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Lovejoy, Esther (Clayson) Pohl

LOVEJOY, Esther (Clayson) Pohl

Born November 1869, near Seabeck, Washington; died 17 August 1967, New York, New York

Daughter of Edward and Annie Quinton Clayson; married Emil Pohl, 1894 (died 1911); George A. Lovejoy, 1913 (divorced 1920); children: one son, who died in 1908

Esther Pohl Lovejoy was born in a logging camp. She worked her way through the University of Oregon Medical School, graduating in 1894, the second woman to receive an M.D. from the institution. Lovejoy and her first husband, also a physician, practiced together in Portland for several years. In 1898 they joined the gold rush to Alaska and set up practice and a hospital in Skagway, returning in 1900 to Portland. Following the birth of her son the next year, Lovejoy continued her practice in Portland and was director of Portland's Health Department from 1907 to 1909. Her son died in 1908; Pohl died in 1911. She divorced her second husband, a Portland businessman, in 1920.

From 1919 until the year of her death, Lovejoy served as chairman of the American Women's Hospitals (AWH) executive board, organizing relief efforts in 30 different countries. She helped found the Medical Women's International Association (MWIA) in 1919 and served as its president until 1924. She also served as president of the American Medical Women's Association from 1932 to 1933. In acknowledgment of her outstanding service on behalf of their people, many foreign countries bestowed upon Lovejoy their highest honors.

Lovejoy's first book, The House of the Good Neighbor (1919), tells of her experiences during World War I at a French résidence sociale in Levallois, a suburb of Paris. As a representative of the MWIA, Lovejoy went to France to find ways American women physicians might aid relief efforts there. Her stay with Marie-Jeanne Bassot, who conducted the social center known affectionately as the "House of the Good Neighbor," allowed Lovejoy to observe directly the effects of the war on French women and children. Lovejoy tells of the French government's campaign encouraging women to have children as a patriotic duty at a time when 80,000 French babies were dying each year of starvation or disease, and concludes that for women war is worse than death.

Certain Samaritans (1927) tells of the AWH's relief efforts in Europe. Because American women physicians wanted to serve their country and were not accepted for military service by the war department, in 1917 the MWNA established the AWH, directed and staffed entirely by women, to bring relief and medical aid to noncombatant populations in war-stricken countries. AWH relief work did not end with the war, however. The book focuses on the Christian exodus from Turkey in 1922 and AWH efforts to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees suffering everything from smallpox to starvation. The story is remarkable and is well told. Women Physicians and Surgeons (1939) tells the same story but offers more specific supporting details, including actual letters, reports, records, and minutes of AWH executive meetings. It is of more interest to historians and scholars than to the general reader.

In Women Doctors of the World (1957), her last book, Lovejoy records the history of women physicians throughout the world. She summarizes the early historical background in her first chapter, relying heavily on the work of Kate Campbell Hurd Mead, and concentrates on the 19th and 20th centuries, thus supplementing Mead's work, A History of Women in Medicine (1938). Lovejoy traces the careers of the first women physicians in countries around the world; includes the history of the AWH; and concludes with a chapter, "Women Doctors in the Golden Age of Medicine," asserting that women physicians may be responsible for the present golden age of medicine. Lovejoy wrote to provide young women interested in medicine with role models of successful women physicians. She succeeded and made a great contribution to women's history.


Burt, O. W., Physician to the World: Esther Pohl Lovejoy (1973). Medical Women's International Association Golden Jubilee Souvenir, Esther Pohl Lovejoy, M.D. (1970).

Other references:

Journal of the American Medical Women's Association (Aug. 1967, Sept. 1967). NYT (18 Aug. 1967). Time (25 Aug. 1967). Today's Health (Aug. 1970).


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