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Monday, August 16, 2010

Mae Cardwell, M.D.: Crusader for Cleanliness!

Esther Pohl served as one of three physicians on the Portland Health Board from 1905-1907 and as Portland City Health Officer from 1907-1909, all under the administration of Democratic mayor Harry Lane, M.D. Pohl came to the board of health just as Portland women had scored an important civic victory -- the appointment of a woman as market inspector to enforce codes of clean food, including meat, to support the health of Portlanders.
One of the leaders of this pure food and market inspection campaign was none other than Mae Cardwell, M.D., a path breaker and leader of Oregon women and medicine. She was an advocate for a woman sanitary inspector for Portland as early as 1901 in the Home Department of the Portland Woman's Club, according to club records at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
In April 1905 Cardwell was one of three physicians on the city board of health (Pohl's predecessor) and worked with a coalition of Portland women, including members of the Y.W.C.A. and the Consumer's League, to get the city council under Mayor Williams to hire meat and market inspectors as part of the board of health.
On April 10 a group of women toured Portland's markets and were nauseated by what they encountered. And they held a mass meeting on April 14 to set up a boycott and demand action by the city council. The Oregon Journal (April 14, 1905, 1) gave it front page headlines.

The article, in addition to providing great information about the campaign, carries the added thrilling bonus of an early image of Mae Cardwell.

At the mass meeting, Cardwell "congratulated womankind on the growth of her influence in the past few years and the attention with which she is listened to now."

Women physicians, according to Regina Morantz Sanchez in Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine, participated in the Progressive Era public health movement in great numbers across the nation. This was certainly true of Portland. In coalitions and as members of women's clubs and groups like the Consumers' League, Mae Cardwell, Esther Pohl and other women doctors made a powerful impact. And as Karen Blair notes in The Clubwoman as Feminist, while some histories give most of the credit to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, women in their organizations changed the nation's policies about pure food, sanitary markets and consumer health and empowerment in the first part of the twentieth century and beyond.

In the next few posts more from this market inspection campaign, including new faces and links to the career of Esther Lovejoy.

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