Marshfield, December 1912: The life of Mary Kelley Upham
By Kris Leonhardt
Mary C. Kelley was born in Cleveland in 1843 to James and Elsie Kelley, parents who set her on a path to future success with a solid education and a polished upbringing.
After her family moved to Racine, Mary met and married a handsome lieutenant named William H. Upham in a double wedding with Upham’s sister.
William and Mary enjoyed their first years of marriage while William was in military service. After leaving the Army, Upham would eventually move to Angelica, Wisconsin, to set up a shingle mill.
Mary, who held a medical degree, assembled an array of home remedies to dispense among the infant community with no doctor.
Angelica, however, was not destined to be the Uphams’ permanent home.
The Uphams moved to Marshfield in 1878, where William built a saw mill and store and began what grew into a bustling industry in the new settlement.
As the Upham business and the city grew, Mary developed as a social and charitable leader in Marshfield, working toward moral and social progression. She lobbied for local schools and libraries and worked to furnish literature to the numerous logging and mining camps in the Northwoods.
Mary also became involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, gaining notoriety nationwide as a member of the national executive committee and statewide while serving as state president.
When William was elected to the gubernatorial seat in 1895, Mary served as Wisconsin’s first lady during the two-year stint.
Mary benefitted the Marshfield community well during her lifetime, serving the city, church, and the public well until she fell ill.
Though Mary had been unwell for a couple of years, in mid-November 1912 she traveled to Chicago to pick out Christmas gifts for her loved ones. The trip had been good for her, but on her return she developed bronchitis.
In the late days of November, Mary began to show symptoms of pneumonia. Having been in bad health for several years, the family held out their hopes for a turnaround in her physical condition.
The turnaround never came, and as the fall November days made their way into the holiday season, Mary would succumb to heart failure and passed away at 69 with her family by her side.
Mary Kelley Upham is laid to rest at the Hillside Cemetery in Marshfield.