Dr. Matthew D. Branche '49

Dr. Matthew D. Branche '49

Matt Branche has been described as “a natural athlete [whose] every move was smooth and graceful.” He displayed his athletic gifts in every way he could find while at Bowdoin, earning varsity letters in track, basketball, tennis, and football.

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama, Branche was raised in the Boston area and prepared for Bowdoin at Boston Latin. Once in Brunswick he quickly found success on the track, where his athleticism flourished. At the Maine State track meet in 1948, he placed first in high hurdles, low hurdles, and the high jump, and placed second in the broad jump at the same competition. His success in the jumping events at that meet was no surprise, as he had set the school record in the high jump two years earlier. Always experimenting with his physical abilities, Branche approached pole-vaulting teammates at track practice on one occasion and asked if he could try for himself. On his first pass, aweing teammates who still recall the moment sixty years later, he cleared the bar at a height that would have won many competitions of the day. Branche was an outstanding competitor beyond the track as well. In 1947 he was named to the All-Maine team in basketball.

The books he re-wrote, however, were not only in the world of athletics. As one of the first great African American athletes at Bowdoin, Branche had an impact on campus that was even more profound than on the track or the hardcourt.

The hurdles he cleared as a member of the Bowdoin community included being the first African American to be elected president of his class, and also the first to join a national fraternity at Bowdoin. The marks Branche left at Bowdoin are significant to this day. Upon his admission to Delta Upsilon fraternity, the national organization responded with vehement protest, and this conflict precipitated the Bowdoin chapter’s withdrawal from its affiliation with Delta Upsilon and its subsequent conversion to Delta Sigma. The combination of Branche’s groundbreaking athletic and social accomplishments brought with it a flood of media attention; despite this storm he continued to distinguish himself as both a scholar and an athlete.

Branche went on from Bowdoin to earn his master’s degree at Howard University and a medical degree from Boston University, and served in Korea as a military surgeon. While his focus had shifted from athletics to medicine, his involvement with athletes continued for many years. In 1976 Branche joined the United States Olympic medical team, caring for a new generation of top-flight athletes. Branche earned his degree at Bowdoin in biology. He was married for many years to Alma Craft Branche, and together they raised two children. His older brother, George C. Branche, is a member of the Class of 1946; the two joined in medical practice in 1963. Matt Branche died on August 13, 2005, just two months before his induction into the Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor.