Friday, April 30, 2010

Stories from the Clippings

Mary Bowerman Purvine and Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy
Honored for a Half Century of Medical Service

While working on the folios, I came across some articles that highlighted a remarkable figure in the history of medicine in Oregon: we just call her Esther. It's always a good day around here when we have the opportunity to talk about "our" Esther Pohl Lovejoy. It was noted that at the 39th Annual Alumni Banquet, being held at the Multnomah Hotel on April 23, 1954, Esther and Mary Bowerman Purvine were honored along with three others for having graduated from the University of Oregon Medical School 50 or more years since. They were given an award of meritorious achievement and a lifetime membership in the Alumni Association. Mary and Esther were standouts among George Ainslie (1896), James C. Hayes (1904) and George E. Houck (1900) because of the simple fact that they were women. Perhaps this is not such big news, since our graduating classes now are nearly an equal split between men and women. Oops! The women are edging out the men; enrollment in the MD program for 2009 was 53.3% (F) to 46.7% (M).

Esther graduated 116 years ago in 1894 and Mary, 107 years ago, in 1903. These were the early days of formalized medical education in Oregon when women were hard to find among the ranks of male medical students. While Esther was the only woman graduate in a class of 14, she was the second woman graduate at UOMS, but was the first to practice medicine in Oregon. At Willamette Medical Department, Mary was the lone woman in a class of 5 and as a graduate of UOMS, she was one of 5 women graduates in a class of 21(WUMD was eventually absorbed by UOMS). Dr. Merl L. Margason, president of the Association, praised them for "dedicating more than half a century of service to the alleviation of human suffering." At the time, Ainslie, Hayes and Houck had retired, while Mary was still in practice in Salem and Esther was still serving as the chairman of the American Women's Hospitals in New York. Ainslie was unable to attend the ceremony and Lovejoy was also not in attendance.

Of Mary: It was a deciding moment for Mary, on a particular day in 1898, when she witnessed a woman doctor manipulate the broken bones of a woman's arm and secured them in a splint so that they would mend. The die was cast; Mary would become a doctor. The few things that Mary knew for sure were that one should never lie, that one should work to live and that one should never become a drunkard. The final word from her mother, as she went off to the Willamette University Medical Department, was that she must never marry. Being the lone female at school, Mary was the target of many "rather vulgar jokes" and it was told that she didn't have a boyfriend either.

In spite of her mother's warnings, after graduation, Mary moved to Condon, Oregon where she started her first obstetrical practice, got married to Ellis Purvine and had two daughters and a son, Ralph, who also became a doctor. Ellis, Mary and family moved to Salem where Mary continued to practice.

She was active in church, in the Salvation Army and in the Salem Business and Professional Women's Club and was on the staff of both Salem General and Memorial Hospitals in Salem. Mary didn't retire until 1962, and it was true that she was still in possession of a wonderful sense of humor.

Of Esther:

In her lifetime, Dr. Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy transformed the Portland Board of Health in Oregon by regulating the milk supply, providing funds for school nurses, and earning Portland a national reputation for its high standards of sanitation. She also helped to establish the Medical Women's International Association and the American Women's Hospitals which, under her leadership, grew from an emergency committee for war-relief into an international service organization operating in thirty countries.

Esther Clayson was born in 1869, in a logging camp near Seabeck, Washington Territory, and grew up in Portland, Oregon. Her father was an English seaman who had jumped ship in 1864 and brought his family to join him three years later. His attempts to support his family as a lumber merchant, hotel manager, newspaper editor, and farmer were not entirely successful. After such unsteady beginnings, young Esther Clayson decided that she had no desire to be the helpmate of an Oregon farmer or pioneer hotel keeper. For awhile, she could not decide between a career in theater or medicine. While theater seemed unreal to her, medicine was "drama in its highest form."

The woman doctor who delivered Esther Clayson's youngest sister became an inspiration for her to enter the University of Oregon's Medical School in 1894. Taking a year off to earn money, she finished in four years and graduated with a medal for her strong academic achievement.

Shortly after graduation Dr. Esther Clayson married her classmate, Emil Pohl, and the two set up a private practice in Portland, where she worked as an obstetrician and her husband as surgeon. Dr. Esther Pohl spent most of 1896 at the West-Side Postgraduate School in Chicago but two years later, she and her husband had relocated to Skagway, Alaska, where her brothers were suppliers to gold prospectors. The Pohls spent almost two years in Alaska, visiting patients by dog sled and helping establish the Union Hospital. After her brother Frederick's mysterious death in 1899, she moved back to Portland, visiting her husband, who remained in Alaska, only during the summer. The couple had a son in 1901 and left him in the care of Esther's mother, allowing Esther to pursue her interests in women's suffrage, public health, and obstetrics and gynecology.

After spending most of 1904 attending an obstetrics clinic in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Pohl returned and became the first woman to direct the Portland Board of Health. Tragically, her own son died in 1908 from septic peritonitis attributed to contaminated milk. Dr. Esther Pohl set up a private practice in 1908 and wentto Berlin for further training in 1909. On her return in 1911, she learned that her husband had died in Alaska during an encephalitis epidemic. Despite this second tragedy, she continued her medical practice and her political work during the next few years. She married Portland businessman George Lovejoy in 1912, a marriage that lasted only seven years.

From 1911 to 1920, Esther Pohl Lovejoy continued her support of women's suffrage, the League of Nations, and Prohibition, even running for a seat in Congress. She was an outspoken campaigner, publicizing the plight of poor farmers in the Northwest and calling local bankers "bandits" who charged ruinous interest rates in order to profit from the farmers' misfortunes.

With the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, Dr. Lovejoy moved east to work with the American Medical Women'sAssociation, and in the fall of 1917 she traveled to France under its auspices. During the day she worked in a Red Cross Hospital, and in the evenings she visited charity hospitals, hoping to create a string of such institutions throughout Europe.

After she returned to the United States, she spent the next year and a half lecturing about her experiences in France and described the trip in her first book, The House of the Good Neighbor, published in 1919. Her lectures helped fund the establishment of the American Women's Hospitals, an outgrowth of the American Medical Women's Association, to serve displaced and injured war victims. She led the organization for forty-seven years, from 1919 to 1965, and in 1919 helped found the Medical Women's International Association.

During the years that she ran American Women's Hospitals, the group established their first hospital near Paris in 1918, created outpatient clinics and orphanages, and provided public health services.

After World War I the organization focused on other crises and with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the American Women's Hospitals provided medical care in Britain, Greece, and the Far East, expanding into thirty countries. Later in life, Lovejoy continued to encourage women to enter the field of medicine. She wrote three books to record women physicians' achievements and endowed medical scholarships at her alma mater, stipulating that one third of them should go to women.

*This was a rather long post but there is so much more to say of these amazing women. If interested either in Mary or Esther, or in a plethora of men and women in the healing arts, there is a good deal more to be discovered in the OHSU Historical Collections & Archives.
Articles referenced: f1 p36 a25-26; p35; p37a2


Kimberly Jensen said...

Thank you so much for featuring these two important women. But I am not the author of the Lovejoy biography you provide. It is from the Changing the Face of Medicine website and I am not sure which member of that group wrote the biography.
Kimberly Jensen

Karen Peterson said...

Kimberly, I am so sorry for this oversight. I have made the corrections/update to the entry.
Sincerely, Karen