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Charlotte Maxwell Webb  (b. 1862, d. 1943)
Charlotte Maxwell Webb, seated with children,
l. to r., Lucretia, Ruth, James, William and Julia
Little house memorial built by Charlotte's sons,
near where her house once stood on Highway 260
Charlotte Maxwell Webb, a Mormon pioneer, worked as a midwife, nurse and teacher in Snowflake and Pinedale. Known as Aunt Lottie, she specialized in midwifery during the latter part of her career and traveled by foot, horseback and wagon to tend to her patients. She is representative of the many women who helped to build and maintain pioneer communities in early Arizona.

Region: Northern Arizona
Theme: Women in Science, Medicine and Health, Women in Education

Charlotte Maxwell grew up in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormon] polygamous family on the family's ranches in Nevada, the Arizona Strip and Utah. Her father, William Bailey Maxwell, was a rancher and Utah Militia Captain who spoke several languages of the nearby American Indian tribes. He was called by the Mormon Church to establish Mormon outposts and reconciliation with tribes in northern and southern Utah starting in 1853 during the Ute Walker War. The Maxwell ranch on the Arizona Strip was the first in the northern Arizona territory and served as the supply outpost for Jacob Hamblin and the Church's exploratory and expansion efforts into northern Arizona. Her mother, Lucretia Charlotte Bracken Maxwell, was William's first wife. Charlotte learned to ride horses and work on the family's ranches from an early age. Later, ranch schools in Nevada provided her education until the family moved back to Utah in 1878 to an experimental, self-sufficient, church-run communal village called Orderville where everything was shared. This was part of a broader attempt by the church to sever any dependency on the United States due to persecution. There she met and married Edward Milo Webb, becoming his third wife, when she was 16. Webb was a teacher, 15 years Charlotte's senior, and he helped her finish her studies to become a teacher herself.

In 1882 the U.S. Congress passed the Edmunds Act, making polygamy a felony. In 1890 the church leadership in Utah issued a manifesto forbidding "any marriages forbidden by the law of the land." As a result, many of Utah's polygamous families fled to Mexico. That was the case for Charlotte and her extended family. But in 1886, while en route to Mexico, they spent the winter in Woodruff, Arizona, on the Little Colorado River. At this time, the Mormon Church called Edward and Charlotte Webb to establish a high school for area youngsters. They founded Snowflake Academy, one of the first high schools in northern Arizona. Charlotte taught there for 12 years, while also raising her children. In addition to her duties in the classroom, she organized clubs, concerts and plays for the students.

Mormons made up approximately 11 percent of Arizona's population in the late 1880s, and the territorial legislature enacted various measures to stop the practice of polygamy. The territorial laws, coupled with the federal ban on polygamy, led many to leave the U.S.

In 1898 Charlotte's family resumed its journey to Mexico, traveling in five covered wagons. Charlotte drove her own wagon, with her two little girls by her side. They lived in Mexico for 14 years, with Charlotte teaching school there. But the Mexican Revolution in 1910 created unstable conditions, and Charlotte and her family moved back to Arizona in 1912. Leaving prosperous farms and businesses, as well as most of their possessions behind, they lived in Douglas and Tucson for two years in crude cabins and pup tents. Then Edward built a house for Charlotte which was located between Pinedale and Clay Springs. This house would serve as a way station for those in medical need.

At this point, Charlotte decided to become a nurse. Realizing that rural Arizonans lacked sufficient medical care, she took a summer class and several correspondence courses to become a practical nurse and midwife. For the next 25 years, she traveled all over northern Arizona, serving as a dedicated midwife who delivered babies for $10, which included care for the mother and family, before and after the birth. By her own record, Charlotte estimated she had delivered over 500 infants. During the devastating 1918 flu epidemic, Charlotte and Edward tended the sick and performed farm work for those suffering from the flu in Pinedale. She lost only one patient, using home remedies, such as poultices made from wagon wheel grease, along with many prayers. In 1921 her husband died in Murray, Utah.

In addition to her nursing and midwifery work, Charlotte held leadership positions in the Mormon women's organization, the Relief Society. She also served as justice of the peace in Pinedale. When she was 75, she moved to New Mexico to live with her daughter and son-in-law. There she worked as a missionary among Navajo women until her death in 1943.

Charlotte's home was located on Highway 260, near road number 160, between Pinedale and Clay Springs and near Heber. Although her home has burned down, her sons built a little house memorial for her, located off of the highway, near her former home.

Photo Credit:
Photos courtesy of Gretchen Guice.

 

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