Women Who Inspire Us: Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D.

portrait of Esther Pohl Lovejoy

Despite receiving almost no formal early education, Esther Pohl Lovejoy became just the second woman to earn a medical degree from the University of Oregon's medical school. She was the first to actually practice medicine, beginning in 1890.

 Her pioneering spirit was recognized in 1907, when she was appointed the chairman of the Portland Board of Health. Dr. Pohl Lovejoy was the first woman in the U.S. to hold such a position in a major city. In her role, she led an effort to combat communicable diseases by instituting school inspections and school nurses. She also launched an awareness campaign about rats to prevent an outbreak of bubonic plague. 

These experiences served her well when she later went to work with the women's suffrage movement. She spoke out about the need for women to have the vote as experts on making their homes and cities healthy. She became a sought-after speaker and organizer throughout Oregon and served as the state's representative to the national suffrage movement. She also published four histories of women in medicine, including Women Doctors of the World in 1957.  

But Dr. Pohl Lovejoy's proudest accomplishment was her work with the American Women's Hospitals Service, a group that formed after World War I to bring relief to places ravaged by war, natural disasters and famine: "[We] are doing in a practical way the things that everyone else is discussing –[our] bit to build and create friendly relations with the peoples who have undergone such frightful suffering."