Spokane, Washington’s first female physician, Mary Archard Latham moved to the community with her three sons—leaving her husband behind in Ohio—in 1888. She sought a better climate for her health and worked tirelessly for the health of all of Spokane’s citizens, but particularly women and children and especially the poor. She helped found the Spokane Humane Society and the Spokane Public Library, and she was beloved and respected in the community.
Then, in 1903, one of her sons died and she seemingly became unhinged. She would be seen wandering the streets, wailing and inconsolable, and her behavior became extremely erratic. In 1905, she was accused, arrested, and convicted of arson, then sentenced to four years of hard labor in the state penitentiary. She escaped into the forests of Idaho, where she hid from a massive manhunt for a week before being captured and sent to prison in Walla Walla. She eventually returned to Spokane a broken yet determined woman and died in 1917. Despite the tragic and violent events that characterized her later years, today Dr. Mary A. Latham is honored in Spokane for the good she did in the first part of her life. Mercy and Madness captures the captivating, outrageous, and sometimes-sorrowful life of Dr. Mary Archard Latham in her own words.
As a member of the fourth generation of an Oregon pioneer family, Beverly Lionberger Hodgins has a distinct interest in all things historical regarding the settling and development of the Pacific and Inland Northwest. She lives in Spokane, Washington and is a distant relative of Dr. Mary Archard Latham.
Mercy and Madness: Dr. Mary Archard Latham’s Tragic Fall from Female Physician to Felon by Beverly Lionberger Hodgins depicts the life of a woman who, with an adventurous spirit and iron will, took total control of her life, but for whom that desire for control would eventually lead to her downfall. Scholarly and with meticulous research, yet immensely readable, Hodgins brings alive not only the central character of Dr. Mary Latham, but also all those associated with her, as well as the city of Spokane in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Quotes from Dr. Latham’s own correspondence further enhance our insights into her character and surroundings. They paint a picture of a woman totally immersed in the welfare of her community. From marriages through alcohol use and from suffragists to blue laws, Dr. Mary Latham’s philanthropic work makes it even more surprising that this “woman of the largest feelings for humanity,” as one friend called her, should meet such a sad end. A hidden scrap of history now deservedly recounted.
Mercy and Madness is a deeply researched biography of the first female doctor in Spokane, Washington. Moving there from Ohio in the late 1880s, not only did she provide what might be said to be “usual” medical assistance, but she devoted herself to the care of unmarried pregnant young women and finding adoptive homes for their babies at a time when such women were vilified no matter the circumstances. Hodgins demonstrates how communities reacted to the problem of extramarital pregnancy. While important community-building accomplishments are usually attributed by historians to male businessmen and politicians, Hodgins illuminates Dr. Mary Latham’s contributions to her adopted city that most affected the families who settled in Spokane. She spearheaded many developments in addition to medical facilities, including the first public library and the movement for women’s suffrage and equal rights. Readers will follow Dr. Latham to the Klondike Gold Rush and her later years that were marked by what today would be called dementia, to prison after an arson conviction, and elder abuse. Hodgins includes large numbers of Latham’s writings, especially letters to local newspapers that allow readers to hear the doctor’s own voice over many years and make their own conclusions about her.
A well-researched biography and fascinating history of a woman doctor determined to reshape her future and the future of Spokane Falls. Dr. Mary A. Latham was respected for her work in medicine, horticulture, women’s rights, and orphan placement. Her practice was described as “a walking—or buggy-riding—emergency clinic.”
But after her son was killed, Dr. Latham fell from a lofty social position into ill health and became the subject of lawsuits over property and finances. From beloved to betrayed, the doctor’s reputation was blackened by fires determined to be arson, and was arrested, convicted and jailed. Beverly Lionberger Hodgins’s Mercy and Madness is an interesting, skillfully-written story.
Engagingly written and impeccably researched, Mercy and Madness brings to life a little-known slice of Washington State history. A must for readers of historical non-fiction, as well as those who love discovering a fascinating story about an utterly fascinating woman, far ahead of her time.
This impeccably researched, detailed, and compelling story of Spokane's first female physician is more than the tragic telling of one woman's fall into criminal madness. It’s an important chronicle of women’s history demonstrating how success and independence become a double-edged sword for women daring to defy convention.
Hodgins recounts the incredible accomplishments of a skilled and intrepid physician, with the courage and compassion to look beyond the social norms of her day and aid women and children cast aside by the community.
Despite her own life struggles, Dr. Mary Latham genuinely cared for needy women and children and worked tirelessly in practical ways to help them better their lives. Tragically, when she herself needed help, overcome by grief, medical issues, and mental illness, the upstanding citizens of the town abandoned her.
Mercy and Madness: Dr. Mary Archard Latham’s Tragic Fall from Female Physician to Felon by Beverly Lionberger Hodgins, is public history at its best. Her writing is fresh, conversational, documented, and authentic. One feature is Dr. Mary Latham’s personal writings. The larger work puts the well-intentioned doctor’s opinions into context through historical tidbits from newspapers, coroner reports, Washington state archives, and more. Police reports about arson? Mortality records? The bibliography alone is twenty-two pages long. Hodgins has left no syringe empty in the remarkable documentation of one woman’s strife and successes in the late 1800s to early 1900s in the volatile American West. Bravo!
Mercy and Madness tells the story of Dr. Mary Archard Latham, one of the first women doctors in the West, and her fall from prominence in the Spokane, Washington, area to becoming an inmate in jail. This tale has been carefully and fully researched, and the use of Mary Latham’s articles and letters expand the reader’s knowledge of the time—1890s to 1920s. Mrs. Dr. Latham, as she was called in local newspapers, dedicated her life to taking care of women and children in need. She delivered babies, found homes for orphans, treated and cared for lost women in her own home, established clinics for women, and served as an example for other doctors and caregivers. Unfortunately, her side investments in real estate led to her downfall, but even in prison she helped other women inmates.
This is a fascinating story of what this one woman doctor has done for other women and children. Mary Latham was honored in Spokane for her remarkable legacy and as an Early Influencer.
A vibrant, thoroughly researched and insightful biography of Dr. Mary Latham’s compassionate life as a physician in early Spokane. Beverly Lionberger Hodgins enhances the sketchy knowledge of this remarkably complex woman, plus provides a portrait of how this gifted physician offered medical services for years to the marginalized citizens of Spokane, especially women, in an era of few female physicians. Having also lost an adult daughter, I wasn’t surprised to hear how traumatic the death of her beloved son proved to be for her mental health and eventual crisis that led to incarceration as a felon. Hodgins offers a rich and needed history in rediscovering the fuller tapestry of a significant woman’s life in early Spokane.