Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians

A traveling exhibition from the National Library of Medicine opened on June 18, 2008 at the Multnomah County Library, Collins Gallery and will be on display through August 1, 2008. The exhibit tells the extraordinary story of how women struggled for the right to study and to practice medicine in the U.S. OHSU Historical Collections has provided materials, which honor the lives and achievements of Oregon's women physicians.

Additionally, OHSU Historical Collections & Archives presents an auxiliary exhibit located at the OHSU Library.

Medical Education Opens Early to Women in Oregon

Located on the banks of the Willamette River in the Oregon Territory, Portland was first known to trappers and settlers as "The Clearing". At the time of its incorporation in 1851, Portland had over 800 inhabitants. By 1879, the population had grown to 17,500.

Oregon joined the Union in 1859 and in 1864 voters selected Salem as its capital. Willamette University in Salem was founded in 1842, birthed from the work of Jason Lee's Methodist mission. It was one of the earliest coeducational institutions in the United States, and its first graduate was a woman. The Medical Department was established at Willamette in 1867, and started offering classes that year. Women were attending the Medical Department as early as 1877. By 1880, the population of Salem was a fraction of that of Portland, with a mere 2,500 inhabitants.

After two or three unsuccessful attempts at establishing a medical college in Portland, it wasn't until the organization of the University of Oregon Medical School in 1887, that medical education finally took a foothold. Willamette University Department of Medicine subsequently merged with UOMS in 1913.

The 1882-1883 catalog of the Oregon Medical College, a short-lived attempt to establish medical education in Portland, states that women had always been admitted to the medical departments both in Salem and Portland

"Admission of Women

Recognizing the equal rights of both sexes to the highest educational advantages, the Board of Trustees, a few years since, made provision for the education of women, and that are now admitted to this as to all departments of the University on the same conditions that are required of men."

By 1940, the population of Portland had burgeoned to over 300,000 people, and yet women graduates for that year totaled 4 women out of 48 total graduates. As of 1940, 146 women had graduated since Willamette University first opened its doors to medical education.

Today the outlook is very different. Women graduates of Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine class of 2007 represent over 60% of total graduates.

First Women Educators at the University of Oregon Medical School

Women were first noted as instructors at the University of Oregon Medical School in the school catalog in 1910-1911: Edna Timms, M.D., was the clinical attendant in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the People's Institute, forerunner of the Outpatient Clinic on Marquam Hill.

An early banner year for women in UOMS academic medicine was the session of 1912-1913, which saw Mary Vera Madigan, M.D. instructor in Physiological Chemistry, ascend the faculty ranks as assistant professor. Gertrude French, M.D., was listed as assistant in Ophthalmology and Mary McLachlan, M.D., assisted in Obstetrics.

In 1940, though the faculty and staff had grown exponentially since the medical school's inception, women were mostly represented as secretaries, nurses, social workers, dieticians, technicians, office managers, a librarian, a registrar and a medical illustrator. Only Marian Reed East, M.D., a clinical instructor in pediatrics and Rosa Kubin, Ph.D., an Eli Lilly Fellow in pharmacology were listed among the faculty as instructors.

A leap into 2004 finds a very different landscape: at OHSU, out of 1,999 faculty, 43% were women, for a total of 859 full and part time faculty.

More about some of Oregon's Outstanding Women Physicians

Black and white photographic portrait of Mae Cardwell, M.D.

Mae Harrington Cardwell

Born in Pennsylvania in 1853, Mae Harrington began working at 14 as a teacher. But a fierce ambition combined with a strong and resourceful intellect brought her to the West Coast in 1877 where she vowed to become a physician. After graduating from two medical schools, she began her long and illustrious career in Portland, Oregon as one of the region's first female physicians.

In the 1890's, she became the first woman on a hospital staff in Oregon, serving as physician to the children's ward of Portland Hospital.She was an early and active member of medical societies in Oregon at a time when few women were welcomed into these organizations. She joined the Oregon State Medical Society in 1885, served as treasurer from 1893-1903, and later as vice president. From the mid-1890's she served as a contributing editor for the Medical Sentinel. She presented papers and discussed her own cases in the Medical Sentinel, soon becoming a leader in Portland's medical community. She was the first woman to join the Portland City Medical Society in 1892. In 1900 she was a founding member and president of the Medical Club of Portland, a medical society for women physicians.

An outspoken advocate for women in medicine, Dr. Cardwell was not intimated by the then male-dominated profession. At the annual meeting of the Oregon State Medical Society in 1903, when a male physician presented a paper on "Higher Education as a Cause of Physical Decay of Women," Cardwell was reported to have responded with "disapproval of this most noted paper… with a challenge of every important point." In 1903, she was appointed to the city Health Board, the first woman physician to occupy this position. She developed Portland's food inspection policies for the city's markets, and helped to improve municipal sanitation. She headed the Portland Woman's Club Home Department, which focused on improving public health, and in establishing the Working Girl's Home and Industrial School. She was also a member first Oregon Child Welfare Commission, physician to the Portland Juvenile Court, and women's medical advisor at Reed College.

Dr. Cardwell's writings and reports for the medical societies chronicle the role of women in medicine in the early 20th century in Portland. She was active in suffrage campaigns. During WWI, Cardwell was one of four Portland women physicians to challenge the U. S. Army's policy of refusing officer status for medical women. At her death in 1929, the Portland Oregonian eulogized her as "an outstanding member of her profession and a pioneer in women's activities in the world of medicine."

Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D.

Esther Pohl Lovejoy

In her lifetime, Dr. Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy transformed the Portland Board of Health in Oregon by regulating the milk supply, providing funds for school nurses, and earning Portland a national reputation for its high standards of sanitation. She also helped to establish the Medical Women's International Association and the American Women's Hospitals which, under her leadership, grew from an emergency committee for war relief into an international service organization operating in thirty countries. Esther Clayson was born in 1869, in a logging camp near Seabeck, Washington Territory, and grew up in Portland, Oregon. Her father was an English seaman who had jumped ship in 1864 and brought his family to join him three years later. His attempts to support his family as a lumber merchant, hotel manager, newspaper editor, and farmer were not entirely successful. After such unsteady beginnings, young Esther Clayson decided that she had no desire to be the helpmate of an Oregon farmer or pioneer hotel keeper. For a while, she could not decide between a career in theater or medicine. While theater seemed unreal to her, medicine was "drama in its highest form."

The woman doctor who delivered Esther Clayson's youngest sister became an inspiration for her to enter the University of Oregon's Medical School in 1894. Taking a year off to earn money, she finished in four years and graduated with a medal for her strong academic achievement.

Shortly after graduation Dr. Esther Clayson married her classmate, Emil Pohl, and the two set up a private practice in Portland, where she worked as an obstetrician and her husband as surgeon. Dr. Esther Pohl spent most of 1896 at the West-Side Postgraduate School in Chicago but two years later, she and her husband had relocated to Skagway, Alaska, where her brothers were suppliers to gold prospectors. The Pohls spent almost two years in Alaska, visiting patients by dog sled and helping establish the Union Hospital. After her brother Frederick's mysterious death in 1899, she moved back to Portland, visiting her husband, who remained in Alaska, only during the summer. The couple had a son in 1901 and left him in the care of Esther's mother, allowing Esther to pursue her interests in women's suffrage, public health, and obstetrics and gynecology. After spending most of 1904 attending an obstetrics clinic in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Pohl returned and became the first woman to direct the Portland Board of Health. Tragically, her own son died in 1908 from septic peritonitis attributed to contaminated milk.

Dr. Esther Pohl set up a private practice in 1908 and went to Berlin for further training in 1909. On her return in 1911, she learned that her husband had died in Alaska during an encephalitis epidemic. Despite this second tragedy, she continued her medical practice and her political work during the next few years. She married Portland businessman George Lovejoy in 1913, a marriage that lasted only seven years. From 1911 to 1920, Esther Pohl Lovejoy continued her support of women's suffrage, the League of Nations, and Prohibition, even running for a seat in Congress. She was an outspoken campaigner, publicizing the plight of poor farmers in the Northwest and calling local bankers "bandits" who charged ruinous interest rates in order to profit from the farmers' misfortunes.

With the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, Dr. Lovejoy moved east to work with the American Medical Women's Association, and in the fall of 1918 she traveled to France under its auspices. During the day she worked in a Red Cross Hospital, and in the evenings she visited charity hospitals, hoping to create a string of such institutions throughout Europe. After she returned to the United States, she spent the next year and a half lecturing about her experiences in France and described the trip in her first book, The House of the Good Neighbor, published in 1919. Her lectures helped fund the establishment of the American Women's Hospitals, an outgrowth of the American Medical Women's Association, to serve displaced and injured war victims. She led the organization for forty-seven years, from 1918 to 1965, and in 1919 helped found the Medical Women's International Association.

During the years that she ran American Women's Hospitals, the group established their first hospital near Paris in 1918, created outpatient clinics and orphanages, and provided public health services. After World War I the organization focused on other crises and with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the American Women's Hospitals provided medical care in Britain, Greece, and the Far East, expanding into thirty countries. Later in life, Lovejoy continued to encourage women to enter the field of medicine. She wrote two books to record women physicians' achievements and endowed medical scholarships at her alma mater, stipulating that one third of them should go to women.

Marie Equi, M.D.

Marie Equi

Marie Diana Equi was born in 1872 to an Irish mother and an Italian father in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Both parents had immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities. Her mother fled to escape the potato famine and political oppression. Her father left Italy to join an older brother who had an established trade as a stone mason in New Bedford. Marie completed grade school and middle school but in 1887, after one year of high school, she dropped out to work in textile mills. By 1890, she lived for a time with her father's relatives in Northern Italy, later returning to the States.When she returned, Equi traveled west to join her friend Bessie Holcomb in The Dalles, Oregon. Holcomb had arrived a few months earlier and had claimed homestead rights.For five years, while Holcomb worked as a teacher and Equi studied to enter medical school, they both worked the121.8 acre homestead.

Before matriculating at the University of Oregon Medical School (1901), Equi attended The College of Physicians and Surgeons (1899) and the University of California Medical School(1900) in San Francisco. After receiving an M.D. in 1903, she set up practice in Portland serving primarily working class people. She was especially sensitive to women and children, gaining a reputation as an expert diagnostician and tireless advocate for reproductive choice. She was a leading figure in public health campaigns and was one of a contingent of Portland doctors and nurses who traveled to San Francisco in response to the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. In recognition of her efforts, she received a commendation from the U.S. Army.

When birth control advocate Margaret Sanger described her as "a rebellious soul"and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn proclaimed her "the stormy petrel of the Northwest,"they were modest descriptions. She was a radical political activist who lived in relatively open lesbian relationships.An outspoken advocate for justice with a fiery temperament, she once publicly threatened a man with a bullwhip because he owed her partner money. When police arrested a fellow labor activist for speaking in public, she berated the authorities so openly and severely that she managed to secure the release of her colleague. As a champion of justice, Dr. Equi fought for, and was imprisoned to secure,rights that are considered fundamental today.When Margaret Sanger visited Portland in 1916, Sanger and Equi were arrested for defending three men caught distributing Sanger's birth control pamphlets. The incident began a long friendship between them, and Dr. Equi revised Sanger's pamphlet to make it more medically accurate.

Dr. Equi did not distinguish between what many saw as distinct campaigns for birth control, women's suffrage, and an overall improvement in women's living standards and working conditions. Instead, she saw all as part of the larger class struggle, the end of which would be the freedom, dignity, and health of working women and their families. Adapted from text by Michael Helquist, an historian who is writing a biography of Dr. Marie Equi.

Mary Jane Stamm

Mary Jane Stamm was born in Washington State in 1915. She received her undergraduate degree in zoology at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., before enrolling at the University of Oregon Medical School. Dr. Stamm was one of only two female graduates in the University of Oregon Medical School class of 1943 and later became the first female Ob/Gyn in her adopted hometown of Castro Valley, Calif. After earning her medical degree, she studied surgical techniques in Chicago before returning to the Bay Area as an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics-gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. In addition to conducting research into fertility and infertility, she practiced at several Bay Area hospitals before opening her Castro Valley office in 1950. In 1954, she became the only woman Ob/Gyn on the medical staff of the newly established Eden Hospital. Dr. Stamm delivered thousands of babies during her long career, and her devotion to young people followed many of them far beyond the delivery room. Over the years and without fanfare, she provided more than a half-million dollars in college scholarships to students at Castro Valley High School - a tradition that will live on at the school through her estate gift of $750,000. Dr. Stamm died February 6, 2007 at age 91, leaving Oregon Health & Science University $6 million for medical student scholarships. Adapted from OHSU Web site [] accessed May 2008.

Frances J. Storrs, M.D., teaching students in classroom, 1965.

Frances Storrs

Frances Jean Judy Storrs, M.D., professor emerita of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University, has established an amazing legacy within the medical community, the field of dermatology and the city of Portland. Dr. Storrs has received over 30 awards, including the American Academy of Dermatology's Master Dermatologist Award, the OHSU Humanism in Medicine Award, the City Club of Portland's Citizen of the Year, and the American Contact Dermatitis Society's Alexander Fisher Lectureship Award, to name just a few. In recognition of her lifetime commitment to mentoring women in dermatology,Dr. Storrs received the Women's Dermatologic Society's most prestigious honor, the Rose Hirschler Award. Further, in 2008, shewas awarded the Gold Medal, the AAD's highest honor.

In a 2007 oral history interview, Dr. Storrs described some of the hurdles she overcame to become a physician, including a negative mentor, or "de-mentor," at college:

"then, to top it all off, to top it all off, I had an acutely discriminatory piece of behavior happen to me at that time.[...] And the head of the department, the biology department, was a very short man, Dr. Thurlow B. Thomas. And he absolutely hated women. And there were two women in the sciences who were going to go into medicine. And he was short; I'm tall. He came up to me when I announced I was going to go into medicine. He was the pre-med advisor, so he had to write the letters and get everybody ready to go to medical school. And he came up to me, even though I'd had all A's in all of his classes, and he looked up at me and he said, "Frances Judy-" my maiden name was Judy - "Frances Judy, I personally am going to see to it that you do not get into medical school." So I then went to another man whom I had befriended and whom I still have contact with named Henry Van Dyke, who taught comparative anatomy. …And Dr. Van Dyke said, "Don't worry, Frances. Every time you decide where you want to apply to medical school, I will send a contradictory letter." So Dr. Thomas wrote his letter, and then my friend, Dr. Van Dyke, wrote his letter. And I got into every medical school I applied to. And every time I would get in, I would take the letter of acceptance and run it across what's called the bald spot, where the men and the women were separated from one another, and throw it on his desk. Say, "Have a look at that, Dr. Thomas!" And then pick it up and walk out."

Following in the footsteps of her esteemed mentor, Walter C. Lobitz Jr., M.D.,Dr. Storrs has also distinguished herself through unwavering commitment to and passion for the education of young people. But Dr. Storrs' legacy has been built on more than just her commitment to individuals; her mentorship is sought because of how she lives her life. Her enduring commitment to ethical behavior, her industrious challenge of what is known, and her unmatched enthusiasm for every aspect of life, make people around her want to be better people, better doctors, and generally, to enjoy life in a deeper way.

Blauvelt, Molly. OHSU Department of Dermatology [] Accessed May 2008

Joanna Cain

Joanna Cain, M.D.,earned her medical degree at Creighton University and completed a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Washington. Dr. Cain has been serving the medical community and patients for more than 30 years. She has an unwavering determination to change women's health care. As director of the OHSU Center for Women's Health, she's doing exactly that.

She is past chair of the only international ethics committee for women's health, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics(FIGO) Committee for Ethics in Women's Health, and has been the President of the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics (APGO) as well as the President of the Council of University Chairs of Obstetrics & Gynecology (CUCOG).

A world-renowned scientist, Cain has brought new clinical trials to the center, giving women in Oregon access to the latest advances in medicine. She also has recruited a new generation of top scientists, who are investigating everything from the genetic patterns of ovarian cancer to how formation of the heart during pregnancy affects lifelong health. In many cases, this research is being done nowhere else in the world. "Our philosophy is simple," Cain says. "The women of Oregon should not have to leave the state to receive the very best care." Though her research in ovarian cancer has gained worldwide attention, Cain focuses much of her attention on the feelings and experiences of patients. "By putting the patient in control, we also are changing the way women's care is delivered," she says.

Early in her career, Cain became the first woman fellow accepted in gynecologic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Today she serves as the first woman chair and the first American chair of a global task force that is influencing care for women worldwide. Typically, she speaks quietly of her accomplishments. But she speaks strongly of their benefits for Oregon.

"You may never need this advanced care yourself," she says. "But one day you might hear from a friend who does. You might get a call from a sister or daughter or mother. You'll want to offer hope. You'll want to know that the very best care is available right here in Oregon." Dr. Cain speaks and publishes regionally and internationally in multiple areas of women's health and women's health education, and has published over 100 scholarly articles.

Oregon Health & Science University Foundation. [] Accessed May 2008 

Portrait of Christine Cassell, M.D.

Christine Cassell

"Pursuing difficult questions - in science and in policy - takes one to interesting places", says Christine Cassel, M.D., a renowned expert in geriatric medicine and medical ethics. She works to improve quality of life for elderly patients, challenging out-of-date ideas about what can be expected in the aging process.

"A geriatrician", she explains "is like a pediatrician but at the other end of life.As it is true with children, older people have medical needs that are different from those of midlife adults… Our job is to improve the quality of life for the elderly and to keep them functional and independent for as long as possible. And when the end of life comes, our job is to keep them as dignified and comfortable as possible." Geriatrics has only been a formal specialty in American medicine since the 1980s, and although the United States is facing a demographic "bubble" of the aging population, geriatrics is still not one of the most popular specialties.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1945, Christine Karen Cassel first realized that care of the elderly could be a physician's primary concern while she was a medical student at the University of Massachusetts. Though most students tended to focus on unique cases from a clinical perspective, she noticed that 90 percent of patients in the wards were elderly patients with problems common to them. Medical specialties tended to ignore syndromes of aging such as mental confusion, urinary incontinence, instability and gait disorders, failure to thrive, and depressions. A geriatrician, however, seeks ways to improve those conditions and coordinate care. So if an older person is seeing several specialists who don't often talk to one another, the geriatrician would be the one to keep an eye on the total picture. "A bigger part of the work I do is to try to create a medical profession that is knowledgeable about the issues of older patients… Our system is not designed to take good care of people with chronic illnesses, many of whom happen to be old… It's taught me a lot about the plain old simple value of being involved with people. Regardless of one's age or disabilities, human interaction is one of the things that seems to really make a difference in the quality of life."

Dr. Cassel received her medical degree from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1976, and completed her residency in internal medicine at Children's Hospital and the University of California at San Francisco from 1976-1978, with subsequent fellowships in bioethics and geriatrics at San Francisco in 1979 and Veterans Administration Medical Center, Portland, Oregon, from 1979-1981. From 1985 to 1995 at the University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine, Dr. Cassel was chief of the Section of General Internal Medicine, professor of geriatrics and medicine, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, and director of the Center for Health Policy Research. She was then chair of the Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development and professor of geriatrics and medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City from 1995 to 2002.

Dr. Cassel was Dean of the School of Medicine (2002-2003) and Vice President for Medical Affairs at Oregon Health& Science University in Portland, Oregon. She was the 13th dean of the school and the first woman to hold the position. Among her many professional associations, Dr. Cassel is currently chair of the board of trustees for the American Board of Internal Medicine; chair of the board of the Greenwall Foundation, which supports work in bioethics; president of the American Federation for Aging Research;member of the Advisory Committee to the directorat the National Institutes of Health; and co-chair for the Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Dr. Cassel served on previous IOM committees responsible for influential reports on quality of care and medical errors, and chaired a recent report on end-of-life care. She also served on the President's Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry from 1997 to 1998.

An active scholar and lecturer, Dr. Cassel publishes extensively, writing articlesfor professional journals, books, editorials and special reports. She is currently concerned with quality improvement in health care, health-professional education, biomedical ethics, geriatric medicine, palliative care, healthcare policy, and healthy aging. She was nationally prominent as chief editor of a seminal textbook, Geriatric Medicine, issued in its fourth edition in 2003. Dr. Cassel also edited A Practical Guide to Aging in 1997. Cassel is on the editorial boards of several medical journals, including Archives of Internal Medicine, American Journal of Medicine, and Geriatrics.

National Library of Medicine - Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians […] Accessed May 2008