Robert Donald Campbell was born in Erin Village, Ontario, Canada, on January 8, 1867. He was one of six children born to Alexander and Margaret (McKinven) Campbell. Both his parents were natives of Scotland who had emigrated to Canada in 1864.
Robert Campbell attended Manitoba University, Winnipeg, Canada. While still in college, he was a volunteer member in the 90th Battalion of the famous Winnipeg Rifles, better known as the Black Devils. He was a bugler during the battle that suppressed the second Louis Riel Uprising in 1885.
In 1888, Campbell graduated with an A.B. degree and immediately after began his studies in medicine at the same university. Upon receipt of his degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1893, he moved to Brainerd, Minnesota, and interned at the Northern Pacific Railroad Hospital. In 1894, he moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he began a partnership with Dr. Henry Wheeler.
He and Wheeler were active in the founding St. Michael’s Hospital in 1907. The two selected the site for the hospital, which was chosen because it was the one spot of land on the north end of the city that was not damaged by the flood of 1897.
Even with a burgeoning medical practice, Campbell found time to be elected President of the North Dakota State Medical Association in 1907. He also continued to travel aboard doing postgraduate work at medical centers in the European cities of Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London, and Edinburgh. He also took courses in New York and Chicago. He helped to organize the American College of Surgeons in 1913, and was the first chair of the reorganized Grand Forks County Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1917.
Following U.S. entry in World War I, Campbell enlisted in the United States Army Officer Reserve Corps in July 1917. He was called to active duty and commissioned as a Captain in the Medical Corps in October of that year. Following assignments at Camp Grant (Rockford, Illinois), Jefferson Barracks (St. Louis, Missouri) and Camp Merritt (Hoboken, New Jersey), he arrived in France on September 15, 1918. Once he was in France, however, Campbell was very near the frontlines, close enough to warrant in a letter to his wife the following: “Big guns going all night. We wonder if it means that the Germans are going to refuse to surrender .” But the war did end, and Campbell returned to the United States in February 1919. He was discharged on March 1, 1919, at the rank of Captain.
Campbell returned to Grand Forks, and for 28 years he was the chief of staff at St. Michael’s Hospital. His service to the community, though, stretched beyond the medical and academic fields. He was president of the Grand Forks Building & Loan Association, was the first president of the Grand Forks Post of the American Legion, and was involved with the Rotary Club.
Dr. Campbell was also affiliated with the University of North Dakota. He lectured in the UND School of Medicine from 1906-1933, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1956. The Robert D. Campbell Foundation was established in his honor by the First National Bank in 1958. Campbell had served as the Chair of the bank’s Board of Directors from 1939 until 1958. The Campbells themselves later added over $160,000 to the Foundation, which sought “to advocate and promote the best interests of the University of North Dakota, its students and faculty.”
Robert Campbell married Josephine Swain, a native of Wisconsin, on November 11, 1896, in Winona, Minnesota. The couple had one child, Donald Swain Campbell, who died 9 months after his birth. Josephine Campbell died on January 23, 1959, while Robert Campbell died on June 12, 1961.
The Robert D. Campbell Papers date from 1909-1959, and consist primarily of correspondence. The business correspondence is arranged first, dates from 1909-1941, and consists mostly of letters from Campbell’s professional colleagues regarding patient referral and care. Correspondence from Campbell’s patients regarding both their symptoms and their bills is also included.
Personal correspondence is arranged next, and has been housed in three folders. These letters date from Campbell’s service in the Medical Corps in World War I, and were sent from him to his wife. The letters were written while Campbell was stationed in the United States, as well as from when he was in France. He commonly wrote about daily happenings around camp, what the weather was like, and what he was doing on his down time. Most of his time in France was spent away from the front lines at Evacuation Hospital Number 12. He did visit the front lines from time to time, however, including right before the armistice took effect. On the morning of November 11, 1918, he wrote that “The big guns were going all night. We wonder if it means that the Germans are going to refuse to surrender. Many happy returns of the date, it may be a great day in history.” Campbell sent letters until he returned to the United States in February 1919.
Also included are folders containing the text of Campbell’s speeches, newspaper clippings, and biographical information. A miscellaneous folder contains opera programs, UND publications, professional citations, and material related to the Robert D. Campbell Foundation.