The Adventures of Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Completely encircled the globe”

The Catholic Advance on January 31, 1920 reported that “Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick of St. Mary’s parish returned to Wichita after five years absence during which she completely encircled the globe.”

Early in the war, Miss Lillian went to Honlulu “to engage in public health work.” From there, she traveled as a Red Cross nurse to Siberia.  While in Siberia she was “injured by a bomb thrown by a Bolshevik” while “maintaining a dressing station behind the front lines of the frigid Siberian front.”  She had a permanent t reminder of the incident in the “small triangular scar on her right arm.” 

After several months in Siberia, Miss Fitzpatrick was sent to Trieste, Italy in charge of 200 injured soldiers.  On the way, tragedy struck, “near the coast of Japan, the ship was wrecked.”  A cable was sent to a sister, Mrs. Jim Conley, reassuring family and friends that “Miss Fitzpatrick was saved.”

The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Ks) 6 September 1919, p. 12.

In a later interview, Miss Lillian described the shipwreck. Caught in a typhoon off the coast of Japan for two days and two nights and “floundered helplessly.”  Rescue came just in time. Three hours later the ship “shattered on the rocks.” Following the shipwreck, Miss Lillian continued to care for the soldiers until they reached Rome, Italy. From Italy, she was sent a on special mission for the Red Cross to Paris and London. She returned to Kansas in 1920. The report in the Catholic Advance concluded the story with the note that “Miss Fitzpatrick is very tired after her long journey.”

“Adequate Medical and Hospital Treatment . . . for All Indigent Persons”

After Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick recovered from her journey, she worked as a “City Health Nurse” in Newton, Ks.  One important responsibility of the City Nurse was “to see that adequate medical and hospital treatment are secured for all indigent persons.”  She was expected to not only be a knowledgeable nurse or health care provider, but also be familiar with local agencies that provide assistance to those in need. The position of city nurse was “supported by public funds or by other means of a public nature.” (Evening Kansan Republican,  22 September 1922.)

One of Miss Lillian’s projects included caring for the Mexican American mothers and children that lived at the ranchito in Newton. She oversaw the building of the Mexican Health Center. Described by the Evening Kansan Republican  as “a substantial and adequate building the Santa Fe railroad . . . erected for the public health work among the Mexicans of this camp.” The public was encouraged to attend an “Open House” to see the facilities and “familiarize themselves with the nature of public health work that is being done by Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick, city health nurse.”  (Evening Kansan Republican,  20 October 1922.)

As City Nurse, she worked with doctors and nurses from the two hospitals to provide information and care.  In connection with Bethel Deaconess Hospital “Well Baby Clinics” were held at various locations in Newton. The Evening Kansan Republican reported on several clinics held by Miss Lillian in conjunction with Sister Catherine Voth, Bethel Deaconess Hospital, and Miss Lucille Thomas, Red Cross Nurse. In September 1922, a “white baby clinic” was held.  Sister Catherine spoke on malnutrition. A meeting for “colored babies and mothers” was held on a separate afternoon.

Miss Lillian also assisted Dr. Roff with small pox vaccinations at the “Mexican Camps” in the early 1920s.

After 1922-23, Miss Lillian Fitzgerald disappears from the Newton papers. By the 1940 Census, Miss Lillian, age 56,  is living with her mother, Margaret, in Wichita, Ks. Lillian Fitzpatrick was born in Arizona in 1881 or 1884.*** She graduated from Pro-Cathedral School in Wichita, Ks, in June 1900. After graduation she lived in Minnesota.  In 1915, she began her adventure as a Red Cross Nurse. She died in Wichita in December 1972.

***According to the 1940 Census her birth year was 1884, however the Social Security Death Index lists the birth as 23 May 1881.


  • The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Ks): 6 September 1919, 31 January 1920.
  • Evening Kansan Republican,  22 September 1922, 20 October 1922.
  • US Census, 1940.
  • Social Security Administration. Death Master File,.

Saint of the City: Miss Johanna Conway

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“With the passing of ‘Jo’ Conway, as she was familiarly known, one of the true Christians and saints of the city is taken.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 5 October 1929.)

Miss Johanna Conway was one of several women that worked to improve the health of the community following the first World War.

The roots for the Public Nurse got it’s start when the Bethel Deaconess  Women’s Auxiliary was established on March 22, 1910.  One of their many projects was to sponsor a public nurse in Newton.  In 1916, Sister Anna Gertrude Penner became the first “visiting nurse.”  Her duties were varied and went beyond caring for the sick to educating people on proper hygiene and safety. In 1918, the responsibility to finance the program was shifted to the city of Newton.

At the same time a group of women at St. Mary’s Catholic Church became concerned about the conditions of the “Mexican Camps.” The Santa Fe Railroad provided the housing for the Mexican laborers and their families.  Conditions were far from ideal in the early buildings.  Several women from St Mary’s parish devoted their lives to caring for those in need including Miss Johanna Conway, Miss Lillian Fitzpatrick and later Miss Lucile Thomas.


Miss Johanna Conway, ca. 1920.

Miss Jo Conway with her little Mexican friends”

Johanna Conway was born in 1857 in Ohio. By 1895 she had moved to Newton, Kansas where she lived with her brother and sister at 219 E 4th. She dedicated her life to providing help to the Mexican community.

From 1920-1923, Miss Jo was involved in providing assistance to the Mexican American community in Newton. In 1920, she was the chairman of a committee with “plans for Americanization work among the Mexican people.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 8 September 1920)

On the back: “Miss Jo with her little Mexican friends.” Josie Victorio Collection, HCHM Photos.

Goals of the committee included teaching English and needed skills for future employment including “industrial work and sanitation  lines of work.”  Rev. William Schaefer gave “instruction” each Wednesday afternoon. He was encouraged “to have the Americanization work taken up by the committee of women of the St. Mary’s parish and pursued actively . . .  the betterment of the Mexicans.”

Miss Edith Stauforth, nurse, Miss Jo Conway, sponsor, Mrs. Socorra Jimenez, Mrs. Irene Gomez Mrs. Candelaria Florez. Josie Victorio Collection, HCHM Photos.

In October the Evening Kansan Republican reported “under the able leadership of Miss Jo” a “band of willing” women spent two afternoons each week “teaching both old and young Mexicans those things which they ought to know but do not know.” On October 28, the group of students and teachers held a musical showcasing their progress. Tickets were $1 and the proceeds would “aid in making it possible to further the activities” among the Mexican community.

“Humanitarian Work of the Community”

In fall of 1922, a call went out from the Southwestern Division of Red Cross seeking assistance to “relieve the suffering of the children” in South Russia. Conway supervised the efforts of local women to create clothing for these children in need.  In her report at the Red Cross Quarterly meeting Miss Jo noted that over 1500 pounds of new and used clothing had been shipped for Russian Relief.  Of that 1500, 700 pounds were new garments made by local women for babies and small children.

In 1923, Miss Jo served as one of seven directors for a newly formed Public Health Service. After 1923, her name vanishes from the newspapers. Her obituary indicates illness in her last years. Johanna Conway died October 5, 1929 at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton, Kansas.  She was buried in St Mary’s Cemetery.

Her obituary in the October 5, 1929  Evening Kansan Republican concluded;

“A devout member of the Catholic church, a pioneer  worker in St Mary’s parish. . . . She was a leader and organizer in humanitarian work of the community. . . . Her welfare work with the Mexican settlement began at a time when the homes of these people were mere huts and she has been working assiduously here until her illness, a work that cannot be measured on this earth.”


  • Evening Kansan Republican: 8 September 1920, 16 October 1920, 21 October 1921, 20 April 1922, 22 September 1922, 12 October 1922, 23 May 1923, 5 October 1929.
  • Newton, Kansas City Directories: 1887, 1902,  1905, 1911, 1913, 1917, 1919, 1931, 1934, 1938.
  • Kansas State Census, 1895.
  • U. S. Census, 1920, 1930.




A Notorious 7th District Character: Mary Elizabeth Lease

by Hannah Thompson, HCHM Director

Today’s post is by Hannah Thompson, HCHM’s new director. Her research interests include late 19th century Spiritualism.  The influence of the national interest in Spiritualism can be found in Harvey County newspapers.

“Notorious” Characters

A 1903 article in The Evening Kansan-Republican mentioned several “notorious” characters from the seventh voting district, which Harvey County was then a part of.[1] Alongside “Iron Jaw” Brown and Carrie Nation, the paper mentions Mary Elizabeth Lease who “is now playing the role of an advanced spiritualist in New York City.”

“The JoAnn of Arc of the Kansas Populist Craze, 1892”

But who was Mary Elizabeth Lease, and why was she notorious? Born in Pennsylvania in 1850 as Mary Clyens, she followed the then-typical path for a woman of the 19th century: she met and married a man (Charles Lease) and had several children. When her husband’s pharmacy closed in 1874 due to a nationwide financial panic they moved from Kingman County to Texas, ultimately finding their way, with their four living children, back to Kansas and settling in Wichita.

It was there that Mary Lease began working for the Union Labor Party and kicked off her career in political activism as an engaging speaker. She was passionate about women’s and African American rights, and became a strong proponent of what would become the Populist Party.

The Populists or “People’s Party” was a major left-wing political force in the 1890s that held strong anti-bank and anti-railroad sentiments. It was supported mainly by farmers in the West and South and ultimately merged with the Democratic Party in 1896. Like the Prohibition Party, the Populists encouraged the involvement of women–keep in mind the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote was not passed until 1920!

Lease’s speeches were inspiring to many, but the fact that she was a woman worked against her, as her outspokenness was seen as “unwomanly.” She was nicknamed “Mary Ellen” by newspaper wags, so that they could call her “Yellin’ Ellen” or “Mary Yellin.’” The New York Tribune went so far as to accuse her of being a “mob leader”:

But there is this to be said, of which there can be no denial, that Mrs. Lease upon the political platform or stump, uttering invectives more than masculine, and appealing to the brutal passions of the mob rather than to the calm sense of reasoning men and women, must be treated the same as any other mob leader, male or female. She cannot shelter herself behind her sex while appealing to bloodthirsty passions and inciting lawless riot.[2]

The quote most often attributed to her, wherein she (supposedly) told Kansas farmers to “raise less corn and more hell” actually was not hers and may have been invented by reporters. When asked about the quote she denied it as her own, but agreed with the sentiment since she thought “it was a right good bit of advice.”[3]

Some blame Lease for the failure of the Populist Party in 1894 to elect a wide swath of officials. This is due to her contrariness and argumentativeness when she openly criticized the 12th governor of Kansas, the Populist Lorenzo Lewelling. She believed that he discriminated against her and tried to remove her from an appointed position due to her desire to bring women’s rights and temperance to the forefront of Populist Party concerns. Whatever the truth behind their disagreements, Lease found herself ostracized from the party, effectively putting an end to her political career.

The 7th District’s very Own Notorious Character.

By the time of the 1903 article in the Evening Kansan-Republican reporting on her activities, Lease had divorced her husband and was living in New York. It was around this time that her interest in Spiritualism grew, or at least became apparent in the historical record. Spiritualism was essentially the idea, not quite a religion but certainly closely tied to belief and faith, that immortality could be empirically proven by making contact with the afterlife via mediums. Lease presented at a Connecticut Spiritualist convention in 1901 a lecture titled “If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?” wherein she described historical figures who believed in life after death, exclaiming that the Spiritualists of the time also knew life after death to be true.[4]

It’s interesting, then, that someone who shone brightly for such a short period of time, and was derided in newspapers for being “unwomanly,” “over-zealous,” and “turbulent and inflammatory,” would have her life not only tracked by a Newton newspaper but treated what seems to me to be a sense of grudging respect and maybe even pride.[5] Sure, she was a “notorious” character, off in New York calling forth spirits from beyond the grave as she “used to call forth Populist victory from windy caves of Kansas,” but she was 7th District’s very own notorious character, and they claimed her openly.[6]


[1] Today Harvey County is in the 4th voting district.

[2] New York Tribune, Aug 13, 1896

[3] Topeka State Journal, Topeka, KS May 25, 1896

[4] Kuzmeskus, Elaine M. Connecticut in the Golden Age of Spiritualism.

[5] The Representative Minneapolis, MN June 10, 1896; New York Tribune, New York, NY Aug 13, 1896

[6] The Evening Kansan-Republican, Newton, KS Aug 28, 1899