Completing the Picture

This is a story of when two documents meet again after a long separation. The first is a photograph from the collection of the National Council of Jewish Women, Portland Section, which ran the Neighborhood House in South Portland. As a settlement house for new immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century, Neighborhood House had among its services a free clinic for the local residents. In this photo, a doctor (possibly Dr. Gordeau), stands in the center of a room crowded with onlookers. Some of them are mothers with infants in need of check-ups; others appear to be doctors, nurses, and other professionals with an interest in the clinic. With his ear to a naked baby’s back, the doctor is performing his examination with an audience. 

The photo was probably taken for publicity, either to document the good works of the Neighborhood House, or to commemorate the visit of the well-dressed on-lookers. It has been part of the collection at OJM from the very beginning of our collecting efforts. We have used it in community-based exhibits and referred researchers to it when their studies touched on the social service efforts at the Neighborhood House. While preparing for an exhibit we learned even more. We learned that the year was 1921 and that the baby being held by the doctor was Robert Labby. Bob was tickled to see the photograph and to recognize the mothers from the old neighborhood in it, including his own mother, Sonia, standing with her hand on her hip and looking directly into the camera. He explained to us that this clinic was held in the evenings, so that working women would have access to the doctor. The doctors volunteered their time each month.
Bob asked for a copy of the photo and several days later brought us a document. It is an “Official Scorecard of the Parents’ Educational Bureau of the Oregon Parent Teacher association.” It is the form that the doctor in the photograph filled out the day that Bob was examined in 1921.
The history of the Jews in Oregon is more than the photographs of one organization or the family records of one family. When those documents come together to complete the story, we see what it means to have a community repository in Oregon. These two small pieces of paper tell a more powerful story together than either could tell alone. And if the owner of one document had not by chance seen his photograph on our wall, he would never have known that we could benefit from the folded piece of paper he had kept at home.