In the summer of 2006, my trusty research assistant, Mr. E, (that’s him hidden behind the deck railing) and I traveled to Woodruff, Wisconsin to visit with the folks at the Dr. Kate Museum. Here we learned more about Dr. Kate’s life, work, and the amazing penny drive that funded her hospital.
The whole community got involved in the penny fever. There were fund-raising dances, basketball games, spaghetti dinners. And lots and lots of pennies. Here’s a pair of earrings from the time.
The penny drive was so successful that it was picked up in the national news. Soon Ralph Edwards, a television star, heard of the story. He surprised Dr. Kate by pulling her out of his TV program’s audience and doing a show on her! This is the script from that show. Dr. Kate’s family and friends appeared from a behind a curtain to tell her life story to millions. Next to the script is the free Hazel Bishop lipstick that she won but never opened–maybe “Pink Hennaberry” wasn’t her color. She did make use of the brand new car that was given to her, though!
After the program aired, mail poured into Woodruff. Most of it just said, “Dr. Kate; Woodruff, Wisconsin” on the envelopes. But when Mr. E and I looked closely we also saw letters addressed to “Mother Kate,” “Aunt Katy,” even “Dr. Ruth”!
Over $110,000 was donated to the hospital after the TV show appearance. (How many pennies is that?) And the hospital was finally completed. It still stands today, as the Dr. Kate Newcomb Convalescent Home.
Dr. Kate felt strongly that she wanted to honor the students who started it all. So the world’s largest penny was erected at the high school. The high school’s gone now, but the penny is still there!