Oregon’s Doctor to the World, a new biography by Western Oregon University history professor Kimberly Jensen, chronicles the extraordinary life of Oregon suffragist and pioneer physician Esther Pohl Lovejoy, one of Oregon’s most prominent female activists.
Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy’s long life stretched from 1869 to 1967. She was one of Oregon’s earliest women physicians, graduating from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1894.
In 1907 Portland’s mayor named Lovejoy the nation’s first female city health officer. In her role she installed the first school nurses and regulated the sale of milk, helping to establish Portland as a leader in high standards for public health and sanitation.
“And it was here that she had her next big experience that led her to support votes for women,” notes Jensen. “[Lovejoy] said that when as city health officer bubonic plague threatened the town, the commerce of the town — and that’s what she called men’s business — the city council and other business owners were very quick to respond with money and support for her as an appointed officeholder to solve that problem, because they feared that commerce would be threatened… but at the same time, when the women of the city came to the city council and wanted to have pure milk ordinances, they treated them as if they didn’t mean much….”
Later, Lovejoy’s commitment to public health and medical relief would take her across the globe. In 1919 she helped to found the Medical Women’s International Association and became its first president. In 1938 she authored Women Physicians and Surgeons. Twenty years later she published Women Doctors of the World.
Lovejoy was also an important force in the Oregon battle for woman’s suffrage. To learn more about Lovejoy and the suffrage movement in Oregon, tune in to Oregon Experience’s new documentary “The Suffragists,” premiering November 5 at 9 p.m. on OPB TV.
Oregon’s Doctor to the World: Esther Lovejoy and a Life of Activism was published in October by the University of Washington Press. Jensen is also the author of Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War.