Women, especially working class women, were not expected, certainly not encouraged, to become doctors in the late 1890s and early 1900s. In defiance of gender and social norms, Marie Equi self-studied her way into medical school. She graduated after four years of coursework in April 1903 from the University of Oregon Medical Department, now the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), in Portland. She was one of the first sixty women in Oregon to do so.
One-hundred-twelve years later, I was honored to tell Marie Equi’s story before a packed room of OHSU professors, students, and staff. It was the fourth day of the MARIE EQUI book tour in Portland, and a high point of the week in Oregon. During the early years of my book research, I spent dozens of hours during several visits reviewing documents at the Historical Collection & Archives on campus. The information and the assistance from staff were crucial to my understanding Equi’s medical education as well as the politics of medicine just after the turn of the 20th century. It was a time of conflict and progress in medical education with a push to make the profession more professional and more respected by the public.
I recounted how another doctor tried to block Equi’s graduation and how Equi stood her ground – and then some – when a strapping male student called her a fool. One story followed another until we had to stop.
Many thanks to Maija Anderson, Head of Historical Collections & Archives; Max Johnson, University Archivist; Meg Langford, Public Services Coordinator, and the School of Medicine for making this event possible.
Author Historian Activist