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HomeHistory StoriesFrom the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Pioneering Women Doctors

From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Pioneering Women Doctors

Pioneering doctors (left) Elizabeth Blackwell and Anna Longshore Potts

by Susan Couso

In 1847, when Elizabeth Blackwell first walked into a classroom full of male medical students, shock waves went through the class. These stunned young men could not understand just what she was doing there. Faced with hoots of displeasure and constant discrimination, Blackwell went on to shock even more as she became the first female to obtain a medical degree in the United States. She graduated Geneva Medical College on January 23, 1849.

Blackwell’s amazing accomplishment served to propel more women towards a medical education. Who better to seek to understand how to help the human body and soul? Women had long been caregivers who used folklore, herbal medicine and common sense to repair the suffering of their families and friends.

More often than not, the injured were taken to the nearest woman for help. But these female medical students faced many obstacles. The low expectations, insults and bias made most of them work even more diligently to show their worth.

Somehow, it was considered acceptable for a male doctor to look upon the nakedness of a woman, but a woman doctor, looking upon a naked man was unthinkable!

In 1874, Harvard professor Edward H. Clarke indicated that these women who insisted upon furthering their education would develop “monstrous brains and puny bodies [and] abnormally weak digestion.” Clarke was proven to be wrong.

In Lassen County, a woman doctor has always been a rather rare creature. But, in the early days, at least two strong women took the challenge to bring medical care to our part of the world at a time most would not expect.

Flora Jamison was born in Scotland about 1859. She arrived in New York on November 28, 1879 aboard the ship Circassia.

Flora settled around St. Joseph, Missouri, and in June of 1881, she married Emerson John Potts.

Flora’s new mother-in-law was Anna Longshore Potts, a renowned physician who graduated Pennsylvania Women’s Medical College in 1852. This probably opened Flora’s eyes to a new way of life in America.

Flora and Emerson Potts soon moved to the San Francisco area, where in 1882 their son William was born. Here, she pursued her dream of following in her mother-in-law’s footsteps.

She graduated California Medical College at Oakland, April 21, 1887.

Establishing her practice in the Bay Area, Flora set about expanding her knowledge. In 1887 she went to Australia, and in 1888, her second son, Charles, was born.

Then, in 1896, she ventured into the ‘wilds’ of Lassen County. Her license to practice was recorded on July 27th. Perhaps Lassen County was a little too wild for a female doctor, for she did not stay long before returning to the Bay Area, where she died in 1897.

Elizabeth Henderson was another young emigrant woman who was lured into the medical profession. She was born in Ireland in 1852. She graduated the Michigan College of Medicine & Surgery on March 2, 1895.

In 1898, she married Elmer C. Houston, another physician, and they began their practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 1888, Dr. E. C. Houston set up his practice on Market Street in Bieber, and on January 17, 1900, Dr. Elizabeth Henderson Houston had her license recorded in Lassen County also.

In 1914 the two doctors were lured away, back to the Bay Area, where Elizabeth died in 1923.

Life for a woman doctor was especially difficult, but life in a small town was even more so. These women, who made such a difference in our society should be applauded and remembered for fighting a fight that paved the way for so many others.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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