Esther Pohl Lovejoy: Pioneer Physician

Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D.

Esther (Clayton) Pohl Lovejoy was born of English parents at Seabeck, Washington Territory in 1869. After Esther's family failed in the logging business, they kept a back woods hotel named the Bayview Hotel.* The years passed and in search of a soft spot where other pioneers had already worked themselves to death to make a place fit for human habitation, they moved to Portland.

As Esther grew, she became interested in the medical profession. When Dr. Callie Charlton came to visit, he told her that being a doctor was the best option for a woman and confided to her that doctors sometimes made $2,000 a year. She was convinced, but for economic reasons she was obliged to attend the local school.  

Esther Clayton was the second woman to graduate from the University of Oregon Medical School but the first to practice medicine. She married a classmate, Emil Pohl, shortly after graduation. The gold rush in Alaska beckoned. Persuaded by her brothers, she and Emil moved to the gold fields in the Klondike. Her brother was murdered in 1899 and shortly after, Esther returned to Portland to resume her professional career. She only returned periodically to Alaska to visit her husband.  

She was a pioneer member of the Portland Board of Health. From 1907-1909 she was health officer and chairman of the board, the first woman in the U.S. to hold such a position. She installed the first school nurse and wrote the first milk ordinance. She launched a campaign against rats and instituted inspection of schools. She was a member of the Medical Women's National Association and was present at the first meeting in New York of the MWNA War Service Committee (renamed American Women's Hospitals). She joined the staff of the American Red Cross in Paris. She founded the Medical Women's International Association and was chosen chairman of the executive board for the AWH and served until her death in 1967. Dr. Pohl Lovejoy traveled broadly to alleviate the suffering of war, famine, revolution and poverty.  

The Esther Pohl Lovejoy exhibit consists of photographs and personal and official correspondence.

*Updated 7/27/15: Text corrected to "Bayview Hotel" (the family's Seabeck hotel) from "Golden Rule Hotel" (the family's Portland hotel).

Esther Pohl Lovejoy, dressed for flying