Mrs. Dr. Harrison and the Women of San Juan Islands' Medical Community

Childbirth, Surgery, and Everything In-Between

From doctors to midwives, several of San Juan Islands' female settlers made names for themselves as they served the islands' dispersed populations.

With over a hundred islands, many not served by the ferries, medical care for San Juan Islanders often required a long journey. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, island women made names for themselves while providing health care in the San Juan Islands.

Agnes Harrison (neé Barlow) was an 1883 graduate of University of Michigan Medical School, joining a small but growing number of women in the medical profession. Known as “Mrs. Dr. Harrison” in the Islands, Harrison and her husband Dr. Isaac Harrison moved to Washington to serve in Seattle as physicians. Over the next couple of years, the Harrison family moved between Port Townsend, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island. The couple eventually settled on Orcas, where they also ran the Madrona Inn on Orcas Island while still practicing medicine. Agnes eventually delivered over 2,000 babies. Mrs. Dr. Harrison is remembered to this day as one of the island’s most outstanding medical providers.

In addition to physicians, midwives were also a welcome sight for San Juan Island residents. In 1860, Lucinda Boyce arrived on San Juan Island along with her third husband, Stephen. Over the course of Lucinda’s career, she delivered over 500 babies and never lost one according to local lore. She also had 15 children of her own, nine of whom were with Stephen. During her time on San Juan Island, Lucinda worked with both white settlers and natives. She also studied the Chinook language to help communicate better with her native clients.

Another famous midwife, Elsie Scott, came to San Juan Island in 1938 to serve as county public health nurse. While there, Elsie began her campaign of preventive care, providing diphtheria inoculation for over 600 local children and public health education such as the importance of boiling polluted drinking water. After discovering that many women could not reach the mainland in time for childbirth, Elsie created a partnership with local ferry businesses to create obstetric kits and training for the ferry crews.

Women such as Agnes Harrison, Lucinda Boyce, and Elsie Scott recognized the need the islands’ had for medical care and filled that need despite the fact that female practitioners were still a rare breed at the time. Though the main San Juan Islands have their own clinics today, the stories of these medical professionals show the dedication and innovation that was needed to serve such remote communities. The courage and determination of these practitioners ensured the health of the islands’ settlers and natives alike, a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.



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