In 1924, four private practice physicians -- Dr. Arthur Gunderson, Dr. Harry Secoy, Dr. Samuel Caldbick and Dr. Leo Trask -- joined together to combine their knowledge and resources to benefit their patients. These founding fathers of The Everett Clinic were innovators, acting creatively to improve patient care.
It’s an auspicious start to The Everett Clinic’s history, but nowadays it begs the question – when did the Clinic’s first female physician join the team?
Not until 1959.
By then, the Clinic had reached double digits in numbers of doctors in the group practice and Stanley A. Hager had been hired (in 1958) to manage the business.
It was his idea to bring Dr. Lucille Mason, who was then working the Hall Health Center for students at the University of Washington, in for an interview.
“He was always looking ahead and foresaw the value of having a woman doctor to attract a patient base of young women. He had ideas far ahead of his time,” said Mason who subsequently became the first female physician in Snohomish County.
Dr. Mason knew other women doctors in Seattle, but it was certainly not common. In fact, there were only three women in Dr. Mason’s 1955 graduating class at the Stricht School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago.
Dr. Mason credits her mother, a homemaker, with helping her enter the profession (her father was an engineer). She accepted her daughter’s interest and never indicated that it would be an unusual achievement.
Mason was about 12 years old when, following a sister’s bout with appendicitis, she said, “I want to be a doctor.”
“Then you had better find out what it is going to take to do it,” her mother said.
Mason was the youngest of five children. “I was very much used to doing what I set out to do. Mother was always supportive,” she said.
Later, Mason discovered she was in for a challenge. Although the other male students were cordial, Mason remembers her instructors were critical of the women in medical school, “They said we were taking up the spot for someone who would practice.”
After every break, the women had to line up and hold out their left hands before they could return to school, “They wanted to see if we had become engaged.”
The educators assumed the women would have babies instead of practicing medicine. For the record, Dr. Mason kept in touch with her women classmates, “All of us practiced medicine.”
Dr. Mason did have babies though – four of them. In fact, when she interviewed at the Clinic she was pregnant with her third child.
“When I walked in looking like I was going to deliver at any moment, Dr. Secoy leaped up! They were all terribly kind to me.” Six weeks later she had her first daughter.
Then, she joined the Clinic. She had a general medical practice (no obstetrics or pediatrics), saw about 20 patients a day, and did attract young women patients as Stan Hager had foreseen, but she had male patients too.
“I loved it. I loved seeing patients. That was the great joy of my life,” Dr. Mason said.
She met her husband, Gene Mason, one of the first anesthesiologists in Everett (along with his partner Donald Weis) in the morgue at Cook County Hospital at a Clinical Pathological Conference. “He always said I was the best looking one in there,” she said.
He was supportive of her career, “as long as I took care of the kids and the house.”
Dr. Mason remained the Clinic’s only female physician until 1963 when a female pediatrician joined the group.
As a notable woman doctor, Dr. Mason spoke often at school and community meetings. Most memorably, she was asked to speak at a local Rotary Club where she advocated for the legalization of abortion before the group of men.
“I talked about the need for this bill to be passed, about backstreet abortions and all of its attendant medical problems,” she said.
On November 3, 1970, Washington voters approved Referendum 20, which legalized abortion in the early months of pregnancy. It was the first -- and only -- state to do so through a vote of the people. (See HistoryLink.org).
During her medical career, Dr. Mason lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for a few years as a healthcare provider at the American Embassy while her husband taught at a medical school.
Overall, Dr. Mason describes her practice at The Everett Clinic as “a wonderful experience.”
“Stan Hager mentored me. He hired Rick (Cooper), a superb manager. Dr. Lauer, Dr. Critchfield, Dr. Trask: They were a group of real gentlemen,” she said. She’s demure regarding any difficulties, “There were some inequalities which I accepted at the time.”
In 1981, she left the Clinic to set up her own practice which she ran until 1996.
To women considering entering the medical field today, Dr. Mason acknowledges that it would not be an easy choice. “Practice has changed so much since I left it. I’d think long and hard about it,” she said. “But if you really want to practice medicine, you will find the niche. As long as you love it, do it.”
Does she have any regrets about her medical career? Just one.
“I would have loved being a surgeon,” she said. Between home, family and a medical practice, she couldn’t quite afford time for a surgery residency.
She loved her career, found it rewarding and is gratified to continue to hear from her patients.
Her son is an Everett surgeon. People will tell him, “I loved her. She was the best doctor I ever had.”
Dr. Lucille Mason, 84, was born in 1929 in Chicago. She currently lives in Everett. She lived in Lake Stevens from 1992 to 2011. Her son, Dr. Jeff Mason, is an orthopedic surgeon at Everett Bone and Joint. Today, The Everett Clinic has 500 providers in 40 medical specialties with numerous women practicing medicine and serving on the Board of Directors and Leadership and Administration team.