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Women in Early Oregon
Sacagawea was a member of the Agaideka (Lemhi) Shoshone, who lived in the upper Salmon River Basin in present-day Idaho. In about 1800, she was kidnapped by members of the Hidatsa tribe and taken to their homeland in the Knife River Valley, near present-day Stanton, North Dakota. A few years later, she was traded to or purchased by a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. She was pregnant with his child when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived at the Knife River villages in November 1804, on their mission to find a feasible route to the Pacific Ocean.
Jane Barnes is credited with being the first European woman to set foot in the Oregon Country. Originally a barmaid in Portsmouth, England, Barnes was recruited by North West Company partners John McDonald and Donald McTavish to sail aboard their company’s ship Isaac Todd as a seamstress, though it is believed she was also the mistress of one or both men.
Charity Lamb was the first woman to be convicted of murder in Oregon Territory. On Saturday, May 13, 1854, she struck her husband Nathaniel in the back of the head with an axe while he was eating supper with their five children. The Oregon Weekly Times, Oregon Spectator, and Oregonian newspapers branded her “a monster” and characterized the act as “cold-blooded,” “inhuman,” and “revolting."
Alice Day Pratt
Alice Day Pratt was forty years old in 1912 when she set out on her own to homestead on 160 acres in Crook County. After eighteen years of ranching and teaching in rugged central Oregon, she moved to New York and published her experiences in national magazines and in books. Born in Mankato, Minnesota, on June 16, 1872, Pratt moved to Elk Creek, South Dakota, at age fourteen and then to North Carolina. There, she taught school, but longed to "own a portion of the earth's crust in my own right and to tamper with it unrestrained," as she would later write. She researched land availability and dry land farming techniques and chose Oregon to begin her adventure. Free land was still available in the eastern and central areas of the state from the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909.
Katherine Sterrett Munra
Katherine Sara Sterrett Munra, known widely as "Grandma Munra," became famous for her skillful operation of fine dining rooms at railroad eating houses in early Oregon. She was noted for her cooking, charm, and hospitality. Being adept at treating patrons as honored guests, she remembered their names as they returned to eat. Katherine Sterrett was born on May 5, 1831, in Erie, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Riblet and Joseph Sterrett. Her father was a lawyer, judge and founder of the Erie Gazette. A requirement for employment at the Gazette was to live at the Sterrett residence, where Katherine's mother, Catherine, presided over the household. It was there that Katherine learned to cook and become a hostess.
Woman Suffrage in Oregon
Women in Journalism
Women in Medicine
In 1903, Manion graduated with honors from the University of Oregon Medical Department, received her medical license, and established a practice in Portland, specializing in diseases of women and children. She joined the Medical Club of Portland, a society organized in 1900 to promote and support the work of women physicians in the city, and served as secretary of the club in 1905 and as president in 1908. She was also active in the University of Oregon Alumnae Association and was president of the Portland chapter for two years, from 1906 to 1908. A member of the Oregon State Medical Society and Portland City and County Medical Societies, Manion served as treasurer for both organizations and assisted in organizing events for visiting women at annual meetings in Oregon.
Mary Cachot Therkelson
Physician, businesswoman, and suffragist Mary Agnes Cachot Therkelsen contributed to Oregon's Progressive Era activism and created a bridge between local and national advocates for women's rights. By attaining a medical degree and engaging in business, she pushed the boundaries of women's participation in the economic and social life of the state. Mary Cachot was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, San Francisco surgeon M.A. Cachot, had graduated from the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific, the predecessor to Cooper Medical College, in 1864, and served as resident physician of St. Mary’s Hospital in the city. Mary Cachot graduated from the Cooper Medical College in San Francisco in November 1889 and received her license to practice medicine in California in April 1890. She wrote her thesis on skin diseases and after her graduation supervised the infant ward at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Joanna M. Cain
Joanna M. Cain is an internationally known physician, teacher, and researcher in women’s health and gynecologic oncology. Cain joined the faculty of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in 2001 as professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She worked to bring both top-notch researchers and clinical trials (research studies on new treatments) to the state, giving women in Oregon access to cutting-edge medical advances.
Christine Karen Cassel
One hundred and fourteen years into its history, the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine named Christine Cassel its first woman dean. A national leader in geriatrics and medical ethics, Cassel literally wrote the book on academic geriatrics in the United States. As a student in the early 1960s, Cassel found herself drawn to science but was discouraged from considering medicine by teachers who thought women were unsuited to its rigors. She took an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1967 but sensed that it wasn’t the right fit for her. On a trip to visit friends on Whidbey Island in Washington, Cassel fractured her elbow. It was her experience as an uninsured American seeking care that finally inspired her to pursue medicine.
Elizabeth Avery Eggert, a homeopathic physician, businesswoman, and activist, helped secure the right to vote for Oregon women. She combined a career in medicine and business with social activism, contributing to local and national reform in suffrage, public health, and philanthropy. Born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1848, Elizabeth Avery was five years old when she immigrated with her parents to Connecticut. She attended the Ipswich Female Seminary in Massachusetts and in the late 1860s graduated from the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College for Women. As an alternative medical system, homeopathy had a strong following during this period and was especially welcoming to women students and practitioners.
Lena Nemerovsky Kenin was born in Portland on November 5, 1897, the third youngest of six children born to David and Naomi (Swartz) Nemerovsky. Kenin attended Reed College and graduated from the University of Washington in 1921. That November, she married Philadelphian Harry Kenin and spent the next three years teaching school. She enrolled at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1924, earning her M.D. in 1929. After interning at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland, she set up a practice in obstetrics and gynecology that would flourish for over twenty-five years.
Harriet Jane Lawrence was one of the earliest female pathologists in the United States and the first known woman pathologist in Oregon. She was born in Kingsbury, Maine, on September 13, 1883. At the age of fifteen, she began teaching, walking several miles to the schoolhouse to earn three dollars a week. With money she saved, she put herself through college and medical school. In 1912, she graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine, one of six women in her class. She then worked for a few months as a resident pathologist in Boston before moving to Oregon that same year.
Carol A. Lindeman
September 1, 1976, was a red-letter day for the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center School of Nursing (now Oregon Health & Sciences University School of Nursing) in Portland. A new dean had arrived. Carol A. Lindeman, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., had been recruited to lead the school and to enlarge its solid regional reputation to one of national prominence. The only daughter of Edgar and Lynda Lehmann, Lindeman was born on January 16, 1935, in Racine, Wisconsin. She earned a diploma in nursing in 1955 from Evangelical Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing in Milwaukee, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota in 1957 and 1958, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1964.
As an activist and physician, Katherine Manion contributed to Oregon women's quest for complete citizenship in the early twentieth century. She also worked for a secure place for women physicians in Oregon medicine. Katherine C. Galbraith was born in Walla Walla, Washington, in 1867 and graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland in 1888. She married James Manion, had a son, and was widowed. She may have sought a medical education to support herself and her son.
In 1909, Grace Phelps began an activist career that would define her significant contributions to Oregon nursing. Portland attorney Sylvanus Kingsley, her brother-in-law, would later say of her: “The betterment of conditions for nurses was in fact her primary objective in life.” Born to a large Quaker family in Westfield, Indiana, on September 5, 1871, Phelps trained as a nurse at Cincinnati General Hospital in Ohio, graduating in 1900. As was the case for all nurses at the time, she began practice as a private duty nurse. From 1905 to 1908, she advanced to the position of superintendent of a children’s hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana. She moved to Portland the next year, working as an office nurse and anesthetist for a local otolaryngologist.
Frances J. Storrs
Frances Storrs, an acclaimed physician and dermatologist, helped clear the path for generations of women physicians in Oregon and throughout the nation. When Storrs accepted a teaching position at Oregon Health & Science University’s Department of Dermatology in 1968, dermatology was “basically a men’s club,” said faculty member and dermatologist Richard Dobson. She had just finished her residency at the university, the first woman to do her entire training in the department. Her admission to the all-male faculty was a monumental shift in thinking, according to Dobson. “We debated a long time, and finally we decided that Fran would be OK.”
Recruited to Oregon by Sadie Orr Dunbar in 1920, Elnora E. Thomson began the public-health nursing program at the University of Oregon’s Portland School of Social Work. A person with energy, talent, focus, and extensive organizational experience in public health, social work, and mental health, Thomson brought new perspective to public health nursing, a newly recognized health care need in Oregon. In a large state with far-flung population centers, providing preventive health care programs was a challenge. Thomson was the right person for the job.
Oregon Nurses Association
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) serves as a professional organization of registered nurses and as a collective bargaining agent for its members. ONA is part of the national American Nurses Association (ANA); both groups were founded around the turn of the twentieth century. ONA joined the ANA in 1911, but in 1906—even before Oregon's women citizens could vote—the group successfully lobbied the legislature for a Nurse Practice Act (NPA). This state legislation established a board that sets standards and administers licensure exams. Nurses who pass the test are legally "registered" and able to use the title "RN."
Women in Politics
Sarah Ann Shannon Evans
When Evans arrived in Portland in 1894, she helped establish the early clubs and projects that would be a vital part of the city’s Progressive Era reform, linking the city with national trends in women’s organized activism. She was a charter member of the Portland Woman’s Club (1896) and a founder of the Oregon Federation of Women’s Clubs (1899), serving as president from 1905 to 1915. In 1901, Evans led the efforts of the two organizations to achieve legislative funding for public libraries in Oregon. She was an effective lobbyist for the bill in Salem, moving and acting within the political system even before Oregon women achieved the vote in 1912.
Women and Libraries
Jennifer Gray Kyle
Late in his life, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) said the best advice he had ever been given came from Salem Sunday school teacher Jennifer Gray. She took Hoover to a lending library and borrowed a copy of Ivanhoe for him. A few days later, after he had finished the book and returned it, she borrowed David Copperfield. More books followed, and Hoover came to understand that “while textbooks are necessary to learning, it was those other books which stimulated imagination and a better understanding of life. They made the whole world a home. They broadened my scope and made me feel a part of the mighty stream of humanity.”
Establishing a public library in Marshfield was a “labor of love” for Agnes Ruth Sengstacken. She "embraced progress," historian Stephen Dow Beckham writes, "and used it as a lever to improve the quality of life on Oregon's southwest coast." Her parents, Freeman and Esther (Selover) Lockhart, had immigrated to Oregon in 1851, traveling with a wagon train from Thompkins County, New York, and then to Coos County in 1853. Her mother was the first schoolteacher in the county, and her father was the first school superintendent. Agnes was one of the Lockharts' six children, born in 1859 in a two-room log cabin on her parents’ land claim, which eventually became the town of Myrtle Point.
Women in Science
Elizabeth D. Jacobs’s fieldwork with the Nehalem Tillamook and southwestern Oregon Athabaskans made significant contributions to the linguistic, ethnographic, and folkloristic documentation of the Native peoples of western Oregon. She was born Elizabeth Louise Derr in Heron, Montana, in 1903 but grew to adulthood near Clark Fork, Idaho. She graduated with a bachelor’s in English from the University of Washington in 1930, and then completed two years of pre-med courses. Planning to become a psychiatrist, she attended the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1932-1933, but her funds ran out, forcing her to leave school. Jacobs returned to Seattle and to her University of Washington anthropologist-husband Melville Jacobs, whom she had married on January 3, 1931. During the summer of 1933, she accompanied Melville on his yearly field research trip among the Indians of western Oregon. That experience changed her life.