The lady doctor makes Albany County home

Dr. Florence DeWitt Patrick (1858-1952) had an air of mystery about her.

This Wisconsin native arrived in Laramie early in 1902. At age 44, with three children in tow, she began a new medical practice.

She variously reported that she was divorced or widowed. A Canadian genealogy website reveals that James Binnie Patrick died in 1935. She had married him in 1878.  Likely separated, they may never have legally divorced. That might explain why this attractive, well-educated woman never remarried, despite being linked in the newspapers with eligible bachelors.

What had she been doing before obtaining her medical degree in 1897? The 1900 US Census shows that all her children were born in Canada. It is likely that she was raising her family there. Then, after 16 years of marriage, she relocated to the US and began medical studies. An entry in the 1927 book “Women of Wyoming” simply states that she was “left to support her young family.”

Dr. Patrick established her first office in Burlington, Iowa—close to Keokuk where she obtained her medical degree at the Iowa College of Physicians and Surgeons. But why did she move to Laramie?

An obituary suggests that she came to Wyoming for her health.    But if she had health issues, they did not hold her back, as she lived to be 94.

From 1902 until August of 1904 she was busy seeing patients, and advertised regularly in both Laramie newspapers. She moved her office three times in 1902, but then settled in at the corner of Grand and 4th Streets as both her home and office, where the Boomerang is now.

She stopped advertising in March of 1903, perhaps because her practice was now firmly established. Occasional newspaper reports indicate that she continued to see patients. However, in late April 1904, she suffered an injury. There was an accident involving the carriage she was driving to Centennial. She was left immobile with “only a bush for shelter in a storm” the paper reported. It was hours before she was rescued.

After this, she recuperated at her Horse Creek ranch northeast of Laramie. She didn’t resume advertising her Laramie practice again until June 1907. Her new office was at 410 Grand Ave. until 1918.   

One thing seems obvious—she had money. She was one of 10 children in the DeWitt family of Monroe, Wisconsin, so inheritance from them seems unlikely. Yet she was able to attend medical school, set up offices, and purchase a ranch in Albany County.

Between 1904 and 1907, her medical practice took a back seat to ranching and the social life of the Horse Creek area. She had luxury goods—an inventory of an unsolved theft she reported in 1917 mentions many quilts, cut glass and an opera cape.  These and other items were removed from her Laramie home on one of her long absences at her ranch near Ragged Top at “Canon Place” on Horse Creek. Newspaper mentions of the ranch started in 1906. 

Her oldest son, Benjamin (1882-1935) married Anna Stirling in 1905. They settled down in the large Stirling home at 450 N. Sixth Street ; Ben became a railroad conductor. Dr. Patrick’s middle child, daughter Marion Luella (1884-1984) married Robert Noel Garrett in 1913. They ranched at Garrett in northern Albany County. Youngest child Thomas (1886-1948) married Martha Hergert—eventually they ranched at Garrett also.

Early in 1919, Dr. Patrick closed her Laramie practice and moved it to Rock River, then a bustling town of farmers, ranchers and oil patch workers from the new town of McFadden. Her 1919 ads in the Rock River Review simply state her address as “Main Street.” Later, her office was at the rear of the Rock River Bank. She kept busy with patients but also threw herself into Rock River civic involvement.

In 1921 she organized the Wyoming division of the American Legion Auxiliary. In Rock River she started Campfire Girls, helped organize a woman’s club and was a Democratic Party committeewoman. But in 1925 at age 65 she gave up practicing medicine. She retired and moved to Garrett to live with her daughter and son-in-law in one of the most remote outposts of Albany County.

Why? That’s another unknown, though she and Luella (as her daughter was usually called) were an especially close mother and daughter. And it seems clear that Dr. Patrick loved the landscapes of her adopted home in Albany County.

By Judy Knight

Caption: Dr. Florence Patrick, circa 1927 photo from “Women of Wyoming,” Cora Beach, ed., 1927, which cites her civic work while she lived and practiced medicine in Rock River