"There's a Place for You": Oregon Women in the Health Sciences

Banner image for HCA exhibit, "There's a Place for You: Oregon Women in the Health Sciences" depicts 5 images of women in health professions

“There’s a Place for You”: Oregon Women in the Health Sciences centers selected stories of women’s lived experiences in the health professions, juxtaposed with popular images and marketing materials aimed at recruiting women into health sciences careers. Interviews, surveys, letters, and photographs document the pursuit of professional lives devoted to science, healing, and improving the well-being of patients. 

Curated by Pamela Pierce, Digital Scholarship and Repository Librarian, OHSU Library

NOTE: Starting March 23rd, the OHSU Library's space, where the physical portion of the exhibit is displayed, will be closed to the public. We will update this page with opening hours when available.

Early Women Doctors in Oregon

Dr. Amelia Ziegler with her horse and buggy, 1900s. Historical Image Collection.
Dr. Amelia Ziegler with her horse and buggy, 1900s. Historical Image Collection. Born in New York state, Amelia Ziegler, M.D. graduated from the Women’s Medical College in Kansas City, Missouri in 1898. In the same year, she moved to Portland to begin her practice, working mainly with women and children. She estimated that she delivered over 3,000 babies over the course of her career. Her office was in the Alisky Building on 3rd and Morrison, where, for several years, she shared a reception area with Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy.

In 1877, eighteen years after Oregon became a state, women began attending school in the Department of Medicine at Salem’s Willamette University. During this time period, settlers living in isolated areas would sometimes have to travel long distances for medical care. Doctors also traveled to see patients using buggies or wagons. A knowledge of general medical practice would also have been essential in this time period.

By attending Willamette University and obtaining their educational in a co-educational environment, graduates were in some ways breaking with tradition. The earliest female attendees of medical school went to institutions entirely devoted to the instruction of women. Obtaining clinical instruction is hospitals was difficult and only economically privileged students could obtain experience in the hospitals of Europe.(1)

In Restoring the Balance: Women Physicians and the Profession of Medicine, 1850-1995, Ellen S. More describes the pressures surrounding the specialization women selected. In 1880, choosing to specialize in obstetrics, gynecology, or pediatrics might have been seen as a sign of “narrowing training” or “incomplete preparation”.(2) Even as the level of prestige given to certain areas of the health sciences changed over time, women still had fewer possibilities. This was partly due to national specialty societies refusing to admit women.

The title page of an article in a 1925 issue of Success magazine reads, "Would You Call a Woman Doctor?"
"Would You Call a Woman Doctor," by Alissa Franc Keir, Success: The Human Magazine, March 1925. Esther Pohl Lovejoy Papers.
“Do women make good physicians? Is the prejudice against women doctors dying out? What chance has a woman in the medical profession?” Alissa Franc Keir decides to answer those questions by talking to a range of women doctors in this feature in the March 1925 issue of “Success" magazine, founded by American self-help author Orison Swett Marden. One of the physicians interviewed was world-renowned Oregon doctor and School of Medicine alumna, Esther Pohl Lovejoy (M.D., 1894).

The article uses feminine metaphors to describe the clinical work of women doctors; for example, Keir says of Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, of Chicago, who performs “several major operations per day,” that she “puts into the most difficult piece of surgery the same grace, delicacy and skill as the lady of leisure puts into embroidery.” However, Keir also quoted the interviewed physicians extensively, so that while the description of Dr. Lovejoy employs a reference to her “unusual and romantic” personal history, the article also quotes Lovejoy’s own powerful descriptions of colleagues in the American Women’s Hospitals service: “Dr. Etta Gray is a woman of great executive ability, and a very able surgeon … She was the only surgeon in a large district, and all kinds of major surgery was brought to her.” (Click on image to view full article)

Marketing Nursing and Other Health Science Careers in Oregon

You May Fall in Love, circa 1940. Archival Publications Collection.
Cover of "You May Fall in Love" brochure, circa 1960. Archival Publications Collection. Marriage and making a good match was seen by some as an exciting part of pursuing a career in nursing during the mid-20th century. This brochure illustrates the highly gendered nature of information on career pathways. While the wording in the pamphlet implies that young women would fall in love with the campus and program, the winking accompanying illustrations indicate the visitors would be chaperoned by male medical students and residents. The invitation encourages guests to leave their calorie counter at home for the evening on the Hill. (Click on image to view inside)

Marketing materials strove to sell women on the health professions, while simultaneously selling the role of women in those professions to the larger health science community. During the 1950s, a brochure selling the nursing profession might include images of nurses working with children and infants while also balancing a family life. Motherhood was never far away. The appeal rested on the excitement of the job, caring for the sick, and teaching people how to keep well. The implicit promise of social fulfillment, love and admiration would follow.

Earlier marketing materials also clarified that young women, single or married, could enter a program. Some of these items also stopped the educational story at commencement, not describing the journey of getting a job or achieving financial independence within the health sciences.

Gradually, advertising shifted to reflect the wider career possibilities and leadership roles women could pursue within the health sciences. Images selected for these materials also include women actively engaged in their daily work. However, women still may have received the best information on the career through lived experience and mentorship from professionals working in the field.

Medical Technology brochure, 1960. Archival Publications Collection.
Medical Technology brochure, 1960. Archival Publications Collection. Inside, the brochure promises, "There's a place for you in the special, exciting world of medicine!" Medical technologists could have a vital place beside the doctor and the nurse, according to this brochure. World War II and the Korean War caused a heavy demand for trained technicians that continued post-war. For performing tasks like tracing diseases in samples of body tissues, looking at patterns of micro-organisms, and observing drug effects, technologists in the 1960s could expect to make an annual salary of $4000-$7000. (Click on image to view inside)
Advertisements featured in the American Journal of Nursing declared Oregon as a place for “wide-awakers, shackle-breakers, and adventure-makers.”
Oregon advertisements, late 1960s. University of Oregon Department of Nursing Collection. For the Department of Nursing, the idea of place, specifically the evocation of the Pacific Northwest as a rugged and independent frontier, was an important factor in attracting prospective nurses. Advertisements featured in the American Journal of Nursing declared Oregon as a place for “wide-awakers, shackle-breakers, and adventure-makers.” Those who were “merely existing” could start truly living in Oregon. A small picture of Mt. Hood appeared beneath each slogan.
Brochure cover, "Nursing and Leadership for you… Ethnic People of Color," 1980
Nursing and Leadership for you… Ethnic People of Color, 1980. University News and Publications Print Collection. In this brochure seeking to recruit nurses from underrepresented communities, “[t]he ethnic person of color” is expected to “offer cross-cultural exchange, as a role model, and as a nurse professional to provide better patient care to all patients in every community.” (Click on image to view inside)
Elizabeth Britton, BSN, MN, at far left, poses with students as part of a Minority Affairs Office gathering.
Elizabeth Britton, B.S.N., M.N., pictured at far left, poses with students at a University Minority Affairs Office holiday event, circa 1980s. Historical Image Collection. The School of Nursing hired Elizabeth Britton, B.S.N., M.N., as assistant director of their grant-funded Minority Recruitment Program in 1978. Britton went on to head the University Minority Affairs Office (a predecessor to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion), and continued to build on her work of touring Oregon schools to offer students hands-on experience with health sciences, to encourage them to consider the health professions.
Interior of a public health nursing brochure shows a nurse going about her day working in public health
“There is an Exciting Future for You in Public Health Nursing” brochure, 1950s. Archival Publications Collection. A typical day as a public health nurse is illustrated in a variety of images, including one that shows the nurse teaching a daughter to give a hypodermic needle. (Click on image to view full brochure)
Cover of a yellow nursing recruitment brochure entitled, "Will This Be You?"
Department of Nursing brochure, early 1950s. Archival Publications Collection. In 1919, the Department of Nursing at the University of Oregon Medical School started offering professional courses. A Public Health Nursing course was introduced the following year, and Teaching and Supervision courses followed in 1926. Those who chose the University of Oregon would get to attend classes in “picturesque surroundings overlooking the City of Roses,” as brochures emphasized the location of campus alongside the training offered. (Click on image for full brochure)
Teresa Jones, dietetic intern, poses with dietetic-related items, circa 1980s
Teresa Jones, dietetic intern, poses with dietetic-related items, circa 1980s. Dorothy W. Hagan Photograph Collection, circa 1980. Jones, dietetic intern, demonstrates the scope of dietetics in this photograph from the Dorothy W. Hagan collection. Hagan was an Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of both the Dietetic Internship and Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition Programs at Oregon Health & Science University. With a program that started in 1930, dietitians constituted some of the earliest health professionals trained at the University of Oregon Medical School.

Professional Experiences in the Health Sciences

Julianne Kumasaka, Research Assistant, Cardiology Research Laboratory, 1957. Historical Image Collection.
Julianne Kumasaka, Research Assistant, Cardiology Research Laboratory, 1957. Historical Image Collection.

“Medical school is just a beginning, after four years there is the problem of an internship which is difficultthen more training in your specialtywhich all takes time and money, and some physical stamina, but in spite of it all, these six years have been some of the happiest in my life ...” writes Thelma Perozzi about her time attending medical school in Oregon. Perozzi successfully found work at the Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.

Women needed to gain experience through internships in order to be successful on the job market. The Progressive Era’s focus on public health and hygiene opened up additional opportunities for women in medicine, nursing, and other areas of the health sciences. However, change was slow to occur. In his 1936 address at the Alpha Epsilon Iota medical sorority annual meeting, physician William Middleton characterized the reality of the situation for emerging women physicians, noting, “In the medical profession, whether in hospital work or in general practice, a mediocre man can be placed more readily than an unusual woman,” Middleton emphasized to members of the women’s medical organization that “the qualities which we hold as womanly, may be misinterpreted in the physician, since the sympathetic approach may give the impression of faint-heartedness.”

What the optimistic popular images and marketing materials aimed at recruiting women to health professions cannot show is the lived experience of those who chose to follow this path. Primary sources like interviews, surveys, letters, and photographs can document some of the clinical, scholarly, and professional experiences of women in the health sciences.

Marcia Kepler Bilbao, M.D., leads instructional demonstration, circa 1970
Marcia Kepler Bilbao leads instructional demonstration, circa 1970. Historical Image Collection. Bilbao came to the University of Oregon Medical School as a resident in 1960, and rose to the rank of Professor of Radiology in 1969. While at the University, Bilbao published articles on a range of topics, including an X-ray method for detecting early breast cancer. She also worked with world-renowned University of Oregon Medical School radiologist, Dr. Charles Dotter, among others, on a patent for an injection syringe for radiology. A 1975 faculty curriculum vitae form that Kepler completed only allowed for "wife's name" in the "personal information" section. Bilbao manually crossed out "wife" and replaced it with "husband" to add her spouse's name.
Evelyn Strange in dental clinic
Evelyn Strange, D.M.D., in clinic, circa 1980s. Historical Image Collection. Dr. Strange graduated from the University of Oregon Dental School in 1950, as the only woman in her graduating class. In 1968, 1.1% of first year dental students were female. During the 1970s, the numbers increased to 15.9% and by 2014, it was 47.7%. However, women in dentistry still earn 65 cents for every dollar a male dentist makes. Only 13 cents of that gap is attributed to differences in experience levels, specialty, and hours worked. Women still make up the majority of dental hygiene professionals. According to a 2012 survey from the American Dental Education Association, 95.8% of dental hygiene students are women.

Women dental professionals continue struggle with dental equipment that is predominantly made for men’s bodies, and advertisements in dental publications continue to target mostly men. One way to gain forward momentum in the profession is for more women to gain leadership roles in professional societies and in academic institutions. Mentorship is also essential. According to Dr. Mary Martin, past president of the American Association of Women Dentists, “The greatest gift women leaders can give to other women is to take them under their wing. My biggest guidance to give young women dentists is that every time you take a step up, turn around and see who you can bring up with you.” (3)
Rose Wong, Ph.D., works in a biochemistry lab with pipettes
Research assistant Rose Wong, Ph.D., works in the laboratory of the Biochemistry department, 1958. Historical Image Collection.
Toshiko Totomatsu working as a Labor & Delivery nurse in the Army Nursing Corps, 1955
Toshiko Motomatsu, originally from Washington state, had a job waiting at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital when she graduated from the School of Nursing in June 1950. She later became a lieutenant in the Nurse Corps of the U.S. Navy Reserve. This photo was taken during her service.
Two presenters stand by a research poster that reads, "Dietary Data Collection Methods Used by Nutrition and Medical Researchers” by T. Hoos, B. Zimmer, and D. Hagan, circa 1980
“Dietary Data Collection Methods Used by Nutrition and Medical Researchers” by T. Hoos, B. Zimmer, and D. Hagan is presented, circa 1980s. Dorothy W. Hagan Photograph Collection. Hagan was an Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of both the Dietetic Internship and Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition Programs at Oregon Health & Science University. With a program that started in 1930, dietitians were one of the earliest health professions trained at the University of Oregon Medical School.

Lucy Davis Phillips and A Study of Women Graduates of the University of Oregon Medical School and Willamette University

Portrait of Lucy Davis Phillips, Registrar of the University of Oregon Medical School. Lucy Davis Phillips Collection.
Portrait of Lucy Davis Phillips

Lucy Phillips became Registrar at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1918 and held that position until shortly before her death in 1943. When Phillips started her position, the school was still based in a single Victorian building on Northwest 23rd Avenue and Lovejoy Street. As a registrar, Phillips evaluated and summarized the transcripts of applications for admission to the School.

Phillips also compiled a record of what women did after graduating from medical school. Phillips created A Study of Women Graduates in the form of a scrapbook. Materials included were photographs, biographical information, and obituaries for some individuals. Newspaper articles and other information were added to the volume after Phillips death. A Study of Women Graduates of the University of Oregon Medical School and Willamette University is an essential history of the lived experience of female graduates.

The surveys Phillips conducted as part of her work asked women whether they were married or single, practicing at the present time, their number of years in practice, their specialty, and what advice they would give to a prospective medical student. Gathering this information gave women the opportunity to reflect on the reality of their professional experiences. Phillips did most of her work on A Study in the mid-1930s. In the late 1950s, Betty Friedan survey the Smith College class of 1942 and was inspired to write The Feminine Mystique based on what she discovered. Examining the accomplishments of women can be a catalyst for change.

The Library has digitized this collection of surveys, along with some contextual materials.

Oral Histories

Since 1997, our Oral History Program has conducted interviews with OHSU faculty, staff, students, alumni,  and policymakers who have contributed to the history of the University and to health sciences in Oregon.

One aim of the collection is to document the stories of Oregon women in the health sciences, in their own words. See below for a few selected oral history interview excerpts highlighted in this exhibit, or visit our Digital Collections and search by keyword to discover many more stories.

Dr. Beckett in her office, circa 1990s. Historical Image Collection.
Dr. Beckett in her office, circa 1990s. Historical Image Collection.

Excerpt from an oral history interview with Ann Beckett, Ph.D., R.N., Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, conducted by Anne Heenan, D.N.P.-P.H.N., F.N.P.-C., on April 17, 2016 for the OHSU Oral History Program:

“[T]here were no nurses in my family. And that was interesting. Because I was influenced by, at least as I trace it back in my mind, I was influenced by a lady that was in our church. And I don’t even know if she ever realized that she had that impression on me. But for whatever reason, she worked in public health nursing.

And I don’t know whether it was programs that she would come, but I had the image of her in my mind wearing the navy blue uniform, and being very stately looking, as I recall. Maybe because I was short, she was tall. But I was impressed with the confidence and all that she had. And that stayed in my mind, although I didn’t decide to become a nurse until I got to college …

When I got into college, and I was reading about the history of nursing, and how it started in New York City and sort of moved west. I was impressed with that. For some reason, working in the community, working in public health, I saw as, I’ve used the term before, as sort of edgy. On the edge of things. And that’s how I felt about that lady … that I was sort of drawn to. I just thought that what she did sounded so, and I didn’t use the term, necessarily, exciting … It was just sort of, you were out there working in the street, in the community … in public health.”

Read the full transcript of Dr. Beckett’s oral history interview

Dr. Toni Eigner-Barry instructs students, 1990. Historical Image Collection.
Dr. Toni Eigner-Barry instructs students, 1990. Historical Image Collection.

Excerpt from an oral history interview with Toni Eigner-Barry, D.M.D., Professor, School of Dentistry, conducted by Henry Clarke, D.M.D., on May 19, 2016 for the OHSU Oral History Program:

“There was one interesting episode the fall of my freshman year … [T]he dental students had a locker room on the second floor of the dental school where we kept our heavy boxes of instruments that were a short distance from the third-floor lab where we used all of those things for our technical classes ... People didn’t change clothes in that room. It was a place to store your things … [W]e got word that this particular associate dean for clinical affairs thought it was improper that there were women in that locker room … And he gathered us, all seven of us, in his office one noon hour and said, ‘Ladies, I think it’s an impropriety that you’re in the locker room with the men. I’ve had some complaints. And I’m going to move you.’ And we started to say, ‘But look, we don’t want to carry our things two more floors. It’s really not a problem.’ And he said, ‘No. It’s an impropriety.'

At that point, there was a knock on the door. Mike Shannon, president of the sophomore class, entered. And he said, ‘Sir, we male dental students think it’s appropriate that the women have their things with us in the locker room. And in fact, if you move them, we’re going to take all of our instruments and have a sit-out in the hallway.’

And he, you know, dean for clinical affairs kind of pushed himself away from his desk and said, ‘Son, son. Don’t back me to the wall.’

And then, I mean, it was this great moment where you realized the tide had turned. It was a new generation. The men in our class kind of welcomed us as equals. And he was outnumbered. Very smart guy. He said, ‘Ladies, I’m going to think about this. And then I will give you written notice if I want you to move. And if you get this, you should do so, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.’ None of us ever heard another word.”

Read the full transcript of Dr. Eigner-Barry’s oral history interview

Carol Lindeman outfitted in cowboy boots during a visit to LaGrande, 1989
Carol Lindeman outfitted in cowboy boots during a visit to LaGrande, 1989. Historical Image Collection. One of Dr. Lindeman’s first projects as Dean of the School of Nursing was a tour of Oregon to determine the role of the School of Nursing. LaGrande, Oregon was home to the first branch campus.

Excerpt from an oral history interview with Carol Lindeman, R.N., Ph.D., Dean Emerita of the School of Nursing, conducted by Joan Ash on April 17, 1998 for the OHSU Oral History Program:

“I think if there is a theme that kind of brings all of it together, is the same concern for health care in this country and that to influence its quality you have to take on multiple assignments, if you will. You can’t just be a dean, or you can’t just be a researcher. It seems to me that society calls on you to say, ‘What talents do I have, and where are they needed,’ and if so, to be willing to use them …

I certainly believe that we have an obligation to give to society, and it seemed to me what I was called upon in terms of my life was this area in terms of nursing and health care. So I said yes to more things than I said no to, and it was a major commitment, and yet I also had a lot of support from my family. My kids are—we still talk about some of the things that they remember, and my one son teasing me that I’d write a grant for 50 cents if I thought I could get it.

I’d bring people into the house, people that were working on research projects, and it was a very stimulating environment for them, so that it wasn’t like this is my work and this is my family life; there was the wish to try to integrate it and to make them feel part of what I was doing and so on.

So they have as many fond memories as I do. I remember one of the kids coming home from school one day and saying, ‘Do you know so-and-so’s mother doesn’t work? What would a woman do, home all day?’ They didn’t ever feel deprived or without attention or what they needed, and they just couldn’t imagine that there was any other way of life. So I had a lot of support, and that also made it possible to do things.”

Read the full transcript of Dr. Lindeman’s oral history interview

Dr. Storrs teaching students, circa 1980s, Historical Image Collection.
Dr. Storrs teaching students, circa 1980s, Historical Image Collection.

Excerpt from an oral history interview with Frances Storrs, M.D., Professor Emerita of Dermatology, School of Medicine, conducted by Matthew Simek on October 19, 2007 for the OHSU Oral History Program:

“So I decided not to go into business, I was going to go into medicine. Carleton, in those days, you had to have something like a chem-zoo major, a chemistry-zoology major to go into medicine.  

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 As 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 throw it on his desk. Say, ‘Have a look at that, Dr. Thomas!’ And then pick it up and walk out.” [laughter]

Read the full transcript of Dr. Storr’s oral history interview

The History Continues

The items in this exhibit represent only selected experiences documented in OHSU’s archival collections. There is much more history than what we are able to present in this single exhibit. Contact us if you are interested in researching additional stories of trailblazing women in your health sciences specialty of interest.

In addition, there are many more stories waiting to be shared, which may not yet have made their way into our permanent collections. If you have materials related to this history that you’d like to add to the archives, or a suggestion for an oral interview subject, contact Steve Duckworth, University Archivist.

Notes

1 Emily Pope, "The practice of medicine by women in the United States," address to the American Social Science Association, September 7, 1881.
2 Ellen S. More, Restoring the Balance: Women Physicians and the Profession of Medicine, 1850-1995 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 54.
Dr. Mary Martin, past president of the American Association of Women Dentists, quoted in "Women in dentistry see progress, continued challenges," Kimber Solana, ADA News, January 18, 2016.