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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lydia Hunt King, M.D. (1837-1900)

This week I am working on a chapter for the Esther Pohl Lovejoy biography that deals with women in early medical societies in Oregon and the nation. Portland women doctors established the first all-female medical society in Western states in 1891 (and the third women's medical society in the nation) and the five women members met for just over a year. This group was short-lived, but in 1900 women doctors in Portland, including two of the original group, revived what they called the Portland Medical Club. Esther Pohl was active in this second group and was its president in 1905 when both the American Medical Association and the National American Woman Suffrage Association held their annual conferences in Portland to coincide with the Lewis and Clark Exposition. Pohl's speech at the exposition will be a key part of this chapter.

But there are many details that I can't include in the book, so I'd like to share some information about some of the early women doctors in the 1891 society. I'll also be posting this to my Oregon Women's History blog at

Lydia Hunt King, M.D.(1837-1900) was one of these five Portland women physicians active in this first women’s medical society. She was also a leader in the movement for women’s right to vote in Oregon.

A graduate of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1881, Lydia Hunt came to Portland to establish a medical practice in 1883 and married Samuel Willard King, a former educator who turned to business and founded the department store of Olds, Wortman and King in Portland. Hunt King joined the Oregon State Medical Society in 1884 and presented a paper on “Attention to Little Things in Normal Labor” at the 1889 annual conference of the association. She was one of five members of the original Portland Women’s Medical Society, which she joined in the fall of 1891.

In 1894 she became president of the newly-revived Oregon State Woman Suffrage Association and in July published an open letter “To the Friends of Equal Suffrage in the Northwest” announcing the “revival of our work in the Pacific Northwest” and inviting supporters to weekly meetings at the home of Abigail Scott Duniway, secretary of the OSWSA. At a OSWSA meeting in August, the Oregonian reporter noted her “sparking 10-minutes’ talk” in which she spoke “from a physician’s standpoint” and “held the right of self-government was inherent in all female life, and the times were out of joint because this principle was not recognized in the human species.” Hunt King resigned the OSWSA presidency later that fall due to ill health. She died March 10, 1900 following a four year illness. Her obituary, from the Oregonian, March 11, 1900, 24 appears below.


Joseph Gaston, Portland, Oregon: Its History and Builders vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1911): 244-45.
Proceedings of the Oregon State Medical Society 11 (1884): 97.
Proceedings of Oregon State Medical Society 16 (1890): 218-222.
Mae Cardwell Notebook “Early Women Physicians of Oregon. Cardwell. Excerpted by K.C. Mead, January 1930,” 23, Lucy Davis Phillips Collection, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University.
“Woman Suffrage; An Open Letter Through the Press by the O.S.W.S.A.,” Oregonian, July 5, 1894, 3.
“Equal Suffragists,” Oregonian, August 20, 1894, 5.
“Dr. Lydia Hunt King,” Oregonian, March 11, 1900, 24.