Oregon Health & Science University has a captivating and notable past. Looking up at Marquam Hill from Portland's downtown or across the Willamette River from the East-side of Portland, it is not hard to imagine the vision and ambition of its founders. The history that spans more than a century records a time of perpetual advances in teaching, discovery, patient care and community service.
Portland, Oregon was born on the stump-strewn banks of the Willamette River; it quickly grew into a city of vigorous commerce and enterprise, giving birth to neighborhoods, businesses and schools of education. At the time of its incorporation in 1851, Portland had over 800 inhabitants. Oregon joined the Union in 1859 and in 1864 Salem was selected as its capital.
By the time the University of Oregon Medical School was established in 1887, the city was burgeoning and had its share of public health problems. However, concerns for public health preceded the establishment of formal medical education, and substantial steps were already being taken to reduce the causes of contagious diseases and to alleviate the suffering of the city’s poor.
In 1862, the city adopted articles into its charter concerning the condition of the city’s public health. The City Council was given the authority to make regulations to prevent the spread of contagious diseases and the city police were made ex-officio health officers. By 1869 the population had grown to 8,293 residents. To care for the city’s poor and the indigent sick and to provide a home for the elderly, the Multnomah County Poor Farm was erected two miles from Portland, which was later sold to purchase land near Troutdale, Oregon for the Poor Farm.
The Portland Water Company was formed in 1862. Looking for sources of pure water, a pumping station was built on the banks of the Willamette and two reservoirs were constructed but cases of typhoid were increasing. In 1873, the first sewer lines were laid at right angles to the Willamette River. By 1885, 15.5 miles of sewer drains were completed. However, these drains discharged sewage directly into the Willamette River. Sewage was also being emptied into the Columbia slough from the East side, surrounding the city with contaminated water. This error in planning created an ever more dangerous health threat to the city.
In 1885, the City Council, realizing that a municipal water company was needed to ensure a source of pure water, took the problem out of private hands. After intense chemical analysis, Bull Run, 30 miles East of Portland was chosen as the city’s permanent water source. Within the first year after the Bull Run Project was completed, cases of typhoid fever dropped by 25%.
A fire along the waterfront in 1873 was Portland’s first major disaster. The fire and an ever increasing population spurred the City Council to pass more ordinances governing housing and the burying of the dead to curb the spread of small-pox, diphtheria and other contagious diseases.
By 1874, Portland boasted two hospitals, Good Samaritan and St. Vincent’s. Physicians were ordered to report any patient with typhus, cerebro-spinal meningitis, measles or diphtheria within 12 hours of diagnosis. Those who were diagnosed with a contagious disease were heavily fined if they did not display the required green flag over their house for diphtheria or a yellow flag for all other types of contagious diseases.
In 1878, the police commissioner reported a concern for citizens who were frequenting the many opium dens in Chinatown. It was reported that smoking opium was common in the city and spreading into all segments of society. An ordinance was finally passed in 1881 that all citizens were prohibited from smoking opium except in their own home.
The population in Portland continued to grow; by 1879, the populace consisted of 17,500 residents. The establishment of the Board of Health in 1882 was a significant move for Portland. It was necessary to address health issues arising from the ever increasing population. The Board consisted of the Mayor, J. A. Chapman, J.H. Lappeus, Chief of Police and three members of the Common Council on Health and Police, W.H. Adams, W. A. Scroggins and D. Mackay.
Along with the steps the city was taking to curb the spread of disease, and the establishment of the Board of Health, medical education was also a determining factor in increasing the quality of Portland’s health. Willamette University was founded in Salem in 1842. In 1864, Governor A. C. Gibbs and a number of Portland physicians requested that the Board of Trustees of Willamette University establish a medical department in Portland, to be called the Oregon Medical College.
By 1866, Willamette University’s new president, Dr. J.H. Wythe, began efforts to establish a medical department in Portland. WUMD first located to a site on Fourth Street, between Morrison and Yamhill, with a dissecting room in a livery stable on Park and Jefferson. In 1886 a new building was constructed at Fourteenth and Couch, which was occupied in 1887. However, it is unclear whether or not the department ever offered instruction. A committee appointed by the university’s Board of Trustees ordered the officers of the Medical Department in Portland to surrender the charter granted to them by the university, and lectures began in Salem on March 3, 1867.
On April 8, 1887, schisms among the faculty led to the resignation of many of its strongest members: William H. Watkins, James Brown, E. P Fraser, Otto S. Binswanger, Arthur D. Bevan, A. C. Panton, Richmond Kelly, Frank B. Eaton, Kenneth A. J. Mackenzie, Holt C. Wilson, Simeon E. Josephi and George M. Wells. Several of these men helped organize a rival school, the Medical Department of the University of Oregon.
By 1880, the population of Salem was a fraction of that of Portland, with a mere 2,500 inhabitants. Portland's population growth and established health care facilities, such as St. Vincent's Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and the Insane Asylum, convinced authorities that Portland should succeed Salem as the state’s center for medical education and health care.
On February 8, 1878, another medical school, the Oregon Medical College, had been incorporated in Portland. Though it bore the same name as the Portland campus of WUMD, the college was an independent entity. The original founders, stockholders and faculty of the school were Rodney Glisan, Philip Harvey, Matthew P. Deady, William H. Watkins, William B. Cardwell, R. G. Rex, William H. Saylor and O.P.S. Plummer. At a meeting on April 15, 1878, they resolved that in “the interests of the medical profession of the Northwestern States and Territories adjacent require the maintenance of one institution for medical education and that the city of Portland, by reason of its greater population, the clinical material available in its several hospitals and the greater number of competent resident physicians and surgeons who may be engaged as teachers, is better adapted for the location of such an institution than any point north of San Francisco.” The meeting minutes noted that the faculty recognized and appreciated the efforts and successes of the faculty at the Willamette University Medical Department, and did not wish to do injury to the existing school in Salem by establishing a medical school in Portland. Therefore it was resolved that a committee of three be invited from Willamette University to confer with a similar committee from the Oregon Medical College to harmonize their efforts.
On June 5, 1878, resolutions were made in Portland to accept the recommendations of the President and the faculty of the Willamette University Medical Department. On the abandonment of the Oregon Medical College, the Willamette University Medical Department would move to Portland. On June 17, 1878, the Oregon Medical College was disincorporated, and stock was canceled.
Willamette failed to establish a medical college in Portland. It wasn't until the organization of the University of Oregon Medical School, that medical education finally took a foothold in Portland. Due to the irreparable breach among the faculty of the Willamette University Medical Department, the new rival medical school was established on June 16, 1887. The Board of Regents of the University of Oregon granted a charter to a group of physicians, including K.A.J. Mackenzie, H. C. Wilson, G. M. Wells and S. E. Josephi, each of whom had resigned from the faculty at Willamette University. A two-room grocery store was purchased by a joint bank note of $1,000 and was moved to property that belonged to Good Samaritan Hospital at the corner of Twenty-Third Avenue and Marshall Street. The school began instruction in the fall of 1887. When a new structure on Marshall Street opened in 1889, the small building was moved to Twenty-Third Avenue and Lovejoy Street.
Beginning in 1893, the medical school formed the Medical Building Association in order to offer stocks to raise money for the construction of a new building on NW Twenty-Third Avenue and Lovejoy Street. Once the construction was complete, the money gained by the Association was made available for supplies and maintenance of the structure. The new Victorian-style building was used until it was destroyed by fire on May 29, 1919. At this time, the Medical Building Association sold off the assets and property and closed their books for good.
By 1887, Portland had clearly become the health center of the Pacific Northwest and was relatively free from contagious diseases. Though a smallpox epidemic broke out in 1899, an all-out effort stamped it out with record speed.
In 1890, the University of Oregon Medical School was in the top ranks of American medical colleges, and medical examining boards in all US states and territories recognized its diploma. In 1895, to advance its educational standards, the school began issuing grades. Three years later, in 1898, it adopted the admission requirements of the American Association of Medical Colleges. During this same period, the first nurse’s training school began in 1890 at the Good Samaritan Hospital, with Miss Emily L. Loveridge in charge. In1894 the Office of City Physicians was established and a physician was hired to be the executive officer of the City Board of Health. Dr. C. H. Wheeler was Portland’s first health officer.
At this time, to further control of the spread of disease, children with contagious diseases were barred from attending school. Provisions were made for garbage disposal, as accumulated garbage was becoming overtly conspicuous. In 1897, David Beakey was appointed Health Commissioner. He drafted the first ordinance providing for the inspection of dairy cows and milk, an ordinance for the inspection of meat, and the construction of a larger isolation hospital. Tuberculosis was a concern as it was the leading cause of death in 1897. Small pox remained a constant threat and unmanaged sewage continued to be a problem in the city even though many more miles of sewage lines were laid.
J. F. Menefee succeeded Beakey as health commissioner and continued efforts were made towards inspections of all food services to set a minimum standard for sanitation, though tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid fever were still claiming lives.
On August 1898, a newly appointed Board of Health of Portland held its first meeting. The population grew to 90,000 and railroads connected Portland to cities on the East and West coasts. Portland was becoming an important urban center. The city was planning the Lewis and Clark Exposition, and yet was still drawing its water from the sewage-contaminated Willamette River. Tuberculosis, typhoid fever and cholera infantum were still taking lives every year.
The city, however, continued to make advances in health care. In 1900, Dr. J. G. Zan campaigned for the inspection of milk and dairy herds. The city health commissioner reported that Portland was the only city of its size without established guidelines for milk and meat inspection; the population had reached 100,000 and still levels of milk and meat inspection were abysmal. In 1901 the first ambulance in Portland was put into service. In 1905, the Portland Open-Air Sanitarium opened for tuberculosis patients. E. P. Geary, newly appointed county physician, realized that the indigent sick were not able to receive the care they needed at the County Poor Farm. Due to his efforts, the Multnomah County Hospital was established in 1909.
By 1909, the City Health Board made an all-out effort to eliminate the spread of tuberculosis. Meat and milk inspection began at this time. Physicians were required to report cases of tuberculosis, and citizens who were aware of tuberculosis cases were required to report it, as well. Any residence vacated by an infected person required immediate fumigation by the Health Department. Formaldehyde was widely used.
In 1911, another facility, the Hahnemann Hospital was erected and added to the improvement in health care in Portland. It was the first fire-proof hospital in the city.
Portland’s first case of leprosy was treated at the Isolation Hospital in 1915. This same year a rat round-up was undertaken. In 1917, a detention home near Troutdale was established for women infected with venereal diseases. Infected men were treated in the county jail. In 1918 the first case of flu was reported. Before the epidemic ran its course, 1,291 people had died.
In 1930-1931, the 15th Annual Report of the State Board of Health of Oregon stated, “The structure of public health work in this state has been a long time in building. For more than thirty years a number of devoted men and women have given the best years of their life to this cause.” Tuberculosis was in decline, as was diphtheria. Infant mortality had declined up until 1929, when a reduction in heath activities was inhibited by lack of funds. The undernourishment of children also had increased, brought on by the financial Depression. The report continues, “To cripple the offices of public health work in Oregon would be the equivalent to taking up all our hard surface roads and going back to the days of the horse and buggy, the oxcart and the mud holes of twenty-five years ago.” In 1931, even though the economy of the State suffered due to the Depression, it demonstrated a definite advancement in public health consciousness. Many more indicators of growth in public health care can be seen in the record.
The most pressing needs addressed were disease control, including tuberculosis, cancer and venereal diseases; water purification and contamination prevention; coordination of school hygiene programs and health services; reduction in infant death and maternal care; and finally, reorganization of the health system at the county level rather than on the city health system.
By 1934, there were 1,080 practicing physicians, 833 dentists and 35 independent hospitals in the state. Listed in the Survey for Public Health, 45.9% of the hospitals were located in Portland: Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children, Doernbecher Memorial Hospital, U.S. Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Morningside Hospital for mental and nervous patients, Multnomah County Hospital, St. Vincent, Good Samaritan, Portland Open Air Sanitarium for tuberculosis, Multnomah County Tuberculosis Pavilion, Rivers Hospital, Portland Eye, Ear Nose and Throat Hospital, Waverleigh Sanitorium, Portland Convalescent Hospital, Louis Home and Juvenile Hospital for Girls and the Outpatient Clinic, operated by the University of Oregon Medical School, also treated the sick poor.
While Portland and the state of Oregon remained vigilant in order to battle public health setbacks, the Medical School also battled the ebb and flow of difficulties. After the first years of success in medical education and patient care, 1905 marked the beginning of a long period of criticism, when a large number of students failed exams given by the State Board of Examiners. The faculty decided in 1907 to resign from the Association rather than be ousted; in 1908 only three out of eight students passed the exams. Medical societies and journals called for Oregon medical schools to either improve or disband.
Finances presented yet another problem for the school, as well as these criticisms. In 1910 the medical school was intensely criticized by the Abraham Flexner report on medical education. Yet in the same year the school was given a class A rating at a conference in Chicago and was classified among larger medical schools in the East. But in order to maintain the rating, they had to maintain six salaried instructors on staff. An appeal to the Board of Regents at the University of Oregon brought an annual appropriation increase from $1,000 per annum to $2,500, and the state legislature appropriated $30,000. With subsequent appropriations the school was again on more stable ground. By1912 Josephi could report that the school was accepted by the New York State Board of Regents pending two more faculty appointments.
After twenty-five years, S. E. Josephi stepped down as dean, and on May 12, 1912, K. A. J. Mackenzie took his place. Under Mackenzie, standards and requirements increased. From the first the University of Oregon Medical School had the advantage of close connections with St. Vincent’s and Good Samaritan hospitals as places of instruction. Arrangements were also made with the Multnomah County Hospital for teaching clinics. An affiliation with the People’s Institute, a clinic for the indigent, resulted in a joint organization, the Portland Free Dispensary. In 1913, students were required to attend instruction for credit at the Dispensary.
In 1909 the University of Oregon Medical School proposed a merger with the Willamette University Medical Department. In 1910, WUMD received a class C rating and could not meet the standards of the Council on Medical Education, having graduated two hundred and thirteen since its inception in 1867. Nevertheless, it was not until May 23, 1913, that the departments merged, and the University of Oregon Medical School became the only medical school north of San Francisco and west of Denver.
Soon the school was outgrowing its facilities again. With limited support from the State Legislature and the Board of Regents, school officials explored other funding sources. Through his position as chief surgeon for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, Mackenzie received an offer of twenty acres of land owned by the company, located on Marquam Hill. Some were opposed to the offer, due to the site’s distance from the city center and the difficulty of access. But eventually the gift was accepted in 1914, with the legislature appropriating $50,000 for a new building and $60,000 for maintenance, with a provision that $25,000 be raised elsewhere. These terms were not met until 1915, when the city of Portland donated the required $25,000. Thus, the first building on Marquam Hill, the Medical Science Building, was erected. Since this time, the University has not ceased to grow.
World War I interrupted the building program begun by Mackenzie, when many of the faculty and staff were called into active duty. Mackenzie died in 1920, leaving his dream for the medical school campus in the capable hands of Dr. Richard B. Dillehunt, third dean of the medical school. Dillehunt successfully continued the construction of new medical school facilities. In 1921, the state legislature appropriated money for Mackenzie Hall, an addition to the original Medical Science Building constructed in 1919. Multnomah County provided funds to construct a new county hospital on nine acres adjacent to the new school facility. Between 1924 and1939, the campus was enlarged by the construction of the Veteran’s Bureau Hospital, the Outpatient Clinic and the Doernbecher Memorial Hospital for Children, the University State Tuberculosis Hospital, the Library and Auditorium Building and Emma Jones Hall, a dormitory for nursing students. In 1932 the University of Oregon transferred its nursing program to the medical school campus, renaming it the University of Oregon Medical School Department of Nursing. Gaines Hall, the former Portland Medical Hospital, was purchased in 1943 as a housing facility for nurses.
After Dillehunt’s retirement, Dr. David W.E. Baird, a graduate of UOMS, intern, instructor, physician, professor and researcher, became the fourth dean of the medical school in 1943. After World War II, state funds were available once again for more staff and for new construction projects. The Administration Building, now known as Baird Hall was built in 1949. In 1954 the Crippled Children’s Division building was constructed, and in 1956 state and federal funds helped to complete the Medical School Hospital. A new wing to Emma Jones Hall was built in 1952, and in 1956, the University of Oregon School of Dentistry was completed. Within the span of the next decade, the campus was further expanded by the addition of the Medical Research Building, the Portland Hearing and Speech Center, and additions to existing structures.
In 1968 Dean Baird was succeeded by Dr. Charles N. Holman. Motivated to educate more medical and nursing students, he recognized that there was a need for still more space. The need was met by the construction of the Basic Science Building in 1972. In 1974, after the retirement of Dean Holman, the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center was founded when the medical school merged with the School of Dentistry, the School of Nursing, University Hospital and University Clinics and the Crippled Children’s Division. At this time Dr. Lewis W. Bluemle was hired as the president of the new institution. The center, under the direction of the Oregon State System of Higher Education, was given the authority to grant degrees independent of the University of Oregon.
In 1981, by an act of the legislature, the institution was renamed the Oregon Health Sciences University. In just over a decade the campus was expanded by the addition of several new centers for research and patient care. The Vollum Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research opened in 1987. Construction was completed in 1991 on the Casey Eye Institute and the Biomedical Information Communication Center. In 1992, the School of Nursing building was completed, as well as Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, an addition to the Basic Sciences Building. The Physicians Pavilion opened its doors in 1993, providing new space for outpatient services.
In 1995 OHSU became a public corporation, separate from the Oregon State System of Higher Education. The institution is governed by a Board of Directors that is nominated by the governor and approved by the State Senate. Since that time, the campus has been enlarged by the addition of the Mark O. Hatfield Research Center, the new Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in 1998, and the Peter O. Kohler Pavilion, which opened its doors in 2007.
With 20 acres of Willamette Riverfront property donated by the Schnitzer Investment Corporation in 2004, OHSU saw another opportunity to expand its facilities. The Center for Health and Healing, completed in 2006, is located in the new South Waterfront District and is connected to the Marquam Hill Campus by the Portland Aerial Tram, built by a joint venture of the City of Portland and OHSU. This award winning facility is also connected to the city by convenient bus and streetcar service. And today in 2013, the OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences Building and Skourtes Tower is being erected; groundbreaking began on the Schnitzer Campus in 2011, with a projected opening date of 2014.
The University of Oregon Medical School/Oregon Health & Science University with its vast property holdings has been the birthplace of many firsts and significant signposts in health care, education and service. The mission of OHSU today remains as it was at the inception of the institution in 1887, to educate, to discover, to provide quality patient care and to improve the health of all Oregonians.
 Fifteenth Biennial Report of the State Board of Health of Oregon to the Governor of Oregon and the Thirty-Seventh Legislative Assembly 1933 for the Period July 1, 1930, to June 30, 1932. Annual Reports for the Years Ending December 31, 1930, 1931. OHSU PNW Archives