Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Poor People's Doctor

Harry Lane, Portland Mayor from 1906-1910, is a minor character in my new book -- Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland coming from History Press in February.  My co-author, Theresa Griffin Kennedy, created an excellent short biography of Mayor Lane, but most of it didn't make the book.  Weird Portland is proud to present her work for you.

Harry Lane served as Portland Mayor from 1906-1910 and became one of the city's most unforgettable characters.

          In the early part of the twentieth century, Portland had a new ally, particularly for women. Mayor Harry Lane became an unforgettable Portland character of considerable importance.  Lane, a life-long Democrat, was born in Corvallis. He was a rare breed of man, in that he personified the original spirit of progressive reform that would plant its seeds in Portland and become firmly entrenched here. Lane was a physician and public health advocate and the grandson of Joseph Lane, Oregon's first territorial Governor. Harry Lane joined his grandfather as a US Senator, when he became Oregon’s first popularly elected Senator in 1912.  As a graduate of Willamette University Medical School in 1876, Lane went on to study in New York and Europe before setting up a medical practice in San Francisco and later returning to Portland. He married Lola Bailey in 1882 and had two daughters with her, Nina and Harriet, adopting a third daughter named Marjorie, an unusual act of compassion and social activism, given those hard scrabble times.
          In 1878 Lane was hired by Governor Sylvester Pennoyer as superintendent of the Oregon State Insane Asylum, known today as the Oregon State Hospital. Working at the hospital for less than four years, Lane discovered conditions of extreme abuse, neglect and administrative corruption. He aggressively put forth charges of corruption of the entire institution, contacting local Portland authorities and other influential people.  To his dismay, he discovered that any accusations of corruption he made fell on deaf ears. He made many enemies in the hospital and elsewhere by attempting to improve and publicize the horrible conditions in the hospital. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Governor Pennoyer responded to the political pressure of other notable Portlanders who wanted to see Lane gone; they didn't want a whistle blower at the Oregon Insane Asylum.  In 1891, Governor Pennoyer forced Lane to resign his position at the Asylum, so it could be taken over by someone less dedicated to social justice. The experience left Lane discouraged and suspicious of the political process.
          After resigning from his post at the Insane Asylum, Lane served on Oregon’s first state board of health.  He valued, understood and promoted the importance of protecting clean water, and encouraging Oregonians to buy and grow good quality food to sustain their families. He became known as a man who worked hard to prevent disease, promoting public awareness of the dangers and prevention of tuberculosis, which impacted lower income populations primarily. Throughout his entire medical career he demonstrated a profound understanding of the social stressors of those less fortunate and how they struggled to overcome poverty and the indifference of the upper classes. He often didn't charge Portlanders in need that had no way to pay for medical services. He became known as the “poor people's doctor” developing a reputation as a man who cared and was beloved in those diverse Portland communities of low income families.
          Another interesting facet of Harry Lane's often overlooked life is that in 1899, he created Oregon's first Mycological Society, called The Mushroom Club of Oregon, and acted as the club’s first president. The club’s main purpose was to provide the public with vital information about the safety and cultivation of mushrooms, as a cheap and nutritious food source. At a time when mushrooms were prohibitively expensive and only “high-stepping” people could afford them, Lane taught everyday Portlanders how to mushroom hunt safely, as a way to enrich their diets and their lives. He published several informational articles in the Oregonian sharing his expertise on the joy of mushroom hunting and cultivation.
          In his articles Lane focused on the scientific description of various mushrooms species, their general habitat, within and in the surrounding areas of Portland and how to safely distinguish between the species. His goal was to promote mycological appreciation and to help prevent the consumption of poisonous “toadstools” that could either kill the consumer or make them very ill. Lane had his favorite mushrooms, and boasted of consuming more than twelve different varieties including morels. His favorite mushroom was the common russula, of which he wrote, “no more savory or delicate morsel comes to the pan” than from the delectable yellow and purple russula.  The seriousness with which he approached all challenges in his life was also reflected in his mushroom activities, when he warned, “Those who do not care to join the club and will insist on eating fungi, can easily learn to distinguish between the wholesome and poisonous species by eating of the species they find, and leaving it to the coroner to do the rest.”

Harry Lane served two 2-year terms as mayor and used his veto against an antagonistic City Council more often than any other Portland mayor.

          Elected mayor in 1905, and again in 1907, Lane fought hard for such issues as regulation of railroads, effective city planning and services, public utilities and of particular interest, given his background as a committed physician, public health measures he knew would improve the quality of life of the city’s most at risk populations. Like many mayors before and after him, Lane took on special interests such as gambling and fraudulent contractors. He also addressed the ongoing issue of city wide prostitution and the pervasive health issues that prostitution and disease brought to the larger community. He challenged the ideas and justifications for American imperialism and became an advocate for Native American Indian tribes.
          While mayor of Portland Lane hosted the 1905 NationalAmerican Woman Suffrage Association convention and became an outspoken supporter of women's rights.  He was recognized thereafter as an ally for women and developed a large following of supportive and devoted women friends as a result. As mayor he led the nation in appointing women to public office and supported the employment of women in many fields. His most noted act of support of women's equality occurred when he hired Lola Baldwin for the Police Bureau as one of the first female police officers in the nation.  She worked as a police officer for more than a decade and created the Women’s Protective Division.
          Mayor Lane was a speaker at the July 6, 1905, unveiling of the Sacagawea statute at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition at Lake View Terrace. Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian woman who assisted the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Because of her efforts, Lewis and Clark were able achieve their objective of safely exploring the Louisiana Purchase.  In the early part of the twentieth century, she came to personify the innate worth of women and the influence and positive impact women could have on the lives of others, embodying independence and compassion. In his speech, one of the most memorable of his career, Lane boldly announced that any form of violence between white and Native populations had occurred because of “white people ill-treating the Indians who had befriended them.” 
          Though Lane served two 2-year terms as Portland mayor and was a committed social reformer, he may have been born into the wrong time. He was up against a formidable structure of institutionalized city corruption that continually worked against his strident and sincere efforts at social reform and equity for those with the least. Though he was beloved by community members, particularly the poor who had benefited from his time as a Portland doctor, and despite the fact that he was popular among voters, he is best remembered for having achieved little of any lasting impact politically. This was mainly due to the influence of wealthy merchants and saloon owners some of them members of the City Council, who derived much of their income from gambling and prostitution.  Lane was simply outnumbered.  He used the veto more often than any other Portland mayor in his battles with the City Council and thus achieved little of positive value.
          In November of 1912 Lane was elected to the US Senate, where he became a leading national advocate for women's suffrage. Fighting against women's “separatism” from society as a whole and promoting more equitable treatment of women was highly unusual for a man at this time. During his time in the Senate, Lane encouraged a more benevolent rapport between the US government and the Native American population. He advocated support and health services for Native Americans that many others in the Senate simply did not value. All his life, Lane was dedicated to exposing, and if he could, correcting, the injustices suffered by Native Americans at the hands of the millions of European immigrants moving to and settling in America.
          In Congress, Lane served on the Committee on Forest Preservation and Game Protection, the Committee on Fisheries and the Committee on Indian Affairs. He regarded the Committee of Indian Affairs to be the most important of his jobs, and often criticized the US Government for its policies and attempts at “civilizing” the Native American population. Lane was extremely direct in his criticisms, saying, “I think the whole scheme of our management of the affairs of the Indian is a mistake. It is wrong; it is expensive to the government, it is fatal to the Indians.”
          Lane had a realistic view of what the American Indian was up against, not only in Oregon, but nationally and he could be quite outspoken in their defense. He once declared that the poverty of the Indian population existed solely because of white men, describing local Natives as being a crushed culture while, “the white man is astride them and is at work taking everything they have.” 
          Lane's social and political passions led directly to his downfall both professionally and politically. He was never more outspoken than when he discussed either privately or publicly, American involvement in World War One and his opposition to it. He did not support President Woodrow Wilson's well-known desire to engage Germany in war and he made this very clear in many 1917 speeches and addresses in Oregon and Washington DC.
          Lane opposed ending diplomatic relations with Germany and steadfastly refused to offer support to enter a war he felt the country could not afford. A small group of like-minded US senators supported and agreed with his anti-war philosophy, the most prominent was Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollete. When they let their opposition to the war be known, Lane and LaFollette became the target of hostility and intense attacks by the President and other politicians as well as the general public.

Elected to the US Senate in 1912, Lane became an outspoken advocate of Native American rights and one of the leading opponents of US entry into World War I.

          Woodrow Wilson described them as, “a little group of willful men, representing no opinions but their own” who had “rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” Many Oregonians turned on Harry Lane, and were similarly outraged.  A loud cry from certain factions of the public erupted for Lane's immediate recall. In an editorial the Oregonian said, “...the people of Oregon are ashamed of themselves for having sent Harry Lane to the United States Senate.” Although the Oregonian skewered Lane, he still had many loyal friends who wrote to him, sending him cards and letters of support celebrating the life he had spent engaged in consistent public service for the betterment of all Oregonians, the rich and poor, the educated and the uneducated, the well-known and the invisible.  The stress of the public outcry contributed to his untimely death from a stroke in 1917.
          The legacy Lane left Oregon is not a paltry one. His contributions remain in the way he promoted health and nutrition programs for the poor, who were able to persevere because of that help, care and concern. His legacy remains in the work he did for women's rights in Portland, most notably the appointment of women to public office and the social services for prostitutes that he championed at a time when they were vilified rather than helped or given any manner of understanding or compassion. He steadfastly fought for women's rights at a time when it was not popular for men to take on women's issues and he continued to employ women whenever he could.
           He continued to champion the “fallen women” who were often overlooked and ignored; the prostitutes of Portland. These were women who became chronically ill due to venereal disease and the hidden agony of “pelvic inflammatory disease,” which was a common ailment of the time, and caused women and young girls so much pain, they often sought relief with alcohol, opium and even heroin. And of course Lane's legacy remains in his fight, however unsuccessful, in combating the city wide corruption of an early American town inundated with vice. Harry Lane was indeed a man ahead of his time and one of Portland's most accomplished pioneers.

1 comment:

  1. I literally fell in love with Harry Lane, as I was doing research for the book JD and I wrote together, which will be available in Feb of 2016. He was such a good man, so caring and so responsible that I could not help but be completely impressed with his integrity and character...I think a book about his life would be a great investment for the history of Oregon state...