"Of all national assets, archives are the most precious:
they are the gift of one generation to another,
and the extent of our care of them marks the
extent of our civilization." Arthur Doughty.

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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

31 March 2015


To honor Women's History Month, this historian is squeaking in under the wire to present, Dr. Agnes Harrison, an example of a remarkable woman who led the parade in the early years of Euro-American settlement in the San Juan Islands.
Dr. Agnes Harrison
University of Michigan graduate
photo dated 1881

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Doctor Agnes Harrison was known to hundreds of people as one of the first and finest physicians of the Pacific Northwest. She practiced medicine for more than fifty years.
Harrison officiated at the birth of more than 2,000 babies and operated upon early settlers by candlelight. Influenced by the fact she was drenched by the spray from northeasters while being rowed from one San Juan Island to another, Dr. Agnes Harrison is included in this maritime history collection.

      Born in Rockton, Ontario, Agnes graduated from the University of Michigan in 1882. She entered the medical school soon after it first admitted women students. In an interview, Agnes is quoted: "It was very difficult to enter medical school when I attended the U of Michigan in 1879. 'Hen Medics,' as we were derisively called, were laughed at and scorned by men students. Even professors insulted our intelligence and seriousness by giving separate and politely 'abridged' lectures to us women, we had no medical classes with the men and could dissect only female cadavers. One professor, new to the school, considered himself quite daring for talking to us openly."
       After 1884, Agnes married Isaac Marion Harrison, thereafter known as "Dr. I. M."–– together they operated a joint practice in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island, where the two were the only doctors on the island in the 1880s, according to Orcas Island writer, Bea Cook. Port Townsend needed them next, followed by eleven years spent in Seattle, before moving to the San Juan Island Archipelago.
      Dr. Harrison recalls that early practice among the Indians was often trying:
"once I was mighty annoyed when I had a delicate operation to perform on a squaw. Naturally, I chased all the relatives and other curious tribesmen out of the house. But they had no intention of missing anything; as fast as I shooed them out of doors, they came back through the windows. Finally, I couldn't waste another minute, so I operated––with a ring of muttering Indians looking on!"
Dr. Agnes Harrison
5 May 1946
Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA. 
Madrona Inn, operated by the Harrisons
 is listed on the above map.
Click to enlarge.
      In her later years, Agnes ran the Madrona Inn in Eastsound, besides carrying on her medical practice. "It was hard, sometimes, when I had a house and 12 cabins full of guests to have a two-day obstetrical case come up." In her senior years, she then helped her son at the popular inn on the coast of Orcas Island.
     In length of years practiced, Agnes was the senior woman physician in the Puget Sound area. She passed away in Eastsound in 1949, survived by sons, Max Harrison of Seattle and Joseph B. Harrison, a professor of English at the U of W, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Source: Author Beatrice 'Bea' Cook writings 1946.

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