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Esther Pohl Lovejoy in Alaska

ajaxhelperOne of OHSU's most celebrated graduates is Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy (1869-1967). The second woman graduate of University of Oregon Medical School (M.D. 1894), Lovejoy was honored internationally for her work as a physician, public health activist, suffragist, and politician. Less well-known is her early medical career on the Alaska frontier. In these two photographs from ca. 1898-1910, Lovejoy is shown with her first husband, Emil Pohl. The two met in medical school and married shortly after graduation. Two years later, they relocated to Alaska at the height of its gold rush. The couple spent almost two years in medical practice together in Skagway.

These photographs document the harsh conditions that frontier doctors faced in the early 20th century. Born in a logging camp, Esther Pohl was no stranger to remote locations and difficult environments. However, life in Alaska brought her too much tragedy, and little personal fulfillment: Following the murder of her brother, who operated a mining supply business in Alaska, Lovejoy returned to Portland in 1899. While she still returned to Alaska during the summers, she spent most of her time in Portland, practicing gynecology and obstetrics, and following her interests in public health and women's suffrage.

Tragedy struck twice more: The Pohls' son, Frederick, died in 1908. Emil Pohl, who had remained in Alaska to pursue gold prospecting, died of encephalitis in 1911. Drawing on a strong network of male and female colleagues, Lovejoy overcame these losses to fearlessly confront some of the most pressing social and political issues of her time. She became an organizer and speaker in the 1912 campaign for women's suffrage, which was successful. In 2012, the centennial of Oregon women's suffrage, Dr. Lovejoy is being recognized across the state for her work in the 1912 campaign.

These photographs are selections from the Esther Pohl Lovejoy Papers, a rich archival record of her life and career. Many photographs from Dr. Lovejoy's papers have recently been digitized by OHSU archives staff, and are now available to the public for research and study.

 

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Photo: (top) Esther Pohl Lovejoy , MD, in Alaska; (bottom) Esther Pohl Lovejoy and Emil Pohl washing outside of cabin in Alaska

Contributed by Maija Anderson, archivist, OHSU Historical Collections & Archives