Thursday, January 24, 2008

Notable women in the history of Oregon

[Glad to be back after a bout of illness. Modern medicine, we learn the hard way, is of no use for about 90 percent of what plagues mankind.]

Several new additions to the Pacific Northwest Archives Collection have come in from cataloging, including Notable Women in the History of Oregon, a 12-page pamphlet from the Oregon Lung Association. Published circa 1983 and sold for a dollar, the pamphlet celebrates female movers and shakers in Art, Business, Community Service, Education, Law, Medicine/Science, and Politics, with a special nod to Saidie Orr Dunbar, first secretary of the OLA and "an outstanding humanitarian of her generation."

Not surprisingly (in our view), the short list of notable women in Medicine/Science includes Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D., 1894 graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School, physician, suffragist, and pioneer in international health efforts. Also recognized is Bethenia Owens-Adair, M.D., a controversial figure in Oregon medicine who lobbied successfully for the passage of legislation requiring sterilization of "the habitually criminal and feeble-minded."

The third and last named notable in the category is Grace Phelps, R.N. "One of Indiana's earliest registered nurses," Phelps was very active in nursing certification and education in Oregon and worked to establish the Dept. of Nursing Education at the University of Oregon Medical School (the forerunner of today's OHSU School of Nursing). She also founded the Oregon State Association of Graduate Nurses, serving as its president and on its board of directors. She is probably best known as the first Superintendent of the Doernbecher Memorial Hospital for Children, a position she held for seventeen years after the hospital's inception in 1926. Earlier in her career, she had served as Supervisor of Nurses at Multnomah County Hospital; Superintendent of the Portland Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital; and as chief of nurses of Base Hospital 46 during World War I.

Produced in 1983, this pamphlet from the Oregon Lung Association postdated the final closure of the University State Tuberculosis Hospital by ten years. The fact that none of the three notable women in science and medicine were connected with any of the state's tuberculosis hospitals is telling: telling both that men physicians were the pioneers in tuberculosis treatment in Oregon (such as the Matson brothers, certainly), and telling that women who did spend their careers caring for tuberculosis patients, such as Barbara Hiatt Jacob, twenty-year superintendent of nurses at the TB Hospital, did not merit a mention.

Some parties at OHSU are currently engaged in a similar exercise, to identify and nominate a local legend for inclusion in the National Library of Medicine site celebrating America's women physicians. Working through that process has given me a new appreciation for the compilation of these lists of notables and the enormous amount of research, thought, and emotion that underlies the final product.

In many ways, the lists say more about the listers than those listed.

1 comment:

Sara Piasecki said...

Researcher Heather Reynolds helpfully sent me this note: "I have seen the pamphlet you are talking about. I just wanted to make a correction. Grace Phelps did not found the Oregon State Graduate Nurses Association. The OSGNA was first formed in 1904 when a group of nurses who had been gathered to help at the 1905-06 Lewis and Clark Expo got together and decided to form a professional association of sorts. Grace Phelps moved to Oregon in 1909 and did not become a member of the OSGNA until 1913 or 1914."
Since the pamphlet is riddled with other small errors (such as typos), it's not surprising to learn about this error as well!