Born among the rolling green hills of New Richmond, Ohio, Mary Archard was a thinker and achiever from the beginning. This can-do attitude must have run through her blood, for several branches of her family living in the villages of New Richmond, Batavia, Amelia, and in the city of Cincinnati, had been significant contributors to the settling of the region. Some became educators, others were abolitionists, and still others, preachers; everyone farmed.
The third of five daughters of James and Jane Archard, at twenty years of age Mary wed Edward Hempstead Latham, the son of a prominent Columbus, Ohio, family. To wed at twenty was not unusual at the time. They produced three boys, while Edward attended medical college, earning his degree. Also, not very unusual. But before long, the unusual occurred when Mary enrolled in and graduated in 1886 from medical college, earning a license to practice and the title, Dr. Mary A. Latham.
In 1888, Mary travelled to Spokane Falls, Washington Territory, seeking to improve her health and became the first female physician in the village. She led an extraordinary life there, until it wasn’t. She specialized in caring for women and children, though she never turned anyone away, male or female. The “unfortunate girls” of Spokane Falls/Spokane were especially fortunate when Dr. Mary Latham cared for them, sometimes inside her own home. And she found respectable homes for their unwanted infants. While keeping busy in her practice, she also helped establish a public library, travelled, and wrote numerous letters to editors of the various local newspapers. Mary always spoke her mind.
But at the tragic accidental death of a son, followed quickly by a stroke, Mary suffered great turmoil. The traumas took their toll upon her mind, until she battled depression and likely early dementia, once considering suicide. Her declining ability to make wise decisions combined with her proud, feisty nature would bring trouble. She would be taken advantage of by others seeking to profit from her vulnerability. Eventually, Mary finds herself inside the Spokane County Courthouse, accused of arson of her own property. Convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, but with a recommendation for mercy from the jury, Mary is nevertheless sentenced by a judge—one with a possible vendetta toward her—to four years at hard labor in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. She returns to Spokane for her final decade still caring for others, until she and her final tiny patient succumb in January 1917.
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.