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Because Bethenia Owens-Adair made the overland journey from Missouri to Oregon with her family in 1843, she did not begin her formal education until age twelve. Her studies were interrupted again when her family moved from Astoria to Roseburg. She was married at the age of fourteen to one of her father's farmhands, but divorced her husband in 1859. After her divorce, she finished her education while working to support herself and her son George.
In 1867, she returned to Roseburg and opened a successful millinery shop. After six years in business, she left her son with Abigail Scott Duniway to attend medical school in the east. Duniway was then the editor of the woman's suffragist journal New Northwest, for which Owens-Adair served as a subscription agent from 1871 to 1887. Owens-Adair completed her medical degree at the Eclectic Medical College in Philadelphia in 1874, and in 1880 she received her M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School.
Owens-Adair returned to Portland in 1881 and set up a medical practice. In 1884 she married Col. John Adair. The couple moved to Astoria where she continued to practice medicine and help with the family farm. She died in Astoria in 1926.
Throughout her career Owens-Adair was active in many social movements. She coordinated a visit and lecture of suffragist Susan B. Anthony to Roseburg in 1871. Additionally, believing that insanity and criminal action were hereditary, she argued for mandatory sterilization of the criminally insane. Her book on the subject, Human Sterilization: It's [sic] Social and Legislative Aspects (1922), was well-received and brought her national recognition. In 1925, the Oregon legislature adopted a sterilization statute that she and other advocates sponsored.
Liza Ketchum. Into a New Country: Eight Remarkable Women of the West. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000.
Helen Markley Miller. Woman Doctor of the West, Bethenia Owens-Adair. New York, Messner, 1960.
Bethenia Owens-Adair. Dr. Owens-Adair: Some of Her Life Experiences. Portland, Or., Mann & Beach, 1906[?].
Bethenia Owens-Adair. Human Sterilization: It's [sic] Social and Legislative Aspects. Portland, Or., 1922.
© 2002 Oregon Historical Society