Dr. Willella in 1876 and in the early 1900s.
Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle was one of Orange County's first woman doctors, delivering over 1000 babies during her 38 years of practice. She was known for her kindness and devotion to her patients.
She and her husband, Dr. Alvin Howe came to Orange County in 1878, settling in the Westminster area . She taught at the old Bolsa School in Santa Ana to earn enough to complete her medical education. When she was ready to do so, she took her baby daughter with her to Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago. She graduated in 1886, returned to Santa Ana and began her practice that same year.
Dr. Willella Howe
Graduation Day, 1886
Hahnemann Medical College
Regarding her ability to establish herself in what was then a "man's career," Dr Willella was quoted in a Santa Ana Register interview as saying, "Some of those who fought me hardest have become my best friends." At that time, it was hard for some to understand that a woman had the right to take her place alongside male practitioners and make a business of treating the sick.
Dr Willella remembered the early days in our area, when doctors, in order to get to Los Angeles from Westminster, had to forge their own path through the cactus, willows, and mustard plants. There were no roads, and the winter rains brought floods too awful to recall. Many a time she had driven her horses through mud and water up to their waists, with the flood creeping around the floor of the buggy. Dr. Willella was known as a very generous and loving person, as well as a dedicated physician. Alvin and Willella took two years to build the ornate Victorian house, moving in with their two young daughters in 1889. Sadly, they would remain as a family for just another year. Dr. Alvin Howe was accused by Orange County's first Grand Jury of performing an abortion on a local woman.
The jury eventually ruled the evidence hearsay and Dr Howe was acquitted. However, he decided to leave town for San Francisco, rather than face the dishonor such a charge would bring him. Meanwhile, Dr. Willella lived on in the house with her daughters, continuing her medical practice and her involvement with the Episcopal Church of the Messiah and several other local organizations. It took an unusual amount of courage for the doctor to go about her daily business with her head held high, but then, she was that kind of a woman.
After divorcing Dr Howe in 1897, she married Edson Waffle, a prominent livery stable owner and rancher, becoming known a Dr. Howe-Waffle. In addition to her flourishing medical practice she was now raising a family consisting of her own two daughters and Edson's three children.
The grandchildren, who spent many a happy hour in the Howe-Waffle House, remember it as a warm and loving place to visit. Dr. Willella loved birds and animals and had an aviary in her back yard. It has been said that one of her parrots could sing some of the hymns he heard wafting from the Episcopal Church across the street.
Dr. Willella had an active medical practice and was involved in many local activities right up to the day she died, at age 74 in 1924, at the bedside of a patient. The Dr. Howe-Waffle House has been restored to look as if the Doctor has just left to be with a patient and will be returning shortly.