In 1863 Daniel Cooper and his wife set out across the plains towards Eastern, Oregon in an ox drawn covered wagon. Baby Belle Cooper was born as they traveled through Kentucky. Belle grew up and eventually married Dr. Willard E. Rinehart of The Dalles, an early graduate of the Willamette University Medical Department, who had served for several years as an instructor and lecturer at the school. Following a stage coach accident, Belle suffered a badly fractured hip, which left her crippled. Dr. Rinehart died in 1894, leaving her with four sons to raise.
With her mother's help, Belle attended the University of Oregon Medical School (pre-cursor to OHSU), graduating in 1897. She returned to The Dalles to reopen her husband's office. She traveled to New York for post-graduate study and later married Dr. E. E. Ferguson, a college classmate. The Fergusons, with the assistance of J. A. Reuter, opened the first and very successful hospital in The Dalles, which included a nurse's training school.
In 1907, Belle and her husband traveled to Vienna to study obstetrics and regional anatomy. The family prospered and eventually sold their holdings in the hospital to other physicians. When Dr. Ferguson died, Belle traveled to Vienna once again. When she returned, she moved the family to Portland, where she opened a practice specializing in obstetrics and diseases of women. Belle was forced to retire by family obligations and the arthritis that had developed in her injured hip.
Belle was a member of the A.M.A., the Vienna Medical Association, the Oregon State Medical Society, and the city and county medical societies. During WWI, she was enlisted in the Women's Medical Reserve.
Belle Cooper Rinehart Ferguson gave high praise to her mother, "…who's encouragement, intelligence and ability imparted strength and determination." Two of Belle's sons became physicians.
Pictured: Belle Cooper Rinehart, MD
Contributed by Karen Peterson, archivist, OHSU Historical Collections & Archives