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Original artwork by Ann Berkery

The Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House

The Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum
120 Civic Center Drive, Santa Ana, California.

By Diann Marsh, from Eye on Santa Ana

On the corner of Sycamore and Civic Center Drive stands a testament to the courage and willpower of one of our City's great pioneers.

The Dr. Howe-Waffle House was built in 1889 by Alvin and Willella Howe, both prominent Orange County physicians. The mansion originally near the corner of Bush and Seventh Streets, was moved in 1975 to it's present location to save it from an urban renewal project. It was lovingly restored by the Santa Ana Historical Society and is used as a house museum -- open for tours and events.

Built during the Victorian Era in the Queen Anne style, the house features two-and-a-half stories and twelve rooms. It took two years to complete and cost $3000, a grand sum in 1889. It is one of the finest Queen Anne Victorians to survive in Orange County.

Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle was one of our county's first woman doctors, delivering over 1000 babies during her 38 years of practice. She and her husband came to Orange County in 1878. She taught at the old Bolsa School in Santa Ana to earn enough to complete her medical education. In 1886 she graduated from Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago and began her practice in Santa Aria soon after.

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, 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.

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