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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Mae Harrington Cardwell, M.D.

Picture of Mae Harrington Cardwell

Mae Harrington Cardwell, M.D.

“Dr Cardwell lived one of the most interesting and helpful lives imaginable. Being a pioneer woman physician she was met everywhere with opposition by men physicians so she was compelled to fight her way to prominence by sheer merit.”


Darlene Hooley



Born in Pennsylvania in 1853, Mae Harrington began working at 14 as a teacher. But a fierce ambition combined with a strong and resourceful intellect brought her to the west coast in 1877 where she vowed to become a physician. After graduating from two medical schools, she began her long and illustrious career in Portland, OR as one of the region's first female physicians.

In the 1890s, she became the first woman on a hospital staff in Oregon serving as physician to the children's ward of Portland Hospital.

Nominated as a Local Legend of Medicine by Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-OR-5), Mae Cardwell was an early and active member of medical societies in Oregon at a time when few women were welcomed into these organizations.

She joined the Oregon State Medical Society (OSMS) in 1885, served as treasurer from 1893-1903, and later as vice president. From the mid-1890s she served as a contributing editor for the Medical Sentinel, a journal edited in Portland.

She presented papers and discussed her own cases in the Medical Sentinel, soon becoming a leader in Portland's medical community. She was the first woman to join the Portland City Medical Society in 1892. In 1900 she was a founding member and the first president of the Medical Club of Portland, a medical society for women physicians.

An outspoken advocate for women in medicine, she was not intimated by the then male-dominated profession. At the annual meeting of the Oregon State Medical Society in 1903, for example, when a male physician presented a paper on "Higher Education as a Cause of Physical Decay of Women," Cardwell was reported to have responded with "disapproval of this most noticed paper... with a challenge of every important point."

In 1903, she was appointed to the city health board, the first woman physician to occupy this position. She developed Portland's first food inspection policies for the city's markets, and helped to improve municipal sanitation.

A founder of the Portland Woman's Club, in 1900 she headed its Home Department, which focused on improving public health, and in establishing the Working Girl's Home and Industrial School. She was also a member of the first Oregon Child Welfare Commission, physician to the Portland Juvenile Court, and women's medical adviser at Reed College.

Her writing and reports for the medical societies helped to chronicle the role of women in medicine in the early 20th Century in Portland. A vocal leader, she was active in suffrage campaigns for the right of women to vote. During World War I, Cardwell was one of four Portland women physicians to challenge the U.S. Army's policy of refusing officer status for medical women.

At her death in 1929, The Portland Oregonian eulogized her as "an outstanding member of her profession and a pioneer in women's activities in the world of medicine."

(Information for this profile comes from the written work of Kimberly Jensen in 2007)



First woman on a hospital staff in Oregon as physician to the children's ward of the Portland Hospital and specialist in children's diseases.


First woman to join the Portland City Medical Society.


Founding member and first president of the Medical Club of Portland, a medical society for women physicians in the city.


Charter member of the Portland Woman's Club, heading its Home Department dealing with public health and helping to establish a Working Girl's Home and Industrial School.

1903 - 1905

First woman appointed to Portland health board.


1853 (died 1929)


Cooper Medical School (1883), San Francisco, CA;
Willamette University Medical Department (1885), Salem, OR


Child Health

Sub Specialty

Women's Health