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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.