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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.