MARY LEICHT OXBORROW
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: October 17, 1852
Died: January 10, 1935
Maiden Name: Leicht
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian (German)
Married: Joseph Oxborrow
Children: Eleven (seven daughters, four boys)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Lund (White Pine County)
Major Fields of Work: Medicine (midwife, nurse)
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Civic Leader, Church Worker
Mary Leicht was born in West Bromage, Staffordshire, England, on October 17, 1852. No known photograph of her is available. Her parents were natives of Germany and had moved to England in 1850. Her father was a musician and band teacher and, while living in Germany, was conductor of the Kaiser’s band. Her mother, also a musician, was a harpist and a singer. The Leicht family had a music store in England. Both parents appeared before the King and Queen, her mother singing to her father’s accompaniment on the violin.
Mary’s mother died when she was only ten months old; her father died five years later as he was making plans for them to sail to America where he hoped to open a music store. She finally sailed from England for America on May 3, 1864 accompanied by her stepmother’s family. She often told about the trip, which she remembered vividly, and sang a ditty:
“Oh, Captain, Captain, stop this ship.
I want to get off and walk,
I feel so flippity floppity flip,
I never shall reach New Yak.”
While the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean took five weeks and four days, the most difficult part of the family’s travelling was the trek across the plains to Utah. Mary walked the entire distance with an ox team company. She and the other little girls wore front aprons in which they carried buffalo chips. This was to be sure of having something to burn for light and warmth when night fell. She remembered that by the time the company had reached a stream in which to bathe and wash their hair, hers would be alive with body lice and, having no shampoo, she would try to wash her head with smooth black mud which was found on the riverbank.
The family remained only a short time in Salt Lake City before heading for St. George, Utah, which had been established only three years earlier. Mary began to earn her living by hiring out to large families doing such work as washing, ironing, tending babies, cooking, washing dishes, sewing carpet rags and making patchwork quilts. With no evenings or afternoons off, she received top wages of $2.50 per week.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mary sang in the choir and began to meet men and women of her own age. She was persuaded to enter into a plural marriage with Joseph Oxborrow on June 21, 1870. Not yet seventeen years of age, Mary married a man, fifty-two years old, who already had a first wife, Jenette. She was well acquainted with Jenette, and they got along fairly well, but this was a serious undertaking for such a young girl. However, like many young women of that day, Mary accepted this polygamy and faithfully maintained her marriage vows and overcame the many problems that arose with plural marriage.
Mary had eleven children during her marriage to Joseph. Four of them died while very young. Joseph died in 1895 and from then on Mary worked with Dr. Fredrick Clift for whom she had worked off and on since 1891. Mary was always skillful in the sick room and for this reason she was chosen by the L.D.S. Church to go to Nevada as a midwife and “doctor” for those who were colonizing the Tom Plane ranch which later became Lund.
Arriving in February 1899, Mary was active as a nurse as well as a counselor and teacher in her church; with her skill and training in midwifery and nursing, she was in great demand in all cases of sickness. The doctor nearest to her was thirty-five miles away by horse and buggy.
In 1908 she was sent by the Lund ward of the L.D.S. Church to Salt Lake City to study obstetrics under the supervision of Dr. Ramonia B. Pratt–a trip cut short by her brother’s accident while working on the battleship, Utah, in New Jersey. She spent two years in New Jersey with her brother. Returning to Nevada, Mary continued to work in medicine. Her early mornings were often spent entirely with local people, who with cuts, carbuncles, dislocated bones, kidney infection or burns, kept one appointment after another. Often instead of sitting through the night at a patient’s home, she brought special cases, such as little Robert O’Donnell, who was kicked in the face by a horse, to her home.
Mary assisted in bringing two hundred and thirty-seven babies into the world, two of whom were her own great-grandchildren. She never lost a mother and only two babies were born dead. She made great use of natural herbs and was also known by the druggists in Ely as one of their good customers. They knew her recipes for salve, canker medicine, hand lotions, and others carrying true healing ingredients. Asked many times to share her medicinal recipes, she was reluctant about divulging her special ingredients.
Mary was a small package of energy and vitality. She never walked, but always seemed to be on the run. Her one vanity was wearing shoes too small for her feet; consequently, she walked a little bowlegged. She wore at least four petticoats daily, one of which was her money pocket petticoat. Moving close to the counter in the stores, she would carefully lift each skirt until she came to the one which held her small coin purse. No one would dare tell her this was an unladylike gesture.
A widow for forty years, Mary remained in her own home until her death on January 10, 1935. She was affectionately spoken of by all who knew her as “Grandma.”
Biographical sketch by Sally Wilkins from information provided by Effie O. Reed, Mary Leicht Oxborrow’s granddaughter.
Sources of Information:
- Geuder, Dr. Patricia. Pioneer Women of Nevada. Carson City: AAUW-DKG Publication, 1976.
- Read, E.O. White Pine Lang Syne. Denver: Big Mountain Press, 1965.