Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission

Alberta Lucille Hart / Dr. Alan L. Hart: An Oregon "Pioneer"
Text by Brian Booth 2000
Presentation by Brian Booth and Thomas Lauderdale

     For OCHC's Discovering Oregon Originals '99 series, it would be difficult to find a subject more "original" than tonight's introduction to the life and career of Alberta Lucille Hart, who became the physician and novelist Dr. Alan L. Hart (1890-1962). [In this account, the pronoun "she" will be used in Hart's early life and the pronoun "he" will be used after Hart assumed the name and professional life of a man.]

Hart grew up in Albany, Oregon as Lucille Hart and attended Albany College (now Lewis & Clark College) and Stanford University. She graduated from Albany College in 1912, and in 1917 obtained a Doctor of Medicine Degree from University of Oregon Medical Department in Portland (now Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine). She was the only woman in the class and took top academic honors. She worked at a Red Cross hospital in Philadelphia for a short period following graduation.

According to psychiatrist J. Allen Gilbert, who Hart consulted, Hart was sexually attracted to women, often dressed in men's clothes, and "had a loathing of the female type of mind." Hart married Inez Stark in California in February, 1918, using the name Robert Allen Bamford, Jr. Her therapy with Dr. Gilbert led to Hart to have a hysterectomy later that year. She then assumed the identity and clothes of a man, renamed herself Alan L. Hart, and began medical practice in Southwest Oregon at the Gardiner Hospital. There, Dr. Gilbert wrote, "...she was recognized by a former associate..., [and] the hounding process began.."

     The Gardiner incident was apparently not the only one in Hart's career. The challenges of Hart's passing as a man in the medical profession and literary circles for four decades involved a complicated life of deception and discrimination and led to numerous moves, job changes and financial challenges. As Hart wrote of the character Sandy Farquhar in his 1936 novel The Undaunted: "He had been driven from place to place, from job to job, for fifteen years because of something he could not alter any more than he could change the color of his eyes. Gossip, scandal, rumor always drove him on. It did no good to live alone, to make few acquaintances and no intimates; sooner or later someone always turned up to recognize him. And then there was that wretched business of resigning by request to be gone through again, and after that the concoction of the plausible story to account for the resignation and the ordeal of hunting another job without explaining exactly why he had left the old one and, at the same time, without lying about it. Each time he underwent these humiliations, his self-respect seemed first to writhe and then to shrink."

     Hart's practice in Gardiner lasted less than six months. In 1919 and 1920 he practiced in rural Southern Montana "until the crash of the autumn of 1920 wiped out most of the Montana farmers and stockmen, and me along with them." When he could get work, Hart spent the remaining years of his medical career in public health positions, primarily working in radiology. He held positions in tuberculosis sanitariums and x-ray clinics in New Mexico, Illinois, Washington (Spokane, Tacoma and Seattle), and Idaho. He obtained a Masters degree in radiology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1930 and a Masters degree in public health from Yale in 1948. Hart was a prominent figure in the tuberculosis field, and for the last 16 years of his life he headed mass x-ray programs in Connecticut for the State Health Department. He wrote one book and numerous articles in his professional field.

     Photo from Seattle Times in 1935 as Dr. Mallory appeared In The Undaunted, Hart writes of Sandy Farquhar: "He went into radiology because he thought it wouldn't matter so much in a laboratory what a man's personality was. But wherever he went, scandal followed him sooner or later. If he could have gone in for himself, I think he might have succeeded in the face of all the odds for he was a grand man with sick people. But he had no capital and so had to work for other doctors or hospitals all his life. That ruined all his chances because eventually his story would get around and then he'd be forced to leave. 'Resigning by request' was the way he put it."

     Inez Stark left Hart in 1923, and they were divorced in 1925. Later that year he married Edna Ruddick, a school teacher who became a social worker and administrator. During the Depression in the 1930s, Alan and Edna Hart lived in Seattle where Alan had difficulties getting full-time work. He wrote: "I am sure I would have done something rather desperate if I had not turned to writing." Fortunately he did. The result was four novels with Northwest settings, published from 1935 to 1942, which constitute a significant body of social fiction and expose greed and prejudice in the medical profession. Each presents sympathetic portraits of underdogs seeking social justice and changes in the medical profession.

     In 1935, Hart wrote a reviewer: "The ugly things that have grown up in medicine are the result of the ugliness and falsity of society as a whole, of our American preoccupation with success and making money, of our concentration of effort on the production of things rather than their use for a fuller human life. These things are not the fault of the individual physician; and neither can they be remedied by him. So long as the American people are permeated with the spirit of 'I'm going to get mine, no matter how,' just so long will that attitude filter into all the professions; doctors are people first and are affected by the current ideals just as other people are."

     Hart's first novel, Doctor Mallory (1935), is the story of an idealistic general practitioner in a small town in Oregon. It is based on Hart's experience practicing medicine in Gardiner. After the publication of Doctor Mallory, Hart wrote that one of his ambitions was "to be an 'unofficial observer' of the medical profession during the remainder of my life" and "to write a novel about a research institute, another about hospitals, another about a family of doctors." He eventually wrote all three. Hart's other novels are In the Lives of Men (1937) and Doctor Finlay Sees it Through (1942).

     Hart's novels received a fair amount of critical attention and were reviewed in The New York Times, The New York Herald-Tribune, Saturday Review of Literature and other leading publications of the times. Intriguingly, in reviewing In the Lives of Men, the Saturday Review's critic wrote that, "...for a doctor, he seems to know surprisingly little of women. His portraits of them are little more than profile sketches. Those he approves are colorless and negative, the others incredibly cold and selfish." Although Hart was one of the few pre-World War II writers in the Pacific Northwest who wrote novels dealing with social issues, he has been overlooked in studies of the region's literature.

     Alan and Edna Hart moved to Connecticut in 1946 and purchased a home in West Hartford in 1950. They were active in the community and in the Unitarian Church, and lived together until Alan died of heart disease on July 1, 1962. In accordance with Alan's will, his body was cremated. The ashes were shipped to Port Angeles, Washington for scattering. The will also provided that no memorial be erected or created, and he instructed his attorney to destroy certain letters and photographs contained in a bank safety deposit box and in a locked box in his home.

     Edna Ruddick Hart lived until 1982, when she died at the age of 88. Her obituary said she was "always vitally interested in young people, [and] she aided a generation of students attending local colleges by providing them rooms in her home." At the memorial service held for Edna, one of the speakers said, "I remember her stories about her husband, Alan Hart. I always felt that it was as if he never died because of her memories and their special relationship." Hart's contribution to medicine continues after his death at his old medical school, even though few people there have heard of him. The residue of Edna Hart's estate was left to the Medical Research Foundation (now Oregon Health Sciences Foundation), "in loving memory of ... Alan L. Hart, MD., a graduate of the University of Oregon Medical School, whose mother died of leukemia, whose life was devoted to medicine and whose earnest wish was to someday give financial support to medical research in its efforts to conquer leukemia and other diseases." Each year, the Alan L. and Edna Ruddick Hart Fund at OHSF funds research grants in the field of leukemia.

     Hart's two marriages and his two "lives" obviously present complex issues of sexuality, gender, identity and sexual discrimination. Jonathan Ned Katz, who revealed the double life of Hart in the books cited in the bibliography, maintains in his works that Hart was "clearly a lesbian, a woman-loving woman." Recently, Katz has been quoted as saying he would not make that claim today. Here in Portland, lesbian and transsexual advocates have each claimed Hart as a representative of their causes.

     In her recent book Suits Me / The Double Life of Billy Tipton, Diane Wood Middlebrook writes that Alan Hart and the musician Billy Tipton, who grew up as Dorothy Tipton, but lived as a man from age 19 until she died at 74: "...seem birds of a feather. As young women, they were sexually attracted to women and socially attracted to work reserved for men.. Each was a self-confident pragmatist who intended to get what she wanted, and each devised a home remedy for the problem of being female in a man's world.... After Billy Tipton's death, some observers lamented that neither medical technologies nor cultural and political acceptance of homosexuality had been available to ease Billy's path.

     Yet the examples of Alan Hart and Billy Tipton provide historical information too specific to ignore. In each case, a fairly simple disguise provided conditions for the liberation of a distinctive creativity. Neither of them lacked for work, companionship, or sex. They were successful in the eyes of the world, and in the eyes of the people closest to them, they did no evil."

     The life of Dr. Alan L. Hart involves considerably more than the sexual and gender aspects of his life which drew the initial attention. Hart deserves to be remembered as a remarkable person of tenacity, intellect, idealism and courage, who made contributions to medicine, literature and humanity under difficult circumstances. By this program and the materials provided by the speakers, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission hopes that Alan L. Hart will take his rightful place as one of Oregon's cultural originals and that more work will be done on Hart's life and writings.

Selected Bibliography

  • Doctor Mallory, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (1935)

  • The Undaunted, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (1936)

  • In the Lives of Men, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (1937)

  • Doctor Finlay Sees it Through, Harper & Brothers (1942)

  • These Mysterious Rays: A Nontechnical Discussion of the Uses of X-rays and Radium, Chiefly in Medicine, Harper & Brothers (1943)

  • Doctor Mallory excerpt in Promised Land: A Collection of Northwest Writing, Stewart Holbrook editor, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc. (1945), pg. 228.

For a list of major professional articles written by Dr. Hart see National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. There are also articles by Lucille Hart in the 1907 and 1908 Albany High School Whirlwind and the 1909 and 1910 Albany College Student.

Secondary Sources

  • J. Allan Gilbert, "Homo-Sexuality and Its Treatment", Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Vol. 2, No. 4 (Oct. 1920), pgs. 297-332.

  • Powers, Alfred, History of Oregon Literature, Metropolitan Press (1935), pgs. 680-81.

  • Katz, Jonathan Ned, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., Thomas Y. Crowell Co. (1976), revised edition (1992).

  • Katz, Jonathan Ned, Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. (1983), Carrol & Graf Publishers, Inc. (1994).

  • Henry Bair, "Lucille Hart Story" and Brian Booth "Alan Hart: A Literary Footnote" in Right to Privacy Ninth Annual Lucille Hart Dinner Booklet (October 6, 1990).

  • Gerard Koskovich, "Private Lives, Public Struggles", Stanford, Vol. 21, No. 2 (June 1993).

  • Janet Miller and Judith Schwartz, "Lesbian Physicians Sideshow", created for American Association of Physicians for Human Rights Conference, Portland, Oregon (August 19, 1993).

  • Thomas M. Lauderdale and Tom Cook, "The Incredible Life and Loves of the Legendary Lucille Hart", Alternative Connection Vol. 2, Nos. 12 and 13 (September and October 1993).

  • Tom Bates, "Decades ago, an Oregon Doctor Tried to Define Gender"" The Oregonian (July 14, 1996).

  • Diane Wood Middlebrook, Suits Me / The Double Life of Billy Tipton, Houghton Mifflin Company (1998), pgs. 215-217.

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