Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Name game redux: Abbreviation worth a thousand words

[We are continually indebted to Professor Kimberly Jensen of Western Oregon University for bringing fascinating open questions to our attention.]

The 25th Annual Meeting and Directory of the Alumni Association, University of Oregon Medical School (1937) includes a short article by school Registrar Lucy I. Davis on "History of Women Graduates of Oregon Medical School." In this definitive piece, Lucy identifies the first female graduates of both the Willamette University Medical Department and the UOMS (which had merged in 1913) and all subsequent women graduates to 1937. Lucy writes: "...the first women were graduated from this western institution [WUMD] in 1877. They were Dr. A.E.J. Ford Robinson and Dr. Angela L. Ford Warren."

How interesting, then, that one can turn to the complete list of school alumni ten pages farther into the Annual and find an entry for " '68 Smith, Lucella Amelia (w)" proving that this woman graduated from Willamette nearly a decade before the Ford sisters. How could Lucy have missed Lucella?

In Lucy's defense, Lucella had been underrepresented in most school publications. The catalogs for Willamette in the 1860s routinely list "L.A. Smith" as a student, and the news coverage of the 1868 graduation also referred to "L.A. Smith." The March 3rd edition of the Salem Daily Record went so far as to include Smith in the general term "gentlemen" when describing the graduates (by the by, the newspapers also report that Lucella's final thesis was on "Syphilis"). All the separately published alumni directories list her as "L.A." Her name has also been recorded elsewhere as "Luella".

Still, Lucy Davis (later Phillips) created a whole scrapbook of information on women graduates, which we have here in the archives (Accession 2004-030). How could she have missed Lucella? Perhaps, if Lucella were long dead and forgotten, the oversight could be forgiven; Lucy may have been relying on the network of living alumni to report on their classmates.

In support of this theory, the 1872-73 WUMD catalog lists Lucella as deceased. Aha! one fact gleaned; time to concentrate on the period 1868-1872 when Lucella might have been in practice locally. But wait, what's this? The 1913 UOMS alumni roster does not indicate that Smith is dead; in fact, the notation for "deceased" (which is the asterisk) does not appear beside the entry for "Smith, L.A." until 1940. Curiouser and curiouser.

The 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory has a listing for a physician called "L.A. Smith" in Hillsboro, OR; the 1917 UOMS alumni directory indicates that Lucella is practicing in Roseburg, OR, and she apparently stays there through 1922. (No UOMS alumni Annuals were printed between 1923 and 1935, and by 1936 they were no longer indicating locations.) But the 1898 Medical Register of Oregon has no listing for an "L.A. Smith" at all.

To make things even more interesting, that 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory distinguishes in its listing between "physician" and "female physician"; of the latter, there are three: Mrs. Hathaway in Milwaukie, Mrs. Julia Brown in North Yamhill, and Mrs. O.A. Thayer in Portland. "L.A. Smith" is listed as a regular "physician". Was the designation "female physician" meant to indicate the absence of a degree for a practicing midwife? Mary Anna Cook Thompson, widely credited as the first female physician in Portland, came to Oregon in 1866, but is not yet listed in this directory. One wonders what designation would she have been given.

What do we make of all this? Well, for one, we can say with great certainty that there are still a lot of thesis topics out there for graduate students. If you have any theories, or, say, a stash of Lucella Smith's papers in your attic, we'd love to hear from you.

No comments: