Selma O. Colbe Mortens, M.D.

1883 – May 20, 1965

Beautifully situated at the main intersection at the front of the cemetery, across from the Reich family plot to the east and the Netzel mausoleum to the north, this elegant mausoleum was erected by pioneering woman physician Selma O. Colbe in honor of her parents. She and her parents and husband are entombed within.

Ewald and Emma both emigrated from Germany in 1881 but were not married until 1883, the same year as the birth of their only child Selma. It’s unclear if they traveled together to the US or perhaps met on the boat or after immigration. Records show that Ewald became a licensed physician in 1899, so he would have been studying during Selma’s youth.

One year after his licensing, the 1900 census shows the family living in Pilsen in a house they own (mortgaged). Ewald is working as a physician. Selma is sixteen.

Selma is listed in the 1904-5 Lewis Institute Yearbook (now Illinois Institute of Technology) as a member of the Household Arts Club. The Lewis Institute was fairly new at this point, established in 1895, and offered science and engineering courses for both men and women. This is apparently where she did her undergraduate studies.

In 1910, we find the family still living all together in Pilsen. Selma is 26 and in the intervening ten years, Ewald – now styling himself as Edward – has paid off the mortgage, and they own their home free and clear. The question of who one works for has been added since 1900, and Edward lists himself as working on his own account, so he is presumably in private practice.

No profession is listed for Selma, but the facts we know tell us that she is in medical school at this time. This census makes it clear that Selma is Ewald and Emma’s only child. Her obituary states she graduated in 1912 from the University of Illinois medical school.

By 1920, Selma is a physician in her own right, also working on her own account. She is still living with her parents in Pilsen so perhaps she and her father have a practice together. Interestingly, both Edward and Emma list their country of origin as Prussia instead of Germany. It may be regionally true but is very likely a reaction to the recent war.

Sadly, Ewald passes away later that year (1920) and the 1930 census shows Emma and Selma living alone together, having moved from the Pilsen house to a cute little cottage in Portage Park. Selma is working for someone else’s practice or at a hospital (the census data doesn’t specify but she is no longer self-employed). Her parents’ birthplace has reverted to Germany. Selma is 47 and single.

Emma passed away later the same year (1930), also in December, ten years almost to the day after her husband’s passing.

In 1940, we find Selma still living in the Portage Park home, now alone and working as a physician at a state hospital. Inexplicably, she lists both her parents as having been born in the US, her father in Illinois and her mother in Wisconsin. It’s possible she didn’t know any better, but it’s more likely this was a similar reaction to anti-German sentiment in the lead-up to the US entry into WWII. It’s possible too that the census taker just messed things up. Her name is also misspelled which seems as if it is just a careless mistake.

We’ve now run out of census information, but we can piece together the rest of Selma’s life via other documents. In 1942, her husband, Swedish immigrant Oscar Mortens, lists Selma as his contact person on his draft card. The address on the card is in Goose Island, so either she moved to his house, or they bought their own together after they married. I can find no marriage record, but the marriage took place sometime between 1940 and 1942. He was 63 years old (draft cards are WILD, y’all) and listed as self-employed.

From her own obituaries, we learn that Selma retired sometime between the 1940 census and 1947 when she and Oscar moved to Phoenix, most likely shortly before their move.

In Phoenix, they lived in warm retirement for fifteen years together before Oscar passed way. I hope they traveled and relaxed and had a lot of fun together. Selma died three years later, still living in Phoenix in a retirement home. Neither she nor Oscar had children, though perhaps Oscar’s nieces and nephews sometimes visit the mausoleum to pay their respects.

RIP Dr. Selma and family

  • Ewald (Edward) H. Czolbe, October 4, 1860 – December 21, 1920
  • Emma Pahlau Czolbe, 1860 – December 18, 1930
  • Oscar W. Mortens, October 26, 1878 – September 19, 1962

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