Monday, January 25, 2010

The Organization Woman

A question about an early female member of the Oregon State Medical Society (now called the Oregon Medical Association) led us down to the 19th century issues of the group's Transactions, which OHSU thankfully holds.

The proceedings of the second annual meeting have been identified as "vol. 2" by the library cataloger, but in fact there seems to have been no volume 1. A short section titled "Preliminary organization of the Oregon State Medical Society" precedes the title page to the transactions of the second meeting, and states that "Owing to the unavoidable incompleteness of the transactions [of the first meeting] your Committee on Publication have nothing further of interest to publish in this pamphlet."

So, beginning at the beginning, then, we see that the member roll--helpfully included in each volume--lists 38 regular and 2 honorary members, none women (as far as we can tell. And none called L.A. Smith, either.)

But, in just a few short years, women make the cut. "Miss Ford, A.L." and "Miss Ford, E.J." are listed in 1877, fresh from their graduation from the Willamette University Medical Department. Is it just a coincidence that the first women admitted to the state medical society were the first women to be educated in the state's medical school, by Oregon physicians who were themselves immersed in the local medical community? Other early female physicians, many educated at homeopathic schools (because few regular schools would take them), may have been viewed with more suspicion by the establishment.

So, it seems that the Ford sisters were the first of the local medical "organization women", beating out Mae Cardwell, first female member of the Multnomah County Medical Society, by about 15 years.

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