Monday, August 16, 2010

Clara Montague Davidson, M.D.


Excellent news from the world of medical archives: the Oregon State Hospital is working to open a museum focusing on the history of the institution and mental health treatment in Oregon. We got a call today from museum coordinator Kylie Pine, who is reaching out to other institutions that might hold pieces of the hospital's history.

One of the individuals of interest to Pine is Clara Montague Davidson, M.D., who interned at the hospital around 1894. The 1898 Oregon licensed physicians register indicates that Clara was still in Salem that year, but at some point before 1903 she moved to Newberg, OR, and opened a general practice. This photo shows Clara in her Newberg garden in 1903; she died in 1905.

According to information supplied to OHSU Librarian Margaret Hughes by Martha Montague in 1971, Clara was born in Vancouver, WA, in 1863, and married James M. Davidson in 1882. After her daughter Genevieve died in 1889 "of some mysterious fever - probably meningitis" Clara was "moved" to the study of medicine. The catalogs for the University of Oregon Medical School indicate that Clara was a student here for the 1890-91 session - along with a student called James Davidson, but it's unclear to me whether that was her husband James. Another classmate of Clara's was Esther Pohl Lovejoy, whom regular readers know went on become the second woman to graduate from UOMS in 1894.

After that one session, Clara leaves Portland and matriculates at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University College of Medicine) whence she graduated in 1893. She returned to Oregon for her internship at the Oregon State Insane Asylum, as it was then called. Why did she leave UOMS? The Woman's Medical College was well known and well respected and had been educating women physicians since 1867. Could she have thought that she would be more comfortable at an all-female school? That her education at Pennsylvania would be of a higher quality? Would her classmate Esther, who has written of the gentle teasing she encountered at UOMS, also have considered transferring to the Woman's College if she had had the funds?

We may never know the answer to the question of why Clara moved to Pennsylvania, but we may have a clue as to why she came back. An interesting piece in our Biographical File on Clara is an article she wrote for the magazine The Saturday Night circa 1894, in which she relates the story of a poor shopgirl she treated during her time in Philadelphia. She writes of one of her trips into "the sweater's district," which she calls "the worst part of the city." She notes that "although the 'doctor lady' is always respected even in the worst quarter, yet my heart failed me as I thought of the narrow streets, the dark underground cellars, and the drunken, cursing men and women I would have to meet." Although, come to think of it, experiences such as this may have made Clara especially suited to an internship in a psychiatric hospital.

1 comment:

Kimberly Jensen said...

Thank you for this incredible additional information on Davidson! And what an image!