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ISLAND HISTORY: Mabel Wilcox, health care pioneer and philanthropist

The granddaughter of American Protestant missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox, who settled on Kaua‘i, and the youngest of Samuel and Emma Wilcox’s six children, Mabel Wilcox was born in 1882 at Grove Farm.

She attended Punahou on O‘ahu and Oakland High School in California, and studied at Dana Hall in Massachusetts before graduating from Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses in Baltimore, Maryland, with an registered nurse degree in 1911.

Two years later, Mabel began her long career in public health service on Kaua‘i with the Territorial Board of Health, as Kaua‘i’s first public health nurse.

It was she who convinced members of the Wilcox family and the territorial government to fund the building of a 50-bed tuberculosis hospital in Kapa‘a in 1917.

This hospital, the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital, named for a member of the Wilcox family who’d died of tuberculosis, is Kaua‘i’s oldest operating hospital.

During that same year, 1917, Mabel volunteered for duty in World War I with a Johns Hopkins medical unit, with orders assigning her to Europe to staff hospitals and help war refugees.

For her distinguished service during World War I, she was decorated with the Order of Elizabeth by the Queen of the Belgians, and the Bronze Medal of Le Havre, France, by that city’s mayor.

In the 1930s, Mabel and her sister, Elsie Wilcox, began planning a general hospital for Kaua‘i that would replace small sugar plantation hospitals and dispensaries of the time.

With funding from a trust established by Mabel’s uncle, George Norton Wilcox, the 86-bed facility was opened in Lihu‘e in 1938 and named the G.N. Wilcox Memorial Hospital (now named Wilcox Medical Center) in honor of Mr. Wilcox.

Over the years, she also served as director, vice president and secretary of Grove Farm Plantation.

Mabel Wilcox, with her sisters Etta Wilcox Sloggett and Elsie Wilcox, also restored Lyman House in Hilo and the Wai‘oli Mission House at Hanalei.

And, in 1971, she announced plans to preserve the Grove Farm Homestead as a museum, with work well underway when she passed away in 1978 at the age of 96.
Source: The Garden Island

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