Many beautiful souls have graced the Northwoods with their presence, but few have accomplished what Dr. Kate Pelham Newcomb have. Called to become a female doctor when males dominated the profession, Dr. Kate always possessed the need to help others heal. From her humble beginnings in Kansas to her diverse endeavors in New York City to her astonishing feats in Woodruff, Wisconsin, Dr. Kate achieved more in one lifetime than most.
Born July 26, 1885 to Thomas and Catherine Pelham in Kansas. At a very young age, Kate's mother died and the family then moved to New York City where her father practiced law. After graduating high school, Kate was initially refused the opportunity to attend medical school, at the request of her father, and became a school teacher instead. She must have been a great debater as eventually, in 1913, she convinced her father to let her pursue medical school. In 1917 she earned her medical degree and went into the field of obstetrics.
Kate soon relocated to Detroit, Michigan and began working alongside 3 other female doctors in "a section of the hospital donated by Henry Ford that was dedicated to unwed mothers; in time the four women would open a private practice in pediatrics." (source) During this time, Kate met and married her husband William, who was soon after diagnosed with Lung Disease. In 1922, the couple decided to move to the Northwoods of Wisconsin in search of improved air quality.
Once in Boulder Junction, Kate made the decision to end her career as a doctor and devote her energy to caring for her husband and starting a family. However, a nurturing spirit doesn't stay out of the field for long. In less than 10 years she met, by chance, a practicing physician who recommended she resume practicing medicine again. In late 1931, due to inclement weather, he asked her to make a house call for him. That event prompted her return to medicine, starting her career in the Northwoods.
Once she was submerged into the field again, she began noticing the insufficient facilities and workforce needed to care for birthing women in the area. Some areas were so remote, they had to be reached by walking miles in snowshoes, which she wore and trecked in with fortitude. It has been estimated that Dr. Kate, also known as "The Angel on Snowshoes", delivered between 3000-4000 babies over the course of her career servicing the Northwoods. But that wasn't even considered her greatest accomplishment!
Dr. Kate advocated for a hospital to be built in the area for years, as the closest one was over 50 miles away. In partnership with some high school students who were working on the concept of "a million", they began the million penny campaign to raise one million pennies to open a hospital in Woodruff. They sent letters and notified anyone they could across the country to help raise the money. Miraculously they raised over one million pennies and had a parade to commemorate the event. Then, word eventually got to a TV show producer who featured Dr. Kate on his show, leading to the raising of over 1.3 million MORE pennies.
The 19-bed Lakeland Memorial Hospital was opened in March 1954 and was eventually replaced by the Howard Young Medical Center in 1977. Dr. Kate died in 1956 at the ripe age of 70 years old and was buried next to her husband. She has since been memorialized by the Dr. Kate Newcomb Museum which opened in 1988. What a blessing we all received through the dedicated work of the amazing Dr. Kate, The Angel on Snowshoes!
Whenever you get the chance to visit the Northwoods of Wisconsin, please visit and donate to the museum at 923 2nd Ave., Woodruff, WI 54568. Need a place to stay while you are up here? Call 715-356-7795 and discuss the amazing cabins available for rent at Nitschke's Northern Resort.
All Images courtesy of Minocqua.org