People, History & Politics

Girl in the River is a work of fiction. But many of the characters are actual historical figures and many of the events took place in that realm of experience we call reality. If you don’t want to spend your time puzzling over who’s who, here’s a cheat sheet.


Ruth cropped and resizedDr. Ruth Barnett: Naturopathic doctor, premier abortionist of the Pacific Northwest and queen of Portland’s nightlife in the 1930’s, 40’s and into the 50’s. By her own estimate, Dr. Barnett performed some 40,000 therapeutic abortions over the three-plus decades of her practice. She never lost a patient. The law caught up to her less than six years before Roe v. Wade. At seventy-eight years old, she became the oldest woman ever to be incarcerated in the state of Oregon. You can find more resources about Dr. Barnett here.

More about Dr. Ruth Barnett:

(Photo courtesy of The Oregonian)

Rolla CrickRolla “Bud” Crick: Award-winning journalist for the Oregon Journal and later The Oregonian, whose idea it was to investigate the abortion trade in 1950. With the advent of Roe v. Wade, he softened his stance on abortion. Using a pen name, he became a prolific writer of true crime stories. You can read more about Bud Crick here.  (Photo courtesy of The Oregonian)

Ann Kelly (pseudonym used by the press): Teenage rape victim and star witness for the prosecution in the first trial of Ruth Barnett in 1952.

John McCourt: Multnomah County District Attorney in the 1940’s and 50’s and chief architect of the first abortion raids in Portland.

Dorothy LeeDorothy McCullough Lee: Lawyer, Oregon State Senator, Portland City Councilwoman, first woman mayor of Portland 1949-1953 and indefatigable anti-vice crusader. But she also supported housing reform, civil rights for African-Americans, better schools and bigger taxes on business. She ended her career in Washington DC pursuing Cold War era political dissidents. Find more about Mayor Lee here.

More about Mayor Dottie “Do-good” Lee:

(Photo courtesy of Portland Archives and Records Center)


earl rileyEarl Riley: Mayor of Portland 1941-1949, inextricably involved with the rackets during his tenure and beyond. He was never brought to justice. You can read more about Mayor Riley in these books about Portland crime and corruption.



Baby Lilly Rose (fictional name): Newborn abandoned at Ruth Barnett’s clinic and adopted by her office nurse.

Terry ShrunkTerry Shrunk: Multnomah County Sheriff who conducted the raid on Ruth Barnett’s clinic in 1951 and mayor of Portland 1957-1973. Like many of his political contemporaries, he was linked to the Portland rackets, but the charges were never proved.

(Photo courtesy of Stumptown Blogger and Oregon Historical Society)


George Watts: Portland physician and abortionist, Ruth Barnett’s mentor and innovator of the suction apparatus used by Ruth nearly three decades prior to widespread introduction of the suction technique into medical practice. Dr. Watts was recruited by a shady abortion entrepreneur in California and was later swept up in a tax fraud case. He died in San Quentin prison.

Al Winter sizedAl Winter: Owner of the Pago Pago and the Turf Club and kingpin of the Portland rackets in the 1940’s. You can read more about Al Winter in these books about Portland crime and corruption.

(Photo courtesy of Phil Stanford and John Winter)


About the history and politics of reproductive rights:

Abortion Wars and other books by Rickie Solinger

About corruption in Portland:

Portland Confidential by Phil Stanford

Portland on the Take by JD Chandler and JB Fisher

Stumptown Blogger

A Poet’s View of Portland History

Kaia Sand

Get involved!

with reproductive rights

NARAL Pro-choice America

The Sea Change Project

with sex worker advocacy

The Red Umbrella Project

California Prostitutes Education Project

Available in E-Book and Paperback

Another Read Through (Portland, OR) available only on the shelves