to a doctor as at the funeral of Dr. Howard T. Swain, the distinguished gynecologist yesterday. In the past 30 years he brought into the world the children of hundreds of Back Bay families. He was more than a physician, he was a devoted friend and counsellor of mothers and children. They came to rely on his advice in many things.

“It is a splendid thing for a man to have earned such wide affection. Those who gathered for the last tribute to him were those who had personal reasons to cherish his memory.”


The following is a selection of photographic portraits from the life of Howard T. Swain, M.D. (The image from Pictorial Review was found among my grandmother’s things. I have no idea if he modeled for it or not, but the resemblance is remarkable.) I’ll show some of the many wonderful group photos of HTS at home with his family in a few weeks.

HTS and family


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