2017-11-10 / Society

Female doctor practiced in Blythewood in the early 1890s

By Rachel Haynie

Dr. Portia Lubchenco and Maude 
Courtesy of Blythewood Historical Society Dr. Portia Lubchenco and Maude Courtesy of Blythewood Historical Society Attorney Bob Wood brought to life one of Blythewood’s most intriguing historical figures, Dr. Portia Lubchenco, during Blythewood Historical Society’s recent meeting.

The future Mrs. Luchenco, the daughter of a Paxille cotton plantation owner, determined she would become a doctor in an age when that gender barrier had been crossed either sketchily or not at all. Medical University of South Carolina didn’t admit her, but she managed to gain acceptance in North Carolina.

This striving came about after she met and was smitten by a Russian agronomist whose limited command of the English language put him off in Blythewood—the wrong train stop; otherwise, he would never have met Portia.

Portia had taken an afternoon ride to the rail station with her father. Seeing passengers embark and disembark was about the only excitement the small agricultural community had to offer in those late 1890 days.

A friendship, then a romance was kindled, but ultimately Alexis had to return to Russia, his country roiling with trouble, to bear the agro-knowledge he had been dispatched to this country to collect.

When he learned, through correspondence, Portia was to graduate, he found a way to return to America. Only a second missed connection, after getting off at the wrong train stop in Blythewood, allowed him to ever see Portia again.

A missed connection in Germany struck him off the passenger manifest of the Titanic.

Ultimately, the two connected, married, and their two-continent careers left indelible marks in both continents, most notably on Blythewood. Portia practiced medicine, sometimes making house calls in a buggy pulled by a mare named Maude.

Last year, descendants of Portia and Alexis visited Blythewood and were greeted warmly by historical society members. That visit, coupled with Wood’s research which ultimately will be bound into a history of the community, redoubled efforts to learn more about this enigmatic woman who saved lives and delivered babies in the early 1900s.

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