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Home > Facts > Notable Oregonians > Esther Pohl Lovejoy

Notable Oregonians: Esther Pohl Lovejoy - Reformer, Suffragist

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Esther Pohl Lovejoy, 1869-1967 (Photo: Wikimedia)

Esther Pohl Lovejoy, 1869-1967
(Photo: Wikimedia)

Esther Clayson was born in a logging camp in Washington Territory in 1869 to Edward and Annie Quinton Clayson. The family moved to Portland in 1883. Esther graduated from the University of Oregon's Medical Department (UOMD) in 1894 and became the first woman from the department to practice medicine. She married her medical school classmate Emil Pohl that year and they had a son, Frederick, in 1901. Frederick died in 1908 and Emil died in 1911. Esther married Portland businessman George Lovejoy the next year and the couple divorced in 1920.


Progressive Portland mayor Harry Lane appointed Pohl to the Portland Board of Health in 1905. She became the Portland City Health Officer two years later, a position that made her the first woman to lead the health bureau of a major U.S. city. Pohl quickly set about implementing progressive public health goals related to improved garbage collection, contagious disease inspection for children, and pure food and water. She served in the position until 1909. Pohl Lovejoy later traveled to Europe during World War I to learn about how to improve public health for women and children in areas destroyed by war. From 1919 to 1967, she directed an international relief organization called American Women's Hospitals that served in 28 countries.


Pohl Lovejoy approached women's suffrage, at least in part, from a public health perspective since women would likely vote in favor of efforts to improve the health of families and communities. She applied her considerable organizing skills to the Oregon women's suffrage campaign in 1906, and to the successful women's suffrage campaign in 1912. Pohl Lovejoy served as the Oregon representative to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment that created women's suffrage nationally in 1920.


Pohl Lovejoy ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Oregon's Third District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1920. She published four books related to the history of women in medicine, including Women Doctors of the World in 1957. The American Medical Women's Association awarded her the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal in 1951 and 1957 for her contributions to the field of medicine.


Pohl Lovejoy died in 1967 and was buried in Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery.


(Sources: Oregon Encyclopedia | "Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign': Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912" - PDF - by Kimberly Jensen, Oregon Historical Quarterly Fall 2007) Revised 1/2017


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