Death of Oregon OB/GYN and Psychiatrist Lena Kenin

March 24, 1968

When her husband Harry Marvin Kenin, a state senator in Oregon, died in 1954, Lena Nemerovsky Kenin had already established her reputation in two careers. But after Harry’s death, Kenin recognized a lack in her medical training to provide the emotional support needed by new mothers and went back to school at age 61.

Born to David and Naomi (Swartz) Nemerovsky in Portland, on November 5, 1897, she married Harry Kenin in Seattle, on November 21, 1921.  Trained as a lawyer, Harry Kenin served in the Oregon state senate, on the Portland school board, and on the state’s Welfare Commission. 

Meanwhile, Lena Kenin worked as a schoolteacher for three years after her graduation with a B.S. from the University of Washington in 1921.  She then attended University of Oregon Medical School (graduating in 1929) and became the first woman resident physician of the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1933.  Returning to Portland, Oregon, she established a practice in obstetrics and gynecology that continued for 25 years.  

As Judith Margles describes Kenin’s medical practice, “Popular myth suggests that during the height of her practice, Dr. Lena Kenin delivered at least half of the Jewish babies in Portland, Oregon.  This joyful responsibility was not without challenges. As was more customary in the mid-twentieth century than now, expecting a child was a private affair.  Most of Kenin’s patients wanted to keep their pregnancies a secret, but risked running into a friend or an acquaintance in the waiting room.  Kenin designed her office so that patients could exit through another door.”

Newly widowed, Kenin went back to school at age 61, enrolling in a psychiatric program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School.  Following a residency at the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental and Nerve Disorders, she returned to Portland in 1961 to establish a new practice in psychiatry.  Her dual interest in obstetrics and psychiatry is demonstrated in a 1962 article, “Mental Illness Associated with the Postpartum State,” which she coauthored with Norman Blass.  In addition to her busy private practice, Kenin was an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Oregon Medical School and the chief consultant for the school’s health service, which served medical, dental, and nursing students.

When Kenin died in Portland on March 24, 1968 at age seventy, she had distinguished herself in three fields of medicine: obstetrics, gynecology, and psychiatry.

Sources: “Dr. Lena Kenin Made Resident Physician at Johns Hopkins,” JTA; “Lena Kenin;” “Lena Kenin,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

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Lena Nemerovsky Kenin.
Courtesy of University of Oregon Medical School.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of Oregon OB/GYN and Psychiatrist Lena Kenin." (Viewed on July 22, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/thisweek/mar/24/1968/death-of-oregon-obgyn-and-psychiatrist-lena-kenin>.

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