Dr. Edna Davis Timms is one of my proudest finds in researching my family history. She was a women’s activist and a revolutionary thinker of her time. Edna was born just two years after the close of the Civil War in northern Illinois where so many of our family resided. The Harvey Mann Timms family would eventually leave Illinois and make their way to the west coast. The first to arrive was Edna’s twin brother, Eugene in 1893, and Edna came just two years later. It appears that the rest of the family arrived in Portland by 1897 or 1898.
Edna’s first job in Portland was as an artist for the newspaper, The Oregonian. I do not know when she entered medical school, but by 1897 city directory her occupation was medical student. In 1899, at age 32 Edna graduated from the University of Oregon as a medical doctor.
As a physician she specialized in gynecology. She travel to Vienna to further her studies in 1901. Edna was the first woman listed as an instructor at the University of Oregon medical school in 1910. She appeared to have been highly respected and presented often presented papers to the state medical society about women’s gynecological health and childbirth. She was elected to multiple offices, treasurer and vice-president for the Oregon State Medical Association. She also belonged to the AMA, the Women’s Medical Association and the Portland public health board.
Dr. Timms was the mistress of ceremonies in 1905 for the placement of the cornerstone of the building of the Oregon Nurses Association. I think she was respected by nurses as she often spoke in their favor, to the outrage of some male doctors. She once stated at a state medical association that she would rather deliver a baby in a home with a good nurse than in a hospital. Boy that got lots of comments from the floor.
Edna most pivotal contribution came after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Many of the refugees from the disaster left California and headed to Portland. Once in Portland the refugees found aid in the form of free medical care, clothing, food and more at a new organized The People’s Institute. After the crisis abated these Edna continued on with the fledging organization as one its first physicians. The People’s Institute at the turn of the century recognized that women’s health was an important issue. It started in one of Portland’s poorest and seedier neighborhoods. The People’s Institute, with support of financial benefactors and physician’s like Edna, would establish a kindergarten, well baby clinics, social services, medical clinics, visiting nurse services, parks, nutrition programs and more. The People’s Institute would eventually become the outpatient clinic of the University of Oregon medical school.
Unfortunately Edna’s fullest potential may have never been known. At the age of 43, only ten years after she became a doctor she was killed, when the auto she was riding in making an emergency call was struck by a street car. She made such a difference I am sure on so many lives, though it was cut short in what was the prime of her life. If you are a member of the Timms family you should stand proud to be related to Edna Davis Timms,M.D.