Frank P. Bourgin, 80, a retired Office of Emergency Management official who attracted national attention in 1988 when the University of Chicago reversed a 1945 decision and awarded him a doctorate after having initially rejected his dissertation, died of cancer Dec. 12 at his home in Chevy Chase.
Dr. Bourgin, who formerly owned a lighting fixture company in Chicago and operated a chain of clothing stores in northern Minnesota, came to Washington in 1970 as a program officer for the Office of Emergency Management, and he retired there in 1983.
As a young man, he had dreamed of a career in academia, and in 1945 as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, he submitted his dissertation to the political science faculty. The 617-page thesis examined views and economic policies of key figures in the early years of the Republic, including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams and Albert Gallatin. All considered government a positive instrument in promoting economic and cultural development, he argued, a notion that contradicted what then was the prevailing conviction -- that the federal government had operated by principles of laissez faire from its founding until the New Deal.
The thesis was returned with the suggestion that the author, who had worked intermittently on it for 13 years while supporting a family, return to school full time. Instead, Dr. Bourgin filed the dissertation away in a locked metal cabinet and continued his career as an Army historian in Chicago.
In 1987, on the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, he discovered that historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had made historical interpretations similar to his in a new book, "The Cycles of American History," and he sent Schlesinger a synopsis of his work.
Schlesinger wrote back, calling Dr. Bourgin's work "pathbreaking" and telling him he was "a true pioneer in the reconstruction of the early years of the economic policy of the Republic." He also wrote the University of Chicago political science department, which reversed its 1945 decision and awarded the doctorate.
In 1989, the thesis was published as a book, "The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic."
Dr. Bourgin was born in Tower, Minn., and graduated from the University of Minnesota. He had done postgraduate study at Pomona College in California before enrolling at the university as a doctoral candidate in 1932.
After serving as an Army historian and lighting fixture and clothing merchant, Dr. Bourgin joined the federal service as director of a six-state Midwest area of the Office of Emergency Management in Battle Creek, Mich. He remained there until moving to this area in 1970.
His wife, Dorothy Crost Bourgin, died in 1989.
Survivors include two daughters, Marilyn Israel of Minneapolis and Claudia Sandonato of Southfield, Mich.; a brother, Simon Bourgin of Washington; and five grandchildren.