Dr. Richard Homer Mead and Dr. Mary Patience Ward Mead never met a sick person they didn’t want to help. They made house calls in horrible weather to places where roads didn’t always exist, offered reassurance to patients who clung to life while death knocked at the door, and never let dollar signs distract them from diligence. The couple left indelible memories in Hancock and Schuyler counties.
“No man in the Augusta community could be more missed than Dr. Homer Mead — a man beloved by all who knew him,” The Augusta Eagle wrote following his death on Aug. 30, 1926. “Dr. Mead will be missed in her home and in the entire community — missed as no woman has been missed in many, many years,” the newspaper offered upon Mary Mead’s death on Oct. 16, 1927.
Homer Mead was resolute from the start. He was born in Huntsville on Jan. 16, 1847, a son of Dr. Andrew Jackson Mead and Mary Briscoe Mead. He was barely 14 when the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter and at 16 he ran away from home to join the Eighth Iowa Cavalry. His unit would be involved in some of the biggest battles of the war.
Mead served as a courier and was captured during a raid near Atlanta but escaped a few hours later. Once the war ended, Mead returned to Huntsville and enrolled at Keokuk, Iowa, College of Physicians and Surgeons. He graduated in 1867.
Mead practiced with his father until 1872 and then spent five years working for a Texas railroad company before attending St. Louis Medical College. He returned to Illinois to run the Huntsville medical office from 1880 to 1884.
The needs of other veterans prompted Mead to serve for two years as a special pension claims examiner in Washington, D.C. He returned to Huntsville in 1887. It was there that “great happiness came into his life.” Mary Patience Ward was kind, patient, energetic, empathetic and religious. Born in Huntsville on Oct. 2, 1872, she was the oldest of James N. and Martha Parrish Ward’s five children. She became responsible for the household when her mother died before Mary turned 16.
The Augusta Eagle called her “sympathetic by nature” and said she overcame obstacles with “heroic bravery.” She was “strong in the belief that ‘He who giveth in life and death doth all things well.’”
Mary Ward met Dr. Mead upon his return to Huntsville and married him in 1889, though he was 25 years older than she. They had two daughters, Clara and Andrew, who was named after Homer Mead’s father. In an action quite rare at the time, Mead encouraged his wife to attend medical school in Keokuk. She graduated in 1897. Their son Hughes was born in 1898. The couple operated an office and drug store in Camden until 1919, when they moved to Augusta.
“Dr. Homer Mead was a promoter of education, patriotism, fraternities and general community interests,” The Augusta Eagle said. “He was a writer and author of ability, lecturing and public speaking — a man who commanded attention and respect everywhere. He was a man who said his say in plain terms, but always with grace and sometimes with stirring eloquence.”
Dr. Mary Mead “loved her profession — loved it because of its service to humanity,” The Augusta Eagle said. She “contributed much to the health, happiness and usefulness of the human race, her skills as a physician, her efficiency, her dependable service, her optimistic view of life and her individuality and strong character being preeminent in the minds and hearts of those she loved and served.”
The doctors were known for making house calls and always putting quality care, not payment for services, as their priority. “No night was so dark, no road so long or impassable that she refused to respond to the call,” The Augusta Eagle said of Mary Mead. “It made no difference to her where the call came from.”
“Dr. Mead was everybody’s friend,” The Eagle said of Homer Mead. “The high and the low, the rich and the poor, revered him.” The “poor were served as faithfully as were the rich,” the only “thought was to relive pain and save lives” and “no case was hopeless until the last effort had proved futile.”
As with many of their patients, the Meads knew the sting of death. Their first daughter, school teacher Clara Briscoe Mead Tweedell, died at age 27 on Dec. 14, 1918 — in the same Camden room in which she had been born and just 10 days after her infant son, Richard Mathew Tweedell, had died.
The Meads contributed to Augusta Christian Church, local civic organizations and veterans’ groups. Homer Mead rarely passed up an opportunity to speak at a gathering of veterans, and attended the funerals of comrades who had died. He recalled seeing U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln speak in Augusta on Aug. 25, 1858, and attending the debate between Lincoln and incumbent Stephen Douglas in Quincy on Oct. 13, 1858. Mead remained a strong advocate for veterans’ rights the rest of his life.
Homer Mead died at age 79 after battling cancer. Augusta business people respectfully closed during his funeral. Just 10 months later, the couple’s other daughter, Andrew Jackson Mead Austin, died at 35 at her home in Belmont, Mass. Mary Mead was with her at the time.
The doctor was cared for the sick until the day before she died at age 55 in her Augusta home. The Augusta Eagle said the “entire community had met with an irreplaceable loss” and called the funeral “one of the largest ever held in Augusta.” Again, businesses closed. “Almost every person coming to pay tribute to the deceased represented a home in which ‘Dr. Mary’ had officiated as a physician,” the newspaper mentioned.
The couple was survived by their son, Hughes Barrow Mead. He died at age 97 on June 18, 1995, and is buried in Fairfax, Va. The doctors and daughter Andrew are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery south of Augusta.
Augusta Eagle, Sept. 2, 1926, and Oct. 20, 1927, [newspaper] available on microfilm at the Greater West Public Library in Augusta, Illinois.
Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929 [database on-line].
Engel, Brent. A Few More Augusta Stories. 2017.
Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi.
Illinois, County Marriage Records, 1800-1940 [database on-line].
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society April-July 1926, available online at www.archive.org.
Mead, Richard Homer. The Eight Iowa Cavalry in the Civil War: Autobiography and Personal Recollections of Homer Mead. Carthage, IL: S. C. Davidson, 1925.