Dr. Mary A. Latham: Spokane’s First Female Physician
Mary Archard Latham, M.D.
1844 – 1917
Spokane’s First Female Physician
By the beginning of 1885, Spokane’s population had risen to 12,000, with about 20 doctors possessing varying degrees of education and experience and practicing medicine in Spokane.
During America’s early history, being a mother and housewife was regarded as a woman’s place. Until the late 1800s, formal education for girls traditionally had been secondary to that for boys. Women were almost entirely excluded from the professions, with the exceptions of nursing and teaching. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, there would be another exception. Women who had formerly been barred from medical schools were gradually granted the freedom to study and practice medicine. By 1900 over 7,000 female physicians were practicing in America. Dr. Mary Latham was one of them.
Mary was born in the fall of 1844, in New Richmond, Ohio, to James and Jane W. Archard. She had three siblings, Jennie, Laura, and Louisa. Mary received her primary education in the district schools and at Cleremont Academy. At the age of 19, on July 28, 1864, she married 21-year-old Edward Latham. Within the next six years they had three sons. During their sons’ teenage years, Edward earned a degree in medicine from the Miami Medical College in Ohio. Following his education, Mary entered the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery, graduating in 1886 at the age of 42. For a short time, they practiced medicine together in Cincinnati, being one of the few husband/wife medical teams in the nation.
Due to a desire for a healthier climate, the Lathams decided to move to Spokane Falls in Washington Territory where one of Mary’s sisters was living. In the fall of 1887 with sons Frank, age 21, James, 17, and Warren, 15, Dr. Mary Latham moved and rented a house on the southwest corner of First and Stevens. At that location she opened a combination office and residence, specializing in the treatment of diseases affecting women and children. Because of this relocation, she not only became the first female doctor in Spokane Falls, but was believed to be the first in Washington Territory. Her husband planned to settle their affairs and follow in a short time, but it was almost two years before he joined his family.
During her tenure in Spokane, Mary’s charitable works were noteworthy. In addition to her large practice, she was closely involved with the founding of the Spokane Humane Society and the Spokane Public Library. Dr. Mary Latham practiced medicine for 28 years in Spokane. Even after her retirement at the age of 64, she continued to befriend the less fortunate and tend to their medical needs.
The final years of Mary’s life were undeserving for such a kind and caring woman. Mary and her husband divorced in 1899 and, in 1903, her son James, a brakeman for the Northern Pacific Railroad, was killed when struck by a train at Division Street and Railroad Avenue. From that time on she suffered severe bouts of depression and dementia. On January 20, 1917, at the age of 72, Mary died from pneumonia at Sacred Heart Hospital.
Despite having divorced 17 years before her death, neither Mary or Edward remarried and are buried side by side at Greenwood Cemetery. Although Mary’s accomplishments in Spokane outshone Edward’s and she had created a name for herself as a professional woman during a time when few women had careers outside the home, the original headstone reads: "Dr. Edward Latham and Mary his wife."