Mary Anna Cooke Thompson

Portland’s First Woman Physician

An advocate for women’s rights throughout her life, she first broke through the barriers to women in medicine while she was raising a family in Illinois. Later honored as one of Oregon’s pioneer doctors, Mary Anna Cooke Thompson practiced medicine in Oregon for more than forty years.

Image: Dr. Mary Anna Cooke Thompson
Courtesy Joseph Gaston
Portland: Its History and Builders

Early Years
Mary Anna Cooke was born February 14, 1825 in New York City. Her parents, Horatio and Anna Bennett Cooke, were both from England. The Cooke family moved to Chicago, Illinois when Mary was twelve.

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Charlotte Denman Lozier

Doctor, Feminist and Social Reformer

Charlotte Denman Lozier, physician, lecturer and professor at the New York Medical College for Women. A feminist, she campaigned for Women’s Suffrage and Workingwomen’s Associations as well as other progressive and charitable organizations.

Image: Dr. Charlotte Denman Lozier

Early Years
Charlotte Denman was born March 15, 1844 to Selina and Jacob Denman in Milburn, New Jersey. Eventually a brother and sister were added to the family. Jacob had a strong desire to explore the frontier. When Charlotte was six, the family headed west. The 1850 Census reported them living in Napoleon, Michigan where her brother Robert was born. The family then moved on to Galena, Illinois.

At the time of their next journey to the West, Selina was pregnant again and after several weeks on the trail, she was showing signs of nervous strain as their lifestyle became more strenuous. Charlotte was a great help to her mother during these trying times.

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Lydia Folger Fowler

Pioneer Doctor and Women’s Rights Activist

Dr. Lydia Folger Fowler was a pioneering American physician, the second woman in America to earn a medical degree, the first American-born woman to receive an American medical degree and and the first woman professor at an American medical school. Her many-faceted career was spent in medicine, lecturing, writing, and activist for women’s rights.

Lydia Folger was born on Nantucket, Massachusetts May 5, 1822 to Gideon and Eunice Macy Folger, a historic Massachusetts family descended from Benjamin Franklin, and her famous cousins – women’s rights activist Lucretia Mott and astronomer Maria Mitchell. Lydia grew up on Nantucket and was educated in the local schools, and Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts, where she taught from 1842 to 1844.

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First Women Nurses

History of American Women Nurses

Nurses in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
The Revolutionary War shifted the role of some women from housewives to caregivers on the battlefront. Soon after the Continental Army was created in 1775 to fight in the Revolutionary War, General George Washington was made aware that the wounded and sick required good female nurses, as the wounded soldiers were suffering greatly.

Image: Following the Army by Pamela Patrick White
Many women camp followers were hired to serve as nurses in the Continental Army

Throughout history most healthcare took place in the home by family, friends and neighbors with knowledge of healing practices. In the United States, family-centered sick care remained traditional until the nineteenth century. Sick care delivered by other than family and close acquaintances was generally limited to epidemics and plagues that periodically swept through towns and cities.

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Marie Zakrzewska

Founder of the New England Hospital for Women and Children

In 1862, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, an American physician of Polish descent, made a name for herself as a pioneer female doctor. She founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, the first hospital in Boston – and the second in the United States – to be run by women doctors and surgeons.

Early Years
Marie Zakrzewska (pronounced Zak-SHEV-ska) was born September 6, 1829 in Berlin, Germany, the eldest of six children to Ludwig Martin Zakrzewski and Caroline Fredericke Wilhelmina Urban. Her father was from a noble Polish family who had lost their wealth and property to the Russians, so he worked as a civil servant. Her grandmother was a veterinary surgeon, and her mother worked as a midwife. From age 13, Marie accompanied her mother on her rounds.

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19th Century Midwives

Midwives in 19th Century America

Childbirth in the American Colonies
Childbirth in colonial America was a difficult and sometimes dangerous experience for a woman. Since the typical mother gave birth to between five and eight children, her lifetime chances of dying in childbirth ran as high as 1 in 8. Death in childbirth was sufficiently common that many colonial women regarded pregnancy with dread.

Image: American pioneer birth scene
Gustave Joseph Witkowski, 1887

In addition to her anxieties about pregnancy, an expectant mother was filled with apprehensions about the death of her newborn child. In the healthiest seventeenth century communities, one infant in ten died before the age of five. In less healthy environments, three children in ten died before their fifth birthday.

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Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier

Doctor and Pioneer in Women’s Education

Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier was one of the first women doctors in the United States. In 1863 she founded the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women, the first school where women of New York City could study medicine and the first hospital where women patients could receive medical care from doctors of their own gender.

Image: Dr. Clemence Sophia Harned Lozier

Early Years
Dr. Clemence Sophia Harned was born December 11, 1813, in Plainfield, New Jersey, and educated in the Plainfield Academy. She was the youngest of 13 children born to David and Hannah Walker Harned, who had lived among the Native Americans in Virginia for several years before moving to New Jersey.

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Mary Gove Nichols

Author and Leader in the Health Reform Movement

Though little known today, Mary Gove Nichols was once one of the most influential women in America, a radical social reformer and pioneering feminist who preached equality in marriage, free love, spiritualism, the health risks of corsets and masturbation, the benefits of the water cure and the importance of happiness.

Image: Mary Gove Nichols, as drawn by her daughter Elma Gove, 1853

Mary Neal was born on August 10, 1810 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. In 1822 her favorite older sister died and the family moved to Craftsbury, Vermont. Mary’s education came in spurts in various small town schools, but she was a voracious reader and by her teens she was writing stories and essays for newspapers and magazines.

Popular Health Movement
In colonial America, most medical care was administered at home by a woman, and the lay practice of medicine was dominated by women. However, by the 1820s self-proclaimed male doctors had displaced even midwifery in the care chosen by the upper and middle classes. The decline of women as medical practitioners parallels their withdrawal from other occupations, such as shopkeeping, in which women had freely engaged during the colonial period.

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Harriot Kezia Hunt

First Woman to Apply to Harvard Medical School

Harriot Kezia Hunt (1805-1875) was the first American woman to practice medicine professionally. Though she did not have a medical degree, she achieved considerable success by applying the simple principles of good nutrition and exercise. In the 1850s she became involved in the burgeoning women’s rights movement and fought to open the medical profession to women.

Childhood and Early Years
Harriot Kezia Hunt was born in Boston, Massachusetts on November 9, 1805, the daughter of Jacob and Kezia Wentworth Hunt. The Hunts were deeply involved in Boston’s liberal religious community and reform culture, and they educated their two daughters at home. Her father died in 1827, when Harriot was twenty-two, and she and her sister Sarah opened a school in their parents’ home in order to support themselves.

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