Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dr. Lydia Clements and the Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike gold rush of the 1890s must have attracted its share of odd characters, but there probably weren't many like Dr. Lydia R. Clements of Brookline.

Dr. Clements, a graduate of the Boston University School of Medicine and the wife of a prominent dentist in town, set out with a party of men and women in the spring of 1898 determined to make her fortune in the gold fields of the Klondike.

"She thinks the practice of medicine should be profitable in that section," reported the Boston Globe at the outset of her expedition (May 8, 1898), "but if it turns out there is not much demand for medical aid, then she will turn to whatever else will net her gold."

"She may, with other women," continued the Globe, "purchase a claim and hire men, or even attempt themselves, to work the claim."

All of the women and some of the men in her party left the expedition before reaching their goal, but Clements persevered and become one of the first white women -- possibly the first from the East -- to cross the Chilkoot Pass into the Klondike region.

She practiced medicine in the city of Dawson and staked out a number of claims, but returned to Brookline six months later having lost $10,000 yet determined to return.

When she did return, in 1900, the driving force was her association with the occult philosophy of Prof. Charles H. Mackay and his West Gate School of Philosophy in Boston. "He has succeeded in influencing this woman in his theory," reported the Globe at the outset of her second journey to the far north (July 1, 1900), "so that she is willing to risk her life and much of her husband's fortune to exploit the theory."

I have been criticized in some quarters of Boston for what was termed my mad adventure of 1898 [Clements said in the Globe]. The same people, and many of them are influential in scientific and literary circles, will receive me with open arms when I return for the second time from the land of the midnight sun.

Guided by what she called Mackay's "power of mind over mind," Clements established herself in the Nome district of Alaska inside the Arctic Circle where she was certain she would make her fortune.

I do not wish you to think that it is the greed for riches that is sending me north [said Clements]. I have a clearly defined and I think laudable object in taking what some of my friends term a reckless venture in search of gold. It is my intention should I, as I expect, be eminently successful in my present undertaking, with my wealth to found a school of philosophy to disseminate the views of Prof. Mackay. It may take a year, it may take two years, but I am thoroughly convinced I will return to Boston a very wealthy woman.

There is no indication that Clements did make her fortune or founded a school, but she did remain in Nome and elsewhere in Alaska for more than a decade, hiring men and mining tin and gold. She retained a Brookline residence at 11 Davis Avenue and travelled back and forth across the continent many times before returning to Brookline for good.

Lydia Clements died in Brookline in February 1927.

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