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Female Doctor Overcomes Gender Discrimination

The life of Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair was so full that today’s episode will be the first of three to explore it.  She once said, “The regret of my life up to the age of thirty-five was that I had not been born a boy… (and was) … hampered and hemmed in on all sides simply by the accident of … (gender).”

She was an infant when her parents joined the Oregon Trail’s “Great Migration of 1843.”  By age 14 she had only three months’ schooling, was married, had a child and was living in a 12x14-foot cabin in Roseburg, Ore.  She divorced, completed school, studied to be a milliner and set up shop making high-fashion hats and dresses.  At age 30 she enrolled her son in college.  Her inquisitive mind led to the study of Gray’s Anatomy, which piqued a desire to become a doctor.  Few medical schools admitted female students, so she studied and practiced alternative medicine and didn’t receive a traditional medical degree until she was 40.

As one of Oregon’s first female physicians, she established a successful medical practice in Portland, Ore., married, and became a leading suffragette and advocate of Prohibition.

Sources: Owens-Adair, B.A. Gleanings from a Pioneer Woman Physician's Life. Portland, Ore.: Mann and Beach, Printers, 1922. Print; Miller, Brandon M. Women of the Frontier. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press, 2013. Print; "Suffrage and Sterilization: Dr. Owens-Adair." Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health. Oregon State Hospital, 2012. Web. 22 Dec. 2014. http://oshmuseum.org/suffrage-and-sterilization-dr-owens-adair/;

Bethenia Owens-Adair. Human Sterilization: It's [sic] Social and Legislative Aspects. Portland, Ore, 1922.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.