Biography of Leonard C. Mead

Leonard C. Mead, a highly esteemed physician and superintendent of the State Hospital for the Insane in Yankton, South Dakota, has earned a prominent position in his profession. Born into a loving and supportive family, he overcame limited educational opportunities through hard work and determination. Dr. Mead’s exceptional abilities as a physician and executive shine through his transformative leadership at the State Insane Hospital. He has revolutionized the institution, elevating it above political influence and establishing it as a leading facility for the treatment of nervous diseases and mental health. His expertise is widely recognized, and he continues to contribute significantly to the medical field.a

LEONARD C. MEAD, M. D., superintendent of the State Hospital for the Insane at Yankton, has won a high position in his profession. It is not fulsome flattery to say that he is one of the most capable and most distinguished physicians in the northwest. He is the son of Ezra and Sylvia (Barber) Mead, and few parents have been blessed with a more loving and loyal son. The father was born in northeastern New York in 1821 but grew up in the western portion of that state, where his father died when he was nine years of age, leaving the care of a large family to the widowed mother. Young Ezra from the first assumed a share of his mother’s responsibility and, by unremitting industry, contributed to the support and comfort of his mother, brothers, and sisters. Consequently, his opportunities for education were limited, but he made the most of the common school privileges that were at hand. Soon after attaining his majority, he settled in Columbus, Columbia County, Wisconsin, where he secured a farm and engaged in agricultural pursuits. In 1886, he sold his interests there and moved to Elkton, Brookings County, South Dakota, where he died on August 21, 1897.

Ezra Mead was a man of exceptional intelligence and one who enjoyed the respect and high esteem of all acquaintances. Originally, he was a staunch Whig, and in the progress of events, he became an equally zealous Republican. Although active in support of his political principles and one whose advice was sought in party councils, he was never an office seeker or office holder. He read and thought much, was deeply informed upon many subjects, and possessed the faculty of expressing his views clearly and concisely. In controversy, of which he was fond, he sought to convince his opponents by courteous and gentlemanly argument rather than by denouncing their positions. He was especially noted for strong convictions and decided opinions but never assumed a position he could not maintain, nor surrendered a principle when convinced it was right.

Mrs. Mead, the mother, who is enjoying a serene old age, is a native of Massachusetts and is spending her declining years with her children. Henry of Loup City, Nebraska, Leonard, the subject of this article, Mrs. Adalia Young of Elkton, South Dakota, and Ida, the wife of Albert Parks of Kent City, Michigan, survive.

Leonard C. Mead was born on the family homestead near Columbus, Wisconsin, on January 18, 1856. He spent his early years after the manner of most Badger farmer boys, helping in the fields during the summer and attending the district school during the winter. He was able to complete the high school course at Columbus and then entered the State University at Madison. He defrayed his expenses by teaching and undertook that occupation at seventeen years of age, starting in country schools and later becoming the principal of the Rio schools for three years. He also held a position in the grammar department of the Columbus schools. While teaching, he took up the study of medicine in the office of Dr. S. O. Burrington of Columbus and later continued his studies in the office of Dr. Robert W. Earl of that city. Both were able preceptors, and he made such progress that in the fall of 1878, he entered Rush Medical College, from which he graduated in the spring of 1881. He covered his expenses during that period by teaching during the vacations.

After graduation, Dr. Mead established himself in practice at Good Thunder, Minnesota, but a year later, he moved to Elk Point, South Dakota. During eight years there, he established an excellent reputation. On May 5, 1890, he was called to the assistant superintendency of the State Insane Hospital, and after a year devoted to the peculiar requirements of the position, he was promoted to the superintendency. Until that date, May 1891, the hospital had been a political football, tossed about to reward political services. For a long time, it averaged one superintendent per year, as the work initiated by one was sure to be undone by his successor. Dr. Mead’s first task was to organize the institution on a business and professional basis and lift it from the degrading domain of party politics. He has brought it to a position that compares favorably with the leading hospitals of its kind in any country. He possesses superb executive ability and the happy faculty of directing the movements of the large number of employees and officers without friction. His retentive memory and painstaking methods give him an intimate knowledge of each one of the many hundreds of inmates, and at any moment, he is prepared to recite the history and present condition of any one of them. He has made a close and critical study of nervous diseases and insanity in all of their forms. To perfect himself in these specialties, he took a post-graduate course in the New York Polyclinic in 1899-1900, devoting particular attention to neurology and microscopy. Through long and successful experience and special preparation, Dr. Mead is now a recognized authority on all nervous diseases and is frequently called in consultation by the ablest physicians in the west.

Dr. Mead is equally successful as a businessman as he is as a physician and executive. He is especially skilled in mechanical, engineering, and architectural expedients and plans for the advancement of the institution, and he has had the opportunity to put most of his plans into execution. Under his management and as a consequence of his long official career, the hospital plant has been largely remodeled and vastly increased in capacity. The additions made under his direction have considerably exceeded the extent of the original plant. In the location and planning of new buildings, he has been unhindered, and his opportunity to impress his individuality upon the place has been limited only by the ability of the state to provide means. The state has not been niggardly in supplying structures and all modern appliances for the most favorable treatment of its unfortunate wards.

Dr. Mead is a Mason, belonging to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and the Mystic Shrine. He is also affiliated with the Ancient Order United Workmen and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He is a member of the South Dakota Medical Society, the Sioux Valley Medical Society, the American Medico-Psychological Association, and other professional organizations, both local and general. In June 1886, he married Miss Matilda Frazer Gardener of Sparta, Wisconsin, and their home is delightful and ideal. Although they have not been blessed with children, they have opened their hearts and home to a little boy and girl who receive all the care and affection that devoted parents might lavish upon them.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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