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Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Oregon State Medical Society and the Rights of Women to Practice Medicine, 1877


When sisters Ella A. J. Ford and Angela L. Ford graduated from the Willamette University Medical Department in 1877 they became the first women to receive a medical degree from an Oregon institution. Both then applied for membership in the three-year-old Oregon State Medical Society.

Membership in medical societies was the next step in professionalization. And it would be a rocky road for women in Oregon and the nation. But on this afternoon in June 1877 women and their male supporters won the day and made medical history.

According to Mae Cardwell’s account, Salem physician John Reynolds suggested that women be accepted into the group and Abram Sharples made a formal resolution that the society “recognize the rights of women to practice in the medical profession” and that women be elected “subject only to the same general rules observed in receiving male members.” After “considerable good-natured discussion” the resolution passed and the two women joined nineteen male applicants admitted to membership.

The published Proceedings of the society noted: “A resolution was introduced and carried to admit ladies, duly qualified, to membership in this Society.” And the Oregonian reported that “Dr. Sharples moved that women who are graduates of regular medical colleges should be admitted to membership in medical societies; the motion was carried in the affirmative.”

John Reynolds (1837-1919) graduated from Miami Medical College in Ohio in 1874 and came to Oregon that same year. He became dean of the Willamette University Medical Department faculty in 1895. Abram Sharples (1841-1920) received his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1864, was one of the founders of the Willamette University Medical Department and its first professor of Anatomy

For more see

Mae H. Cardwell, “The Oregon State Medical Society—An Historical Sketch,” Medical Sentinel 13 no.7 (July 1905) 193-212.

Proceedings of the Oregon State Medical Society 4 (1877): 12.

“State Medical Society,” Oregonian, June 13, 1877, 3.

Olof Larsell, The Doctor in Oregon: A Medical History (Portland: Binfords & Mort for the Oregon Historical Society, 1947), 201, 246-47.

Effie R. Knapp, “Three Pioneer Doctors of Eugene,” Lane County Historian 6 no. 4 (December 1961): 68-69, 80.

Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 179-80.

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