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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.