In our quest to "get it out there," letting you all out on the web see what we have digitized from the HC&A collections, we have loaded 36 more images into the OHSU Digital Resources Library, all relating to the history of the People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary, the forerunners of the OHSU outpatient clinics. All the images were digitized for the exhibit on the People's Institute, mounted in January 2007.
Included in this batch are several notable photographs, including one of Portland's first public park, one of Dr. Estella Ford Warner at work in the clinic, and one of African American patients at a well baby screening. Taken in the 1910s or 1920s, the latter photo is one of the very few we have which document the health care services available to Portland's African American community, which numbered only about 1,000 souls at that time (according to this great history, available free online).
More than you'd pretty much ever want to know about the People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary can be found in the administrative history included in the guide to the People's Institute Image Collection (1999-010), or in the article I wrote for the May 2, 2008 issue of the MSMP's Scribe a few months back. Since that publication is not available online, I here include the full text of that article. Enjoy--or ignore!
People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary: Charitable Medicine
In 1931, the Outpatient Clinic of the University of Oregon Medical School opened in a newly erected building on the Marquam Hill campus, outfitted with the latest in medical technology and amenities. Both building and furnishings had been funded by a $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, an acknowledgment from the Eastern establishment of the enormous success of what had started as the Portland Free Dispensary, a model of collaboration between Portland's charitable organizations and its medical community.
In 1904, a group of prominent women came together to fund and organize the People's Institute Settlement Work, which would be the city's first attempt to create something akin to Chicago's Hull House, providing social services for the urban poor. By 1907, it was clear that the service most in demand for many of Portland's neediest was health care, and the idea that those who were physically capable of helping themselves would, in fact, do so, became the impetus for the establishment of the Portland Free Dispensary. The People's Institute was already in possession of much of the medical equipment that would be needed, material remaining from the 1906 ef-forts to address the health care needs of refugees from the San Francisco earthquake who had flocked to Portland in the first days after the disaster. This equipment was moved into a space shared with the Boys’ Club, and the volunteer services of several physicians secured.
In 1909, Dr. C.J. McCusker made a report on the Dispensary's activities to the faculty at the Medical School, then located at 23rd and Lovejoy Streets. Soon after, the school agreed to affiliate with the Dispensary on the condition that larger quarters be provided for the clinics. Accordingly, the equipment was moved to five rooms on the lower floors of the Institute’s quarters at Fourth and Burnside Streets.
Here, third and fourth year medical students from the Medical School worked alongside the vo-lunteer physicians. A former student shared her recollections of time spent in the Dispensary clinics, noting that “Some of the most important assistance gleaned by the students from the dispensary is aside from knowledge of medicine and surgery which they gain there. They learn through contact with people who are aided by the organization that medical aid can be benefited by a knowledge of home conditions of the patient and by friendly aid. They are taught that cures are often more easily effected by elimination of aggravating surroundings and mental conditions than by the administration of drugs.”
Forty-one separate clinics were established during this time, including the state’s first well baby clinics. Local hospitals also affiliated themselves with the Dispensary, and many patients were transferred to the Multnomah County Hospital, as well as St. Vincent and Good Samaritan Hospitals. Medical prescriptions were doled out sparingly, and local druggists were enlisted to provide medications to Dispensary patients “in accordance with the individual’s ability to pay”--meaning, oftentimes, free of cost.
By 1916, the five rooms were no longer sufficient to accommodate the growth of services and the Dispensary was moved to a building on the corner of Fourth and Jefferson Streets. In 1921, a local headline declared: “Portland Free Dispensary is building on the principle that a healthful city is a hopeful and a happy city and that the right of every man is health.” By 1923, the Dispensary was seeing up to 165 patients a day and providing over 25,000 treatments per year.
The arrangement begun in 1907 continued for 24 years, until the Dispensary was formally turned over to the Medical School. In February of 1931, all employees of the unit were transferred to the new Outpatient Clinic facility along with the financial resources of the Dispensary, which amounted to $49,421.
In 1939, Valentine Prichard, superintendent of the People's Institute, wrote: "The record of history is that upon the initiative of private philanthropy depends the recognition of public duty. Almost every function now recognized by the state or the city in the interest of social advancement was begun by private initiative. Legislatures and municipalities have little time for originating and testing new programs, and it is here that philanthropy has rendered its most patriotic service by accepting as its mission the awakening and the stimulating of the conscience of the state and the nation."
When the model created by philanthropy and adopted by the state loses its effectiveness, it may behoove us to turn again to the community for a new program.