Lydia Holman came to Mitchell County in 1900 to serve as a private duty nurse for a woman suffering from Typhoid. The woman got well and moved away. Holman stayed for the next 58 years serving the people of Mitchell County.
Holman had graduated from the Philadelphia Nursing School in 1892. Between that year and the year she came to Mitchell she held a variety of nursing positions, including head nurse at an Almshouse and nurse in a children’s hospital in Philadelphia. In 1898, she became a nurse for the Army during the Spanish American War, earning about $2.00 a day. She was discharged honorably in 1899.
Her patient in Mitchell County lived in Ledger. While Holman nursed the patient, she was frequently called upon by local residents to nurse them, too. After the patient recovered, Holman went to New York to study the diseases of women and children in the Henry Street Settlement House.
In 1902, she returned to Ledger. In various accounts, she writes about treating patients in Ledger, Rebel Creek, Hawk, and other communities around Ledger. She was so effective that local doctors had her arrested for practicing medicine without a license. When the railroad came through the area, Holman was offered buildings in Altapass to establish an infirmary for the workers of the railroad as they embarked on the construction of the loops down to Marion.
Holman had more in mind than nursing. She hoped to establish a settlement house like the ones in the large cities that would help poor residents improve their lives. In the years she was in Altapass, she provided nursing care and hospital care at her infirmary and later in her own hospital in Altapass. She also provided classes on sanitation, sewing, and preservation of food, among others. She gave her goats’ milk to people who were suffering from stomach ailments, cod liver oil to combat infections, and maintained a Victory Garden to demonstrate ways to expand the diets of the mountain people. She arranged for tonsil and eye clinics at area schools. Every year for almost 50 years, she held Christmas parties for the children of Mitchell and made sure each of them got a toy.
Over time, Holman became an integral part of Mitchell County. She served on the school board, acted as Justice of the Peace in Altapass, brought the Red Cross into the county, and helped the New Deal programs get started here. She even lobbied for a bridge to be put across the river on the road to Altapass.
In 1958, she suffered a major stroke, and was admitted to the VA hospital in Oteen. She lived for two more years, unable to speak or walk. Her hospital was torn down some time in the 1970’s, the library she had in Altapass was incorporated into house. Her personal goods and books were auctioned off. Today, the only reminder of Holman’s life in Mitchell County is her grave stone in the Spruce Pine Cemetery. Recently, she was inducted into the North Carolina Nursing Hall of Fame. A fitting commemoration for a life of dedication to the people of Mitchell County.