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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quiz Sessions 1894

As Esther Clayson entered her final term at the University of Oregon Medical Department in 1894 she and her colleagues at the UOMD and at the Willamette University Medical Department, then in Portland, were preparing for final examinations and graduation. Apparently some students had the extra money to invest in the late 19th century equivalent of the various exam prep courses available to 21st century students. The presence of these quiz sessions suggests the competitive atmosphere among students and graduates for good scores and additional credentialing and positions in the period.

At least two groups of Portland physicians advertised in Esther’s graduation year of 1894 for weekly quiz sessions across all subjects. “Quiz Masters” Drs. H.R. Holmes, professor of gynecology at the Willamette Medical Department, W. L. Wood, E.N. Wilson, and W.F. Amos comprised one group, and Drs. G. F. Koehler and E. F. Tucker, special lecturers at the University of Oregon Medical Department in anatomy and gynecology respectively, organized another.

No evidence exists that Esther Clayson participated in the quiz sessions. She had taken off a year to work in department stores to pay tuition fees and, in addition, Portland and the nation were in the midst of a severe economic depression in 1894. So having money for extra sessions seems unlikely. Perhaps the physician “quiz masters” were particularly in need of the extra fees from tutoring that year.


“College Quiz,” Medical Sentinel 2 no. 1 (January 1894): xvi.

“Quizzing,” Medical Sentinel 2 no. 1 (January 1894): xviii.

“Faculty of Medicine,” Seventh Annual Announcement of the Medical Department of the University of Oregon, Session of 1893-94 (Portland: A. Anderson Printers, 1893), 4

“Horatio Reese Holmes, M.D.,” Transactions of the American Gynecological Society 22 (1897):310-12.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Helena Scammon McGuire, M.D. (1865-1940) -- With Thanks to the Goldendale, Washington Community Library Staff!

Esther Clayson (later Pohl Lovejoy) was the second woman to graduate from the University of Oregon Medical Department in 1894. Helena Scammon was the first in 1893. And thanks to some newly-discovered materials, including her 1940 obituary from the Goldendale Sentinel located by the wonderful staff at the Goldendale, Washington Community Library, we know more about Helena Scammon McGuire’s life and subsequent career.

Born in Washington State, Scammon graduated from the UOMD with five male colleagues (one of whom, Emil Pohl, was the future husband of Esther Clayson) in April 1893. The Oregonian noted that “the Salem medal, for the best standing in the final examinations, was awarded to Miss Scammon, but as Dr. James B. Cutter stood only 1 4-10 per cent below Miss Scammon, the faculty presented him with a certificate of honorable mention.” (Hmmm . . . .)

Scammon returned to Washington State and married William McGuire in August 1894. The 1900 census of Goldendale, in Klickitat County, Washington lists Helena as a physician and William as a grain buyer. They had three children. William died in 1922. From 1923-1930 Helena served two terms as Klickitat County treasurer. She died in 1940, a long-time resident of Goldendale, physician and office holder.

Esther Clayson had to take a year off from her studies to work in order to finance her degree and so she did not graduate with her class in 1893; in other circumstances she and Scammon would have shared the honor of being the first women graduates of UOMD.

This new information helps us reclaim Scammon as an important figure in the history of Oregon and Washington and in the medical, political, and women’s history of the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks again, Goldendale librarians!


“Helena McGuire, County Pioneer, Passes Saturday,” Goldendale Sentinel, May 16, 1940, 1.

Entry for Helena Scammon McGuire in Who’s Who in Washington State vol. 1, 1927 (Seattle: Arthur H. Allen, 1927), 159.

“Got Their Diplomas,” Oregonian, April 4, 1893, 8.

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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oregon and the West: A Comparison of First Women Medical School Graduates

Oregon was the first Western state to admit a woman to medical school. Mary Sawtelle attended Willamette University Medical Department in Salem from 1869-1871 but because of conflict with faculty and failure to pass anatomy she did not graduate. (Wait for the Lovejoy biography for more on Sawtelle!) As we’ve seen, Angela L. Ford and Ella A. J. Ford were the first women to graduate from a medical school in Oregon -- the Willamette University Medical School in 1877.
California had the first woman medical graduate from a Western state when Lucy Maria Field Wanzer completed her degree at the University of California Medical School in 1876. Elizabeth Follasnbee followed her in 1877, sharing the year with the Ford sisters.
The Medical Department of the University of Colorado was open to women in its founding year of 1883, but it was not until 1887 that Eleanor Lawney graduated from the Medical Department of the University of Denver (established in 1881) and became the first woman to graduate from a Colorado medical school.
Oregon, California and Colorado were the only Western states with medical schools from the 1870s through Esther Clayson’s years at the University of Oregon Medical Department in the 1890s.

For Sawtelle see
“Mary Priscilla Avery Sawtelle, 1835-94” in Pacific Northwest Women, 1815-1925: Lives, Memories, Writings ed. Jean M. Ward and Elaine A. Maveety (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1995), 200-08.
For California see
Emma L. Merritt, “Address Delivered by Dr. Emma L. Merritt at a Banquet Given by Women Physicians, October 11, 1924, in Honor of the Eighty-Third Birthday of Dr. Lucy Maria Field Wanzer,” California and Western Medicine 23, no. 5 (May 1925): 599-601; Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Women Doctors of the World (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 103; John Long Wilson, “Stanford University School of Medicine and the Predecessor Schools: An Historical Perspective,” Digital Edition, Lane Medical Library, Stanford School of Medicine,; Adelaide Brown, “The History of the Development of Women in Medicine in California,” California and Western Medicine 23, no. 5 (May 1925): 579-82.
For Colorado see
Mary DeMund, Women Physicians of Colorado (Denver: Range Press, 1976), 46.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thanks Everyone for a Successul Suffrage Event at the Oregon Encyclopedia History Night

A one-day digression from our theme of Oregon women physicians (while remembering that women doctors like Esther Pohl Lovejoy were part of the foundation of the movement in the state) to say thank you to the Oregon Encyclopedia Project, McMenamin's and Century of Action: Oregon Women Vote 1912-2010 for a great night of votes for women history and commemoration at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse last night. Special thanks to Amy Platt, Tim Hills, Jan Dilg and Eliza Canty-Jones and to all those who made the trip to join us. And Michael and Dale, warmest thanks for your good wishes!

Time was short for my presentation so I want to post here something stated last night that needs elaboration.

The suffrage victory in 1912 did not bring the vote to all Oregon women. After 1888 Native American women who married U.S. citizens in state-sanctioned ceremonies became U.S. citizens. Specific provisions of the Dawes Act of 1887 provided for U.S. citizenship for tribal members who took part in the allotment system. But it was not until 1924 with the federal Indian Citizenship Act that all Native American women and men in Oregon could vote. Federal law, in force until 1952, also barred first generation Asian immigrant women and men from naturalized citizenship and voting. And a federal statute passed in 1907 and in force through 1922 provided that a woman who was a U.S. citizen lost that status and its privileges, including the vote, if she married “a foreigner.” The law required her to take the nationality of her husband.

Return tomorrow for more on Oregon women physicians and how they compare with their colleagues in other Western states.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Angela L. Ford, M.D. and Ella A. J. Ford, M.D., 1877: First Women to Graduate from Medical School in Oregon

In 1877, seventeen years before Esther Clayson became the second woman to graduate from the University of Oregon Medical Department in 1894, two sisters became the first women to graduate from medical school in Oregon. They were Ella A. J. Ford and Angela L. Ford of Polk County. For the next several posts, some information and context about these two women physicians who preceded Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy on the Oregon medical scene and the several reasons why they are "firsts" in Oregon women's and medical history.

First, some context--
Nineteenth century medical education in Oregon involved the development of two competing institutions. The first was the Willamette University Medical Department (WUMD), located in Salem from 1867 to 1878, relocated to Portland from 1878 to 1895, and again in Salem from 1895 to 1913. In 1887 many of the leading faculty at WUMD resigned their positions and established the rival University of Oregon Medical Department in Portland (UOMD, renamed the University of Oregon Medical School in 1913, now the Oregon Health & Science University). In Esther Clayson’s medical school story, this late nineteenth century rivalry would give an opening to women physicians in the midst of strong barriers against them.

Now for the Ford sisters –
In 1877 sisters Ella A. J. Ford and Angela Ford graduated from the Willamette University Medical Department in Salem, the first women to graduate from an Oregon medical school.

After graduation, according to Olof Larsell in The Doctor in Oregon, Ella Ford married physician J.W. Robinson, set up practice in Jacksonville and was apparently the first university-trained woman physician in southern Oregon. She died in childbirth in June 1879.

Angela Ford married and, as Dr. A. L. Ford Warren, set up a thriving practice in Portland after post-graduate work in New York. In 1899, the Medical Sentinel noted that Ford Warren “enjoys the distinction of possessing the largest and most successful practice of any lady physician on the Pacific coast.” Ford Warren maintained her practice until shortly before her death in 1934.

Sara Piasecki posted a wonderful letter from Ford Warren to Dr. Mabel Akin in 1933 with a “brief sketch” of her practice on her amazing blog from the Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University.


“Dr. A. L Ford Warren,” Medical Sentinel 7 no. 9 (September 1899): 432.

“Dr. Angela L. Ford Warren,” Oregonian, May 24, 1924, 14.

Olof Larsell, The Doctor in Oregon: A Medical History (Portland: Binfords & Mort for the Oregon Historical Society, 1947), 415, 263.

Lucy I. Davis Phillips Collection on Oregon Medical School Women Graduates, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Portland Medical Club 1901

I entertain the hope that somewhere, in someone’s attic, there is a safe and secure box that contains the records of the Portland Medical Club, the all-female medical society organized in 1900 and continuing until after the Second World War.

As of now we have Mae Cardwell’s history of the club from 1900-1905 published as Portland doctors hosted the American Medical Association’s annual convention in 1905 in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark Exposition (Mae Cardwell, “Medical Club of Portland—Historical,” Medical Sentinel 13:7 (July 1905): 223-226). And we have reports of some scattered meetings reprinted in the Medical Sentinel, the Oregonian and Oregon Journal, and the Medical Woman’s Journal.

The following is one of those treasures – a report of the October 1901 meeting reprinted in the Medical Sentinel 9 no. 11 (November 1901): 390. The summary reveals that the women took their business seriously, elected officers, and heard clinical cases – on this night from Esther Pohl, C. Gertrude French and Amelia Ziegler. It references Sara Marquam Hill's talk upon taking the presidency (she would give her presidential address a year later). And what I would give to have the text of Mae Cardwell’s “very able paper, reviewing in part, the history of the Medical Club, and also that of women in the medical profession.”

Do you have more records in your attic or know someone who might have such a box? Please contact me – think of what we can discover.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sara Marquam Hill, Presidential Address, Portland Medical Club, 1902

Esther Pohl was not the only president of the Portland Medical Club to deliver an historic address. Three years before Pohl greeted the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, Portland physician Sara Hill, M.D., an 1890 graduate of the Willamette University Medical Department, ended her presidency of the Portland Medical Club with a memorable address. In October 1902, as she concluded her year as president, Marquam Hill and the women physicians of Portland had something to celebrate. That May Dr. Mae Cardwell had been accepted as the first woman in the City and County Medical Society of Portland, which had barred female members since its organization in 1884. Several months after this speech, in January 1903, Esther Pohl, C. Gertrude French, Kittie Plummer Gray, Ethel L. Gray, Edna Timms, Elsie Deputy Patton, Sarah Whiteside, Jessie M. McGavin, Eugenia Little, and Sarah Marquam herself accepted membership in the society. (Stay tuned for more on the question of society memberships and women physicians).

Sara Marquam Hill was the daughter of Philip and Emma Marquam; her father was a wealthy investor, Portland landowner and an Oregon legislator. Like Esther Clayson Pohl, she met her husband Charles E. Hill in medical school. They married in June 1890 after their graduation from the Willamette University Medical Department. According to Olof Larsell, Hill specialized in mental health and nervous disorders and was on staff at the Mountain View Sanitorium for much of her career. She died in 1957.

The following is the text of Sara Hill, “Presidential Address Read Before the Portland Medical Club, October 14, 1902,” Medical Sentinel 11 no.1 (January 1903): 21-23.


“Death Takes Dr. Sara Hill,” Oregonian, September 21, 1957, 7.

Portland City and County Medical Society,” Medical Sentinel 11 no. 4 (April 1903): 238.

Olof Larsell, The Doctor in Oregon: A Medical History (Portland: Binfords & Mort for the Oregon Historical Society, 1947), 417.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Esther Pohl Addresses the National Woman Suffrage Association in Portland, 1905

I've been blogging about the members of the first Portland Women's Medical Society in 1891-1892. Here let me share Esther Pohl's (later Lovejoy) role in the second incarnation of the society, the Portland Medical Club. Established in 1900, the group, with Esther Pohl as its president, would host both the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the American Medical Association. And thanks to Pohl's friend and colleague Sarah Evans we have the text of Pohl's speech. 
In 1905 the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Portland in connection with the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Like many national organizations the NAWSA and the American Medical Association (AMA) held their annual meetings in Portland that summer, NAWSA from June 28 - July 5 and the AMA from July 11 – 14. Since the AMA meeting followed by just a few days the gathering of the national suffrage association many women physicians attended both conventions. NAWSA president and physician Anna Howard Shaw and other visiting suffragists also remained for the AMA meeting. As president of the Portland Medical Women’s Club Pohl represented the medical women of the nation with her speech on the NAWSA program for June 30, 1905. The 1905 gathering launched the 1906 campaign for woman suffrage in Oregon.
In her speech, Pohl emphasized the accomplishments of women physicians, highlighted her own recent graduate study in Vienna, and praised supporters. She also linked the work of women physicians to their potential for political power and activism.
Sarah Evans, Portland clubwoman and Market Inspector, reprinted Esther Pohl’s speech in her regular column on women’s clubs in the Oregon Journal -- Dr. Esther C. Pohl Addresses the A.N.E.S.A.,” Women’s Clubs Section, Sarah A. Evans, Editor, Oregon Journal, July 9, 1905, 15.

Dr. Pohl, at the meeting of the association, said:

           I have the honor to voice the greeting of our Women’s Medical association of this city to our distinguished visitors of the Woman’s Suffrage association and to all men and women present who are interested in the advancement of women in the work of the world. We wish to express our gratitude to those courageous men and women living and to the memories of those who are gone who made our present honorable and profitable positions possible.

            We wish particularly to thank the men who espoused our cause, for they were few—and it required rare courage to brave the sneers that followed such an innovation. We wish to acknowledge our inestimable obligation to the Blackwell sisters and their colleagues who knocked persistently at the closed doors of institutions that stand wide open now for us. But we wish to pay our highest tribute to the sense of justice that prevailed among the men of the medical profession—sticklers as we all know them—and we women are not less so than they—for ethics and old customs—a sense of justice that set aside their pleasure and prejudice and said: ‘We’ll let these women in—not because we want them—we do not want them; but because it is right. We do not want them, and we have the power to keep them out, but there is no just cause to debar them; they are qualified and ask for admission to our institutions, and we have no right to keep them out.[’] And let me say that when the men of the world grant reluctantly or otherwise the same justice the suffrage association will have accomplished its mission.

            At the present time I believe that American men and women enjoy approximately equal opportunities in the study and practice of the medical profession. There are hospitals, where both men and women are eligible, where a limited number of women are appointed, but the preference is given to men, simply because they need more men, and also, perhaps, because medical institutions are supported largely by men, and there might be question as to the justice and policy of appointing more women even though their class standing entitled them to appointment. There are also women’s and children’s hospitals where the larger number of appointments are given to women. There are still hospitals where women are denied because they are women, and there are others—famous as institutions of medical learning—where there are thousands of applications for preferment every year, where all other qualifications being equal, I have known women to receive appointments simply because they are women. I knew several women in Vienna last year enjoying just such privileges. I am not of the women who believe that there is no such thing as sex in medicine. There is more than sex—there is gender—masculine, feminine, common and neuter. There are cases and institutions where men are naturally better qualified; there are cases and institutions where women are naturally better fitted; there are cases where either will do, and cases where neither can do much good. But I am running over time. I listened last week to one of our accomplished visitors who addressed the Woman’s club in this city. She said that a lawyer was supposed to be able to talk on any subject, at any place and time. But the policy of the medical profession from the beginning, as you all know, has been to say nothing and look wise, and I fear I am breaking the rule.

            In closing I greet you again most cordially in the name of the medical women of our association, and I wish to couple with the greeting the suggestion that an effort be made to enlist the enthusiastic cooperation of these very medical women. Because of the confidential relations they hold with hundreds of families, they could exercise a considerable political power, if they chose to use their influence in securing votes for an individual or a cause.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Esther Lovejoy and Woman Suffrage Presentation July 20

Esther Lovejoy was in the thick of things in the 1906 and 1912 campaigns for votes for women in Oregon. I'll be giving a presentation on the history of woman suffrage in Oregon, with Lovejoy and her "Everybody's Equal Suffrage League" included. Come join us at McMenamin's Cornelius Pass Roadhouse for the Oregon Encyclopedia History Night, also sponsored by McMenamins and Century of Action: Oregon Women Vote 1912-2012 on Tuesday, July 20.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Esther Clayson's Medical School 1890-1894 -- Obstetric Manikins

Esther Clayson [later Pohl Lovejoy] entered the University of Oregon Medical Department in 1890; after her first year the working class young woman had to return to department store work to replenish her savings. She resumed her studies in 1892 and completed her three-year course in 1894.
In her memoir "My Medical School," written in 1957, Lovejoy recalled that Dean S.E. Josephi lectured on obstetrics in these years by using a leather manikin. Lovejoy called it "a saving substitute for sentient flesh." Obstetrical manikins came into use in the 18th century for training midwives -- the Dittrick Museum of Medical History at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has a rare example from the period.
By the 1890s there were a number of models in use. Pictured below is one that perhaps resembled Josephi's manikin, found in J. Clifton Edgar, "The Manikin in the Teaching of Practical Obstetrics," New York Medical Journal (December 27, 1890), 705.
Lovejoy recalled that "all kinds of cases were demonstrated, and only a leather mother and child could have survived the instrumental deliveries of the athletes in our class."

"My Medical School" was published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly 75 no. 1 (March 1974) after Lovejoy's death with an introduction by Bertha Hallam, the medical school librarian extraordinaire. It is a vital source for me as I'm writing Lovejoy's biography. And thanks to two extradordinary archivists, Sara Piasecki and Karen Peterson at the Historical Collections & Archives at OHSU, the typescript of her memoir "My Medical School (1890-1894) As I Remember," is available at the OHSU digital collections.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thank You Lucy Davis Phillips!

One of my heroines is Lucy Davis Phillips, registrar at the University of Oregon Medical School from 1918 until just before her death in 1943. She knew that women students were making history and wanted to record it. Thanks to her work of keeping track of women students and their work after graduation we have a great deal of information on early Oregon women medical students and physicians. Davis Phillips compiled a scrapbook with notes, newspaper articles and correspondence that comprises a vital source for the biographies of medical women. She also sent out a survey in the mid-1930s to all of the women graduates for whom she could find an address and compiled the data. These records comprise the treasure-filled Lucy I. Davis Phillips Collection on Oregon Women Medical School Graduates at the Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. There are many Esther Lovejoy gems there and so much information about the careers of medical women graduates from Oregon.

She published a summary of her findings and a roster of graduates in Lucy I. Davis, “History of Women Graduates of Oregon Medical School,” Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting and Directory of the Alumni Association, University of Oregon Medical School (Portland: University of Oregon Alumni Association, 1937), 17-20.

Marion Reed East, M.D.,writing for the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association in 1964, recalled that Davis Phillips was "loved and respected by students and faculty alike." In addition to her work to preserve information about the lives of women students and doctors, East noted that the registrar was a strong advocate for women students. "The first unit of the new medical school building (1920) had no provision for a room where the women medical students could rest or hold a 'buzz' session," East noted. So Davis Phillips worked with librarian Bertha Hallam to get them a room of their own on Marquam Hill.

So here's to your memory, Lucy Davis Phillips: registrar, historian, advocate. The history of women in Oregon is richer because of you.

Marion Reed East, M.D., "Branch Five Presents . . . Friends of the Medical Students," Journal of the American Medical Women's Association 19 no. 1 (March 1964): 235.

Friday, July 2, 2010

First Portland Women's Medical Society 1891-1892

When Esther Pohl gave her address of welcome to visiting physicians and suffragists at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in the summer of 1905 as president of Portland's all-female medical society, the Portland Medical Club, she drew on the strength of organized medical women dating from 1891 in Portland. As I've been posting this past week, five women were active in an 1891-1892 Portland Women's Medical Society.

Thanks to the recent discovery of an addendum to the Lucy Davis Phillips Collection at the Historical Collections & Archives at the Oregon Health & Science University if Portland, we now know that Helena J. Price, Florence King, Mae Whitney (Cardwell) and Viola Coe organized the first Portland Women's Medical Society on July 23, 1891. The four women meet in Whitney's medical office on 1st and Yamhill. Lydia Hunt King joined the group that September.

Women were barred from membership in the Portland Medical Society (organized in 1884) but were eligible for membership in the Oregon State Medical Society since 1877. According to the Proceedings of the Oregon State Medical Society all of these women except for Florence King were members of the state society. This separate all-female society fulfilled several purposes. It provided networking and support for women doctors, challenged the ban on women in the local city society, and gave them experience in presenting and commenting on cases to prepare them to do the same in meetings of the state society.

The 1891-1892 Portland Women’s Medical Society was the first "regular" (as opposed to homeopathic) female medical society in the West and the third in the U.S. following the New England Women’s Medical Society (1878) and the Rochester, New York Practitioner’s Society (1887). And as Cora Bagley Marrett has shown, this first Portland group was the first of a wave of all-female medical associations across the nation in the 1890s. Following the Portland group were the Physicians’ League of Buffalo, 1892, Woman’s Medical Club of San Francisco, 1893, Puget Sound Woman’s Medical Club, 1894, Medical Women’s Club of Chicago, 1894, Denver Clinical Society, 1895, Woman’s Medical Club of Cincinnati, 1896, Woman’s Medical Club of Minneapolis, 1898, and the State Society of Iowa Medical Women, 1898.

After 1892 this first group "expired" but Mae Whitney Cardwell and a new group of women physicians would reorganize in 1900 as the Portland Medical Club, an organization that would last until after the Second World War. I'll be discussing the group and its members in depth in the Lovejoy biography.


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.

Cora Bagley Marrett, “Nineteenth Century Associations of Medical Women: The Beginning of a Movement,” Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association 32 no. 12 (December 1977): 469-74

_____ “On the Evolution of Women’s Medical Societies,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 53 no. 3 (Fall 1979): 434-48. 

Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 180-81.

Ellen S. More, Restoring the Balance: Women Physicians and the Profession of Medicine, 1850-1995 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 45-56.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Viola Coe, M.D. (ca. 1863-1943)

Today’s profile is of physician and suffragist Viola Mae Coe, one of the five women physicians in the 1891-1892 Portland Women’s Medical Society, a group that preceded the revitalized women’s association that Esther Pohl headed in 1905. In later years Coe and Esther Pohl Lovejoy would come into conflict in Oregon suffrage politics.

Coe was born in Indiana and taught school before her marriage to physician Henry Waldo Coe in North Dakota in 1882. After her first child was born she matriculated at the Woman’s Hospital Medical College of Chicago and received her M.D. in 1890. The Coes came to Portland in 1891 and Viola Coe became one of the founding members of the first Portland Women’s Medical Society. The Portland City Directories and references in the Medical Sentinel (of which her husband Henry Waldo Coe was editor) and other newspaper accounts indicate that she established a practice early in her Portland years and had a role in the family’s Sanitarium Company, incorporated by her husband Henry in 1899, which later became Morningside Hospital, specializing in care for mentally ill patients and nervous disorders. The Coes secured the contract to provide care for patients that the state of Alaska deemed “insane” (see below for resources and information on the unfolding story of the institution). Conflicts in their working and financial relationship, including competing bids for the Alaska contract, led to a divorce and suits regarding assets in 1914-15.

Coe was active in the campaign for votes for women in Oregon. When suffrage leader Abigail Scott Duniway became ill during the final 1912 campaign Coe became the chair of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association and was in that position when women achieved the vote that November. She is pictured in the iconic image of the signing of the Oregon equal suffrage proclamation on November 30, 1912 with Duniway and Governor Oswald West. After Oregon women achieved the vote Coe worked with the National Council of Women Voters. Across these years she and Esther Pohl (Lovejoy) tangled dramatically over suffrage tactics in rival organizations, but you’ll have to wait for the Lovejoy biography for the rest of that story!

In her later years Coe engaged in Red Cross work during the First World War and directed a maternity hospital in Portland from 1916-1925. She died in Portland in 1943.

For more information on Coe see:

“The Medical Club of Portland,” Medical Sentinel 13 no 3 (March 1905): 3.

“Suffragists Busy; Campaign Plans,” Oregon Journal, July 7, 1912, 7.

“Dr. Viola Coe Campaigns,” Oregonian, August 13, 1913, 2.

“Dr. Coe Gets Contract to Care for Insane,” Portland Telegram, March 21, 1914, 2.

Coe v. Coe 75 Or. 145 [1915]

“Hospital Lease Taken,” Oregonian, December 3, 1924, 6.

“Widely-Known Medical Woman Aged 80, Dies,” Oregon Journal, May 28, 1943, 4. For

For more on Morningside Hospital see the blog entries at “Historical Notes from OHSU, the incredible history of medicine site maintained by Sara Piasecki, Archivist at the Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland at:

Ellen Ganley and Karen Perdue and their research team have an excellent and developing resource blog on the role of Morningside in the history of Alaska mental and medical health history at

For more on the Woman’s Hospital Medical College of Chicago see Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) 79-80; 247-48.