In the late 1800s, when Washington was little more than a rural outpost on
the farthest edge of a young nation, a handful of female physicians
pioneered their way into the medical community. Among them, Cora Smith
Eaton, MD, not only provided care for the community, she was also a
renowned activist in the women’s suffrage movement.
By all accounts, she was also quite the outdoorswoman, as she took up
mountain climbing when she moved to the state in 1906 (and provided
medical advice to climbers). She was a founding member of The Mountaineers
and became the first woman to summit the East Peak of Mount Olympus.
Eventually, she climbed all six of Washington’s major mountains. Then in
1909, she joined a party of mountaineers, climbed Mount Rainier and
planted a “Votes for Women” flag at the summit.
Her accomplishments were so notable that local Washington artists Chandler
O’Leary and Jessica Spring honored her with a letterpress broadside in
honor of the centennial of women’s suffrage. Here’s to Dr. Eaton for
helping to forge the way for female physicians everywhere.
In early 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to “stay home, stay healthy” in the
face of COVID-19 wasn’t the first time Washingtonians were compelled to
ride out a pandemic at home. The influenza pandemic of 1918 reached
Seattle in early autumn that year, just as the state was preoccupied with
the demands of war. By October, hundreds of cases were recognized
throughout the state. A severe shortage of doctors and nurses—many of whom
were away at World War I—created further problems. State health officials
banned public assemblies, closed businesses, and mandated the wearing of
six-ply gauze masks. By September 1919, more than 2,000 deaths from the
flu had been documented in Washington—more than the number of people who
died from contagious diseases in our state between 1913-17.
The year was 1971, when then Gov. Dan Evans picked up his gubernatorial
pen and signed enabling legislation that would allow trained physician
assistants to practice medicine. Senate Bill 182 specified “each
physician’s (sic) assistant shall practice medicine under the supervision
and control of a physician licensed in this state, but supervision and
control shall not be construed to necessarily require the personal
presence of the supervising physician at a place where services are
rendered.” Physician leaders within the WSMA provided crucial support of
the legislation, eloquently and convincingly arguing for its necessity
within and outside of the Legislature. Today, PAs are members of the WSMA
along with physicians. In addition, they are now not only practicing in
the United States, but also around the globe in Europe, Australia, New
Zealand, and some countries in Africa. Photo caption: Gov. Dan Evans signs
Senate Bill 182. MEDEX Founder Richard Smith, MD, stands to the governor's
During the battle during the 2019 legislative session to pass House Bill
1638, which removes the personal and philosophical exemption for the MMR
(measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, WSMA member physicians reminded
legislators that vaccines save lives and that prevention is preferable to
This photo from the WSMA archives is a sober reminder of a time when polio
epidemics rocked the country and devastated the lives of children. Here’s
a shout-out to the legislators who stood on the side of science and did
the right thing to ensure our state has hope for a future free of totally
preventable diseases such as these.
After the end of World War I in late 1918, the impact of care for
returning veterans increased across Washington state, as elsewhere.
Perhaps that’s why on the first day of the 1919 Annual Session of the
House of Delegates, WSMA President Dr. H.P. Marshall felt compelled to
appoint a “Committee on Advisory Fee Bill for the War Risk Bureau.” The
committee’s charge was to take up the question of fees with the Insurance
Commission. By the second day of the meeting, Drs. S.W. Mowers, C.W.
Sharples, and C.H. Thomson suggested a long list of “proper fees to be
charged by the physicians of this state in the care of returned soldiers.”
In terms of the cost of care 100 years ago, those were surely the good ol’