Collection - Kedzie Family Papers

Robert Clark Kedzie was born to William and Margaret Kedzie on January 28, 1823, in Delhi, New York, and moved to Michigan in 1826 with his family. Graduating from Oberlin College in 1846, he was in charge of the Rochester Academy, Michigan, for the next two years. Kedzie married Mary J. Knowlton of Franklin, Ohio, on March 11, 1848, in Portage, Ohio, but she died within the year. No further information on Knowlton has been uncovered. After her death, Kedzie moved to Ann Arbor to study medicine at the University of Michigan Medical College. He married Harriet Elizabeth “Eliza” Fairchild (1828-1891) on May 20, 1850, in Brownhelm, Ohio. A native of Oberlin, Ohio, Fairchild attended Oberlin College while Kedzie was there, graduating with a degree from the Ladies Department in 1847. She went on to teach at Rochester Academy from 1847-1849. After Robert finished his medical degree in 1851, the couple moved to Kalamazoo and then Vermontville, Michigan, where Harriet kept house and Robert practiced medicine until the outbreak of the Civil War. They had three children together, William Knowlton (1852-1880), Robert Fairchild (1853-1882), and Frank Stewart (1859-1935). Harriet and the children moved to Oberlin during the war.
On January 23, 1862, Kedzie, at the age of 37, was commissioned as an officer in Company S of the 12th Michigan Infantry and appointed as an assistant surgeon. He was captured by Confederate forces at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862, and was compelled to care for wounded Confederate soldiers in addition to the Union wounded. After a few days, the Confederate surgeons brokered a deal to release the captive Union surgeons so they could return to Union lines and treat their wounded. After returning to his camp, Kedzie soon became very ill with dysentery. He was promoted to full surgeon on April 25, 1862, after the acting surgeon, Dr. George L. Brunschweiler, was forced to resign because he was consistently too drunk to carry out his duties. By this time, Kedzie was already aboard a hospital steamboat, the City of Memphis, traveling towards Cincinnati. He soon regained his health and caught back up with his regiment in Jackson, Tennessee, around June 21. Kedzie submitted his resignation in late September, citing poor physical health. Though his health soon bounced back, commanders accepted his resignation on October 8, 1862, and he was mustered out.
Kedzie’s bouts with ill health led him to abandon his medical practice and accept the position of Professor of Chemistry at Michigan Agricultural College in February 1863. During his forty years at M.A.C., Kedzie served in a number of influential positions, such as a Congressional Representative in the Michigan House (1867), president of the Michigan Medical Society (1874), the Michigan State Board of Health (1877-1881), the American Public Health Association (1882), as well as the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science (1887-1889). By 1880, with Robert F. and Frank still living at home, Harriet and Robert employed a servant. In 1898, M.A.C. conferred upon him a Doctor of Science degree and the University of Michigan awarded him a Doctorate of Law in 1901.

Harriet and Robert’s son, William, who taught chemistry at Kansas State Agricultural College and later, Oberlin College, died at the age of 28 from “inflammation of the brain” in April 1880. Several months later, Robert F. Kedzie resigned from his position as an assistant chemist under his father to take a job as a chemistry professor at the newly founded Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College. Frank took his brother Robert’s position and worked with his father for the next twenty two years. Two years after he moved to Mississippi and a month after his thirtieth birthday, Robert F. Kedzie died from malaria on February 13, 1882. In 1891, Harriet died at the age of 63 from heart failure. Census records and city directories indicate William’s widow, Ella M. Kedzie (1856-1935), who was an artist specializing in pottery, lived in Robert’s home from 1896-1900 along with Ella’s daughter, Ella Pearl (1877-1970).

Kedzie’s work as a public health official and consumer advocate included securing the passage of an act that established a state food and dairy commission, of which he was appointed as its first analyst. He also helped pass a law to inspect the chemical contents of commercial fertilizers. Upon discovering the hazards of arsenic-laced pigments used in wallpaper and other items, he fought to make such pigments illegal. Kedzie was an early advocate of growing sugar beets in Michigan. His agricultural experiments and public relations work on behalf of Michigan’s fledgling beet companies earned him reputation as the "father” of Michigan’s beet sugar industry.

Kedzie retired from his position as head of the M.A.C. Department of Chemistry in 1902 and his son Frank took over the position. Robert C. Kedzie continued to work at the college as chemist and teacher until his death on November 7, 1902.

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections