The People's Institute was organized in 1904 as a result of the
investigations of Valentine Prichard, supervisor of the Portland Public
School kindergartens and principal of a training school for kindergarten
teachers. In 1902, Miss Prichard gave a report to Dr. Edgar P. Hill,
pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and to Caroline Ladd, wife of
Portland magnate, William S. Ladd, and their daughter, Helen Ladd Corbett,
who was married to the son of another prominent Portland entrepreneur,
Henry W. Corbett. Miss Prichard and a staff of workers visited homes to
establish the needs of the women and children and to decide what could be
done to help them. The report described the deplorable conditions of the
women and children in north Portland. According to Prichard, they were
unable to provide even the barest necessities for their children. Single
mothers and their offspring lived in dark, unkempt rooming houses and
tenements. Children were surrounded by immorality and often turned to
crime, growing up idle and becoming a menace to society.
As a result, the Ladd family donated land at Fourth and Burnside Streets
to construct a building for the People's Institute. The first floor housed
the Men's Resort, a mission that had already been established by the
church, while the second floor housed services for women and children.
Caroline Corbett was appointed to form a club to support the effort, and
Miss Prichard served as the Institute's organizer. The first meeting was
held November 11, 1904; Prichard was voted in as supervisor, officers were
elected, and the People's Institute Settlement Work was established. Dr.
Hill, realizing that the work would need more than one church for support,
opened membership to all women to aid the organization financially or
The organizers of the People's Institute had three goals in mind:
educational and industrial, humanitarian, and civic activity. Three
centers formed at Fourth and Burnside (1904-1912), Albina, (1912-1918),
and the South Portland Center at the First Presbyterian Church
(1912-1915). Each center offered a kindergarten, sewing school, cooking
school, Little Housekeepers Class, Stereoptician Sunday School, gymnasium,
lectures for adults, manual training, Girl's Club, Boy's Club, Boy's
Brigade, Boy's Printing Club, music, Dramatic Club, picture loan library,
free baths, Mother's Club, and the Free Employment Bureau for Women. They
also organized and supervised Portland's first public playgrounds in 1906,
which they turned over to the Park Board in 1909.
In 1906, after the San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Institute gave
clothes, food and medical care to the refugees arriving in Portland. Many
doctors and nurses provided free services during the crisis, and some
expressed interest in continuing free health work, including Drs. Noble
Wiley Jones, Edna Timms and Gertrude French. In addition, the Free
Employment Bureau for Women found that many women were not fit for
employment due to poor health. They tried to interest the city and county
in medical aid to the indigent but were, at first, hindered in their
efforts. In 1907, the Executive Board of the People's Institute decided
that the best way to help the poor was to help them to achieve health so
that they could help themselves. Hence the Free Dispensary was formed with
$30.00 provided by The Mother's Club. It was held in the Boy's Club room
at Fourth and Burnside. Drs. French, Timms and George Whiteside offered
their services as the first attending physicians, while many other doctors
were willingly on call. The Visiting Nurse Association also joined the
In the spring of 1909, Dr. Clarence J. McCusker made a report to the
University of Oregon Medical School about the Dispensary. The faculty
responded by offering to affiliate with the clinic, providing equipment
and services. Claire Kamm, Portland socialite and wife of another Portland
industrialist, Jacob Kamm, and daughter of one of Oregon's first pioneers,
William Gray, donated $1000 for the project, and five more rooms were
opened on the first floor of the Men's Resort. The Medical School moved
the necessary equipment to the new location and supplied a salary of
$25.00 per month for an attendant. They requested additional support from
the Board of Regents of the University of Oregon, and supplemental funds
were acquired by subscription from the Arlington Club of Portland. Later,
appropriations from the city and county were provided to meet growing
Drs. George B. Storey, Earnest Tucker and Kenneth A. J. Mackenzie, later
made chief of staff, were appointed and authorized as trustees to sit with
representatives of the People's Institute, the Visiting Nurse Association
and the Men's Resort. On January 10, 1910, the first joint meeting of the
organization was held, and fourteen physicians from the Medical School
were assigned to staff the newly named, Portland Free Dispensary.
Before 1913, the Dispensary was not extensively used for teaching. But in
1913, attendance became compulsory for students. The Dispensary grew as a
teaching center with Portland's finest and most capable physicians
attending. It was moved to larger quarters on Fourth and Jefferson Streets
in 1916, leaving the Institute's other projects housed at Fourth and
Burnside and at the Lower Albina location. By 1921, the Dispensary was
taken more under the auspices of the Medical School as an outpatient
clinic. In 1923 a Free Baby Clinic was added and in 1926, under the
direction of Drs. Noble Wiley Jones and T. Homer Coffen, new specialty
clinics were established: a cardiac clinic directed by Coffen, an
endocrine clinic run by Homer P. Rush, a diabetic clinic under the
direction of J.R. Montague and Blair Holcomb, and a tuberculosis clinic
coordinated by Ralph and Ray Matson and Marr Bisaillon.
The Dispensary quickly became overcrowded, and the location was extremely
noisy, making examinations and accurate diagnoses difficult. But it was
not until 1931 that a gift of $400,000 from the General Education Fund of
New York made it possible to move the clinic to the Medical School campus
on Marquam Hill, with the understanding that the Dispensary would turn
over its work and financial resources to the Medical School. The
four-story Outpatient Clinic was built, and the Dispensary medical
services were transferred to these new and modern facilities, providing
better services to patients and clinical opportunities for students.
Children standing at the door of the People's Institute,
Lower Albina location.
Settlement work was carried on at this location from 1912 - 1918. An
excerpt from the Institute's constitution reads: "The work will be
non-sectarian, conducted by women for the purpose of extending
educational, industrial, social, religious, and friendly aid to women and
children within its reach."
Children were taken on outings. Here they are at the sand
dunes at Seaside, Oregon.
Portland's First Public Playground.
The first playground at 6th and Hoyt Streets, under the direction of
Bertha Davis, was organized by the People's Institute in 1906 and later
turned over to the City Park Board in 1909.
Social Service Department.
Every patient is interviewed privately. Visitors report home conditions
and are given friendly assistance.
The department was organized by Mrs. Aristine Felts (seated), a social
worker of long experience. Also pictured is Nadine Cas[well] (right) and
Mr. Rockwood. Seated beside desk: Mrs. Bertha Davis: director of
Portland's first playground at 6th and Hoyt Streets.
Physical Exercises at the Nutrition Clinic at 4th &
Jefferson Street Estelle Ford Warner, M.D. on the left
Junior League members folding bandages and dressings. Miss Cecil Schreyer,
Janet House, Miss Haily and an unidentified member
South Portland Well Baby Clinic
This clinic functioned in cooperation with the Infant Welfare Society.
- Aim - To Keep Babies Well.
The People's Institute and Free Dispensary at 4th & Jefferson Street,
a center of service for many years, was the forerunner of the University
of Oregon Medical School Out-Patient Clinic.