Through His Eyes: The World of Herbert Merton Greene, M.D.


The exhibit features photograph images, documents, certificates and licenses, artifacts, and publications from the Herbert Merton Greene Collection that highlight the themes of his long, successful career as a physician and researcher, his commitment to the military, and his involvement in Free Masonry and the Anglo-Saxon Christian Association. Complimenting the collection is the WWI military uniform worn by Dr. Greene, a generous loan by the Greene family.


Herbert Merton Greene, the oldest of nine children, was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina on October 5, 1878. He was inspired by the small town doctor (an army medic) in Mitchell County to become a physician.

Greene moved out west and attended the University of Oregon Medical School, graduating in 1904. Later he completed post-graduate studies at the Vanderbilt Clinic in New York and served internships at the Multnomah County Hospital, the Dr. Coffey Hospital and the North Pacific Sanitarium.

A year after graduation he married Julia Matilda Cooper on June 7, 1905. Julia died of colon cancer in 1917, leaving Greene to raise their four year old daughter, Dorothy Helen. 

Anatomy class at the University of Oregon Medical School. Greene, in center, with classmates and cadaver, ca. 1904.

In 1916, Greene was commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps of the US Army and served in the Mexican Border Campaign. He was ordered in 1917 to Camp Lewis, WA, first as adjunct to Major Northington, later becoming acting commander and Chief Surgeon of the Base Hospital. Here, under severe working conditions, he contracted the mumps and the flu during the height of an epidemic. While stationed at Camp Lewis, he met his life long partner, Chief Nurse, Jeannie Todd Booth.

Dr. Greene was a member of the UOMS Faculty from 1919-1925. He was a member of the clinical faculty in the genito-urinary clinic at the Portland Free Dispensary and was lecturer in Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene in the Multnomah School for Nurses. Greene maintained a private medical practice for 53 years in Portland with an office in the Medical Arts Building and was on the staff of Good Samaritan Hospital. 

Greene and colleagues in front of the Multnomah County Hospital, ca. 1904, where Greene served an internship.

Greene was concerned for his deteriorating health. By the time he was 55 years old, Greene said, "I was broken down in health with both lungs containing masses of fibrous tubercular lesions due to overwork while in acting command of the Base Hospital, Camp Lewis, Washington." A corneal scar covered the pupil of his right eye, while the lesion in his left eye covered the lower margin of his pupil, making it impossible for him to do major surgery. His cataracts were caused by tubercular keratitis.

As a student in 1898, Greene operated the first x-ray machine on the West Coast, for R. C. Coffey, M.D. Exposure to x-rays badly burned and ulcerated his left hand. By 1960 the entire hand had to be amputated following multiple surgeries and treatment. Previously, while in school, he had lost the middle finger on his left hand. During an autopsy he had inadvertently stuck it with a needle, which resulted in a staph infection. 

Greene's first year as a physician; making house calls by horse and buggy [in LaCrosse, Washington], n.d.

The x-rays also burned his body causing cancerous lesions. X-rays were first introduced as a panacea "for what ails you," he said. "It had just been invented. It was supposed to be the most beneficial light in existence - better than sunlight. It wouldn't hurt a flea. I can remember once working for an hour before the exposed lamp trying to get a gramophone needle out of a woman's toe."

It wasn't until after WWII that he understood that his long struggle with ill health was due to radiation sickness. 

Wedding portrait of Greene and Jeanne Todd Booth, chief nurse at Camp Lewis, WA., 1917

Greene spent his life caring for his family and the sick and dying while trying to resolve his own health issues. The collection is rife with correspondence to various departments of the US Army. For years he was refused adequate compensation for his poor health, which he adamantly attributed to the conditions he suffered while in military service.

An inventor, Greene presented his laboratory studies of the holes made in the dura, which resulted in a leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in spinal tap patients. At this time he introduced the Greene special puncture needle, which reduced post-dural puncture headaches (PDPH). Another invention, which developed into a profitable business, was a barbicide (an antiseptic used in barber shops and beauty parlors to clean combs and brushes) that he manufactured and sold from his home. 

Greene worked as the proprietor's assistant in the LaCrosse saloon and pharmacy, n.d.

A Protestant and Republican, he was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon State Medical Society, City and County Medical Societies, the Scottish Rite (Masons) and was master of the Albert Pike Lodge. He was co-founder of the Anglo-Saxon Christian Association of Portland with Hugh C. Krum, and was co-editor of The Reminder of Our National Heritage and Responsibilities. He was ordained by The Kingdom Bible Seminary and was a member of the faculty of the Dayton Theological Seminary.

Dr. Greene built a home on the basalt cliffs of the Willamette River, where he welcomed and entertained both friends and family. After closing his medical office, he continued to see patients at the Greene House home office. 

Greene suffered from tubercular keratitis: He had this studio photograph taken, in June of 1945, to accompany petitions to various departments of the US Army to request a reinstatement of military benefits that were denied him.

H. M. Greene was an honored UOMS alumnus, a respected physician, an insatiable researcher and a beloved family man. In retirement, Greene continued to surround himself with family and friends. His grandchildren remembered him as a warm and humorous man, who taught them the precepts of a good diet and clean living.

However ardently Greene was to live, he is quoted as saying, "If I had it to do over again, I'd be an engineer." Herbert Merton Greene died at the age of 87 on March 22, 1962