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Book tells of mercy and madness in the life of Spokane's first female doctor

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Spokane’s first female physician, Dr. Mary Archard Latham, opened her practice in 1888 and quickly gained respect in the pioneer town.

Latham was a popular expert in giving birth to babies and caring for women with difficult pregnancies. She helped found the city’s first library and the Spokane Humane Society. She did charity work, wrote letters to editors, advocated for others, and found homes for babies in need of adoption.

Her influence is marked by a bust and tribute to The Spokesman-Review, among sculptures of early Spokane leaders along Monroe Street in the former Pressville: “Physician, Essayist, Defender of Libraries.” increase.

But Latham’s accolades appear to clash with his subsequent downfall. Her estate and legal entanglements, a mental breakdown after her son’s accidental death, an arson conviction, and an escape to rugged Idaho before her arrest made her spend more than a year in Walla Walla Prison. rice field.

Latham’s life is now covered in a new book, Mercy and Madness: Dr. Mary Archard Latham’s Tragic Fall from Female Physician to Felon. Writer and Spokane resident Beverly Lionberger Hodgins has interests that extend beyond mere history. She has a family relationship with Latham.

“Mary’s grandfather is the fourth great-grandfather on my family tree,” Hodgins, 72, said. His first wife died, but he had a son, who was fathered by Latham. John Archard and his second wife had his third great-grandfather of Hodgins.

“Mary’s father and third great-grandfather are half-brothers. Mary and I are distant cousins, but I can make a case for her.”

Six years ago, Hodgins began rolling out historical documents with the wealth of words Latham wrote. Hodgins leads each chapter with one written by Latham. From her childhood in Ohio to the tragedy that followed, a clearer picture of the doctor emerged, she said.Near the submission of her book, Hodgins got a treasure. .

“Probably a few months before the final manuscript, I received a complete file about Mary from prison.” Among them were Latham’s mugshot, admission card, and letters from the time.

“One of my favorite letters is from when she was on parole. She was very polite and basically wrote to ask permission to resume medical care.”

Another script is on the stationery, apparently from the warden. “Tell her that she might do so at her pleasure.”

“He underlined ‘willingly,'” said the author. “I thought it spoke to what he must have thought of Mary, even though she was a convicted felon in prison.”

And Latham’s headshot became the book’s cover photo.

“When I opened the picture, I found myself filling up the computer screen and saying ‘Hello, Mary’ for her eyes. There are two old portraits in the book, and I wonder why this is?” It was amazing.

Hodgins said Latham’s perseverance was always shown despite the tragedy, as was her expertise in health care, especially for women and children, especially the poor.

“At the time, Mary had some firsts as a woman. I think she had courage,” Hodgins said.

“I think Mary had an incredible brain. Her letters and essays to the editor make it clear that she was highly educated and insightful. I am not afraid to speak

One of Latham’s sisters, Eliza Urquhart Conner, wrote for the Saturday Evening Post and was a suffragist. Her mother Jane primarily ran the farm and she raised five daughters.

Journalist Jim Kirshner, who wrote about Dr. Latham for in 2015, says Latham’s story is definitely the subject of a book.

“This is one of the most compelling and tragic stories in Spokane history,” Kirshner said. “It’s an amazing story because she was so well respected. Initially, she was very pioneering and was very important to women’s health care at a time when there were very few female doctors.

“Her downfall is particularly tragic because she was truly considered a great asset to the community. It happened in a very short period of time.”

Latham’s story, he said, sounds like a Greek tragedy. “If you knew the first half of the story, and that’s all you knew, you’d think she’d be a saint in Spokane’s history. I couldn’t have predicted what would happen.

In 1886, 42-year-old Latham received her medical diploma from the Cincinnati Medical College, several years after her husband Edward earned his medical degree. They raised her three sons and briefly practiced together in Ohio. But her “severe asthma” sent her west to Spokane with her sons. Edward stayed to wrap up the business.

He arrived in Spokane in 1889, just before a “great fire” destroyed much of downtown and the Latham home, Hodgins said. Less than two years later, Edward went to the Colville Reservation and became a doctor. They divorced about four years later.

Mary Latham continued her medical practice, making use of her skills whether patients lived in a shack by the river or in the mansion at Brown’s Addition, Hodgins said. Said.

“I’ve learned how much Mary loves babies — to give birth to babies and find homes for babies who need babies,” Hodgins said. I ran it from the moment I arrived until I retired, but I don’t think she stopped.”

Hodgins also learns that Latham apparently had an abortion, called “illegal surgery” at the time. Latham was quoted defending doctors in a newspaper article.

“Mary defends other doctors, apparently including herself, who are brought into a situation where a woman’s life is endangered by a botched abortion. must be saved,” said Hodgins.

“There were also family rumors that Mary and her daughter-in-law, Emma Latham, had an abortion together.”

Latham was indicted for having an abortion in 1911. She had previously been charged with that felony shortly after she was in prison, but that was dropped. This time, Kirshner writes, her 17-year-old girl who had delinquency called the police. His investigation found that the latter accusation was dismissed when Latham agreed to her “retire from her active life.” This means her medical practice, which officials said was in poor health and that her mental state was “impaired.”

But Latham still helped others. In 1917, she agreed to care for her 12-day-old infant, who had pneumonia. She contracted pneumonia and died on January 20, 1917, at the age of 72.

More than half of the book covers Latham’s milestones and contributions, said Hodgins, a member of Women Writing the West who wrote short stories, poems and scripts. Moved from state to Washington state and moved to Spokane in 2012.

“I wanted to understand Mary’s life. I wanted to know if she really did what she was convicted of.”

For arson charges, Latham is suspected of burning down Meade’s store and pharmacy to protect them from another woman, apparently her son James’ ex-fiancée, who claimed the property belonged to her. Hodgins said it was clear Latham was upset after her son James died in a train accident at work in 1903, but for what she called a circumstantial conviction. I’m not sure yet.

“We’re not sure. She seems to have been under the influence of people trying to profit from her relationship,” Hodgins said. “You have to read the trial chapter to understand.”

Hodgins learns that Latham had a stroke not long after his son’s death and wants to commit suicide.

The same Dr. Latham would probably never return after 1903, Kirshner said. Her poor decisions and bizarre behavior were not of the same woman ten years ago she was “a very sharp and intelligent woman who had it all”.

Hodgins saw the change, too, but mercy ultimately prevailed when it came to Latham’s legacy.

“Mary gave mercy and finally received mercy,” said Hodgins. “Some say she was insane after going through her trauma, but she persevered to the end. She never gave up.”