On this Mother’s Day 2012 my thoughts have turned to the women in our families who were not mothers.

Today motherhood is a choice, many women both married and unmarried live fulfilling lives without children, but what about our ancestors.  In the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth marriage was the norm and children were Social Security. For women without children the end of life was often difficult. I like to find the stories of these women in our past and be sure that they are remembered

Here are two very different stories from my husband’s side of the family.


Amy and Jessie Martin:

Jessie and Amy Martin

Jessie and Amy martin

I have written before about Jessie and Amy Martin.  They were born in Michigan in 1873 and 1881 and moved to Oregon with their parents.  They spent decades as schoolteachers in Oregon.  The end of life was very difficult for them.  They struggled with financial hardship and poor health, as Amy wrote in a letter to my mother-in-law in 1959, “There were so many things she would have liked to do but lack of money was the drawback for all of us.”  They both passed away in the Methodist home in Salem, Oregon, Jessie in 1959 and Amy in 1982.


Eliza Jane Cole

Eliza Cole Thorpe

Eliza was born in Ireland in 1870 and came to America with her family in 1873.  The family moved to Nebraska and then to Oregon.  Eliza became a Seventh day Adventist Minister.  She married for the first time at the age of 50 to George Thorpe. I believe it was the first marriage for George as well. Eliza seemed to thrive as a minister and was well cared for by the Adventists.  She was visited several times a week by her niece and nephew.  A letter to my husband’s grandfather from Eliza’s nephew states, “We see Eliza once or twice a week.  She always speaks so fondly of you.  You know, of course, that she has not been in her own home for this past year.  The conference has substantially increased her allowance and that plus rental from her home leaves her well provided for.”  Eliza died in Vancouver, WA in 1955.

There are many more examples on both sides of our families. This is a busy time in my life and I have had little time for research.  I expect things to slow down a bit in September and I also intend to find out about these women’s lives and bring them back, if not to life, to remembrance



     Once again I am writing this blog surrounded by construction debris and piles of dust.  Having unearthed my computer from its protective cocoon of plastic wrap has allowed the dust to colonize yet another area of the house and will most likely soon render the computer inoperable. Lest you be thinking that I will soon be living in a house worthy of a photography session in House and Garden let me disabuse you of that notion.  This is more a “we have to do it or the whole think is going to collapse” sort of remodel.  When I attempted to stay home on Thursday having contracted whatever plague is going around I heard the workers under my bedroom window saying, “You think there’s an animal living in there?”  This was followed by the response, “Nah, I think Jack chased it out yesterday.”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I am still without access to most of my genealogy stuff. I am, however, occasionally able to read other genealogy blogs, although usually long after their original posting, and I saw that Bill West at West in New England had asked folks to write about what they would place in a genealogical time capsule.  This is a post I can write without any actual data, so I’m all over it.  It is also helpful to have missed the requested deadline and have read all the other actually thoughtful and interesting responses.

My first thought is that my time capsule is MINE and will be a twisted reflection of the oft-repeated phrase “history is written by the victors.”  My family history research has made it clear to me that all of my ancestors were liars.  They lied about everything, to my great frustration as a researcher, but who am I to mess with family tradition. So, my time capsule will contain pictures of me and my offspring, but only the best looking ones, with a little help from Photoshop. If it appears to my descendents that the body simply does not match the head, that’s their problem.

It would be nice to include a well-sourced, extremely accurate version of my family history to date.  Unfortunately, such a document does not exist.  What they will get is the poorly sourced, mostly accurate, and occasionally incomprehensible current version. “Hey descendents, if you think you’re so smart, you figure it out.”

I would have to include personal mementos of life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, including:

1.  One of each of the various pills that have been prescribed for me during my life, only to be withdrawn from the market after we learned that they actually kill people.  No wonder I’m dead.

2.  My favorite recipes. No wonder I’m dead.

3.  All of my exercise equipment.  Oh wait, there isn’t any.  No wonder I’m dead.

4.  My report card from the fourth grade.  My kids didn’t want it, now you’re stuck with it.

5.  All of the TV and internet ads of the 2012 presidential campaign.  Please tell me it doesn’t sound familiar.

6.  The story of my life.  It was fun, really, almost all of it.


Now, how to insure that my time capsule is found in a hundred years or so.









First, be sure to bury it somewhere that will not be under water due to global warming.

Second, put it anywhere but inside this house.  I know this house is going to fall down no matter what we do, hopefully without us inside.

Lastly, provide a series of intricate and painfully difficult to decipher clues to find it.  Intricate, painfully difficult to decipher clues will make it appear that there is actually something valuable inside.  I have no doubt greed will survive the twenty first century.

It’s been fun thinking about my time capsule.  I know that the goal of family historians and time capsules is to preserve the past.  I think I have achieved the more common human result, reinventing the past.


Click on the photos to link to the websites of their creators.



My mother-in-law, Marian Costello Cole, graduated from the University of Washington in 1936.  She went off to San Francisco, rented an apartment with a friend,  and went to work. She stayed in San Francisco until my father-in-law came to marry her in 1939.  This has always seemed to me like quite an adventure for the 1930’s  and I started to wonder about the history of young women in the workforce.

Marian and Merwin San Francisco

Of course, women have always been part of the work force. In the latter half of the nineteenth century women made up as much as 15% of the workforce, mostly as teachers or dressmakers, but a few as ship riggers and locksmiths.

By 1900 conventional morality dictated that a woman remain with her parents until she married an appropriate man, but in 1917 the First World War saw an increase in American production and an influx of women into factory jobs.  Secretarial and shop jobs followed quickly.  Young women left their small towns and headed to the big city for work. But where were they to live?  Certainly not on their own.  They needed a place where they could be protected and supervised after work, hence the birth of residences for young women.

I found one of our Cole relatives living in such a residence in Portland, Oregon in 1930.

click to enlarge

Phyllis Cole is listed as a guest in a hotel on 10th street.  She is one of about 150 single young women living in the hotel.  Phyllis is listed as a saleslady in a department store. Her fellow guests were stenographers, clerks, waitresses and teachers.  Breakfast and dinner were generally provided and men were certainly not allowed above the ground floor common spaces.

In New York City the Barbizon Hotel was the most well-known ladies’ residence. This was not a place for the poor.  Its illustrious residents included Grace Kelley, Sylvia Plath, and Joan Crawford.  The Barbizon started taking on male guests in 1981 and is now a condominium development.

Barbizon Hotel 1927


Other unmarried, working women were housed by their employers. The house next door to my husband’s Costello grandparents in Spokane, Washington was occupied by eleven teachers, mostly in their twenties.  An older woman listed as a servant lived with them.

Another relative, Bee Campbell, was a nurse in 1930 and is listed living in the Loma Linda Sanatorium and Hospital.  250 nurses, student nurses, and patients are listed as residents of the sanatorium.

These residences are relics of a bygone era.  My unmarried daughter lives in an apartment that she loves and comes and goes as she pleases, but she might be a bit envious of some aspects of life in the last two women’s residences in New York City.  Both closed in 2000, but until that time the terms of the lease included breakfast, dinner, and maid service for $600 per month.


This is what I found on familysearch.org under Irish Births and Baptisms.  Joseph Alexander Mackey Edward Savage Cole is the man known to my husband and his siblings as Edwin Savage Cole, their grandfather.

Edwin or Joseph or whoever he is was the last of seven children born to James Cole and Sophia Jameson Cole in Ballybay, County Monaghan, Ireland.  The family emigrated, apparently by teleportation, to Nebraska about three months after Edwin’s, (let’s just call him Edwin or even the family will stop reading) birth in February 1873.

James Cole and Sophia Jameson Cole

I have stared at the entry in Ireland Births and Baptisms for quite a while and I have almost reached the conclusion that this is a simple transcription error appending the record of Edward Savage Cole to that of Joseph Alexander Mackey.  The birth date is February 16, three days after the birth date for Edwin given by other sources.

I was happy with my conclusion until I continued to search through the Irish records on familysearch.  It seems that all of James and Sophie’s children were entered in some bizarre Irish witness protection program at birth.

Here is what I know about Edwin’s sibs.


John M Cole, the oldest, was born April of 1862.  His birth information is listed in any number of places, but not in Irish Births and Baptisms.  In spite of the label 1620-1881 on the database, the civil registrations in Ireland didn’t begin until 1864, two years after John was born.  John M had an interesting life as a Seventh Day Adventist missionary and I will probably post about that some day, but I am going to stick with the Irish witness protection plan for this post.


Robert Cole, born–maybe.  The only record I have of Robert is in my mother-in-law’s notes.  She got this information from someone in the Cole family, and since I have never found an error in anything my mother-in-law said or wrote about the family, I believe that there was a Robert, but I have never been able to find out anything about him. I imagine that Robert died when he was a child, but I’m not entirely sure that he isn’t just in hiding.


David Moore Cole, born November 25, 1864.  David is in the registry and under the name we have always known him by, so there could be a small hole in the witness protection plan theory, but David was only 29 when he died.  The rest of his siblings all lived to 80, maybe because no one knew their real names.

Carty Cole


James Cathcart Cole is the fourth sibling, known in the family as Carty. He was born May 31, 1866.  In Irish Births and Baptisms he is listed as William James Cathcart Cole.  Carty continued to confuse matters by generally refusing to use his name in any documentation, calling himself J.C. or C.J., according, perhaps, to his mood of the day.

Will Cole

Will Cole is the next son.  Born on August 27, 1868 and apparently actually named Samuel William Andrew Cole.  He generally used the name William A in the census and other official documents.

Eliza Jane Cole

Eliza Jane, born on January 23, 1870, was James and Sophie’s only daughter. She is identified correctly on the birth index.  Perhaps, leaning on past experience and coping with five or six children under the age of eight, James and Sophie were simply unprepared for the birth of a girl and could only come up with two simple names, listed in the correct order.  Eliza is also an interesting person, working as a Seventh Day Adventist minister most of her life and marrying for the first time at the age of 50.


And finally, in 1873 along came Edwin.

Edwin Cole

So Edwin is Joseph or Edward, Carty is William, and William is Andrew. Is this a normal Irish naming convention?  Did they simplify things for themselves and their children when they arrived in America?  Either could be true or there could be any number of other possible explanations.  Believe what you like but I’m sticking with the Irish Infant Witness Protection Program.




Henrieta Silver

Marian Cole













This week would have been my mother’s 101st birthday.  She died in January, 2010 at the age of 99.  My mother-in-law died six weeks later at the age of 95. I have written about them before on this blog.

It would take a dozen posts to cover all the changes these women saw in their lives, but the past few weeks of the silly season have brought some national attention to vaccines and my attention to the role of illness and vaccination in the lives of my mother and my mother-in-law.

One of my mother’s earliest memories was of the 1918 flu. This worldwide pandemic killed 75,000,000 people.  Philadelphia, where my mother lived, was an epicenter of the flu with 300 people dying in a single day.  My mother was an 8 year old child, but she remembers the bodies being taken away as in this account by a survivor, Louise Apuchase:


”We were the only family saved from the influenza. The rest of the neighbors all were sick. Now I remember so well, very well, directly across the street from us, a boy about 7, 8 years old died and they used to just pick you up and wrap you up in a sheet and put you in a patrol wagon. So the mother and father screaming. Let me get a macaroni box. Before, macaroni, any kind of pasta used to come in these wooden boxes about this long and that high, that 20 lbs. of macaroni fitted in the box. Please, please, let me put him in the macaroni box. Let me put him in the box. Don’t take him away like that. And that was it. My mother had given birth to my youngest sister at the time and then, thank God, you know, we survived. But they were taking people out left and right. And the undertaker would pile them up and put them in the patrol wagons and take them away.”

Digging mass graves for flu victims

Attempt at flu control at the Philadelphia Naval Yard


Sprague Washington, where my mother-in-law was a child of 4 was also hit by the flu, as told in this article from the Lincoln County Citizen.


“Whereas, the spread of Spanish influenza in Lincoln County has created an emergency, and it appears to the County Board of Health that it is necessary to establish a quarantine coextensive with the limits of the county, it is therefore ordered: 1. That all schools, churches and theatres shall be closed, and that no public meetings or gatherings of any nature shall be held. 2. That no private meetings, parties, dances or any other social gatherings shall be held in any private house or elsewhere; that there shall be no visiting between families. 3. That persons shall not loiter about any place of business, or in any post office or other public place. 4. That children of different families shall not play together or congregate, and children shall not be on the street except when upon some necessary errand. 5. That all pool and billiard rooms, both front and back rooms, shall be closed; Provided, that pool room proprietors may sell their merchandise from an open door to persons on the street who shall not be admitted to the inside. These regulations shall take effect immediately and shall remain in full force and effect until such time as they may be vacated or modified by order of this Board. Any person violating these regulations is guilty of a misdemeanor, and will be prosecuted therefore. Done in open session this 3rd day of December, 1918. Board of Health of Lincoln County, Washington. By J. E. Furgeson, Geo N. Lowe, F. A. Hudkins, Dr C. S. Bumgarner.”

The advent of modern medicine has not eliminated the flu, but it has greatly reduced the sweep of epidemics and the number of deaths.  In this country improved sanitation, better and more widely available medical services, and, yes, the flu shot have changed both the incidence and the fear of this awful disease.

Two more diseases affected my mother as a young wife.  In the interest of brevity I’ll only touch on these.  Just before my mother was to be married my father came down with the mumps.  This was a serious disease in adults and could lead to sterility.  Obviously, my father survived both the disease and the threat of sterility.  There were 100,000 or more cases of mumps each year in the 1930’s; now, thanks to an effective vaccine there are fewer than 800.

When I was just a few weeks old my brother developed scarlet fever.  Our house was quarantined.  My father needed to work and lived with my grandmother who would leave food for my mother the front door.  A sign like this one was slapped on the front door and only the doctor went in or out.  As a parent now myself  I can imagine her fear, alone in the house with a newborn and a five year old with a deadly disease.  Widespread use of antibiotics to control strep throat has greatly reduced the occurrence of scarlet fever.  I am so grateful that my children never had to face mumps, scarlet fever, or the other deadly diseases that were regular occurrences in my childhood.


The disease that was the true terror of a parent’s life in the 1950’s was polio.  Many, many families experienced polio and everyone knew someone who had survived it.  In my case it was a cousin who survived, but walked with heavy leg braces for the rest of her life.  This was a contagious disease that primarily struck children.  It usually arrived in the summer, making our parents particularly vigilant during our school vacations.  We wanted to play with our fiends and especially to go to the local pool, but during a polio epidemic the pool was off limits, widely believed to be a “polio pit”.  Survivors of polio were left with varying degrees of disability.  In its most extreme form the muscles that control breathing were affected. This required the use of an “iron lung” to assist breathing.  For some only a few weeks were required, but some people spent the rest of their lives in these contraptions.  I believe the last of these unfortunate folks died around 1970.

Doctors and nurses tending patients in iron lungs

Lining up for vaccine in Chicago

I was about 8 years old when the news of Jonas Salk’s discovery of an effective vaccine for this horrible contagion hit the papers and the radio.   Both my husband and I remember standing in long lines at the local school waiting to be vaccinated.  Our parents were jubilant.  There was no complaining about waiting; there was only joy that their children would never have to deal with this horror.

I try to keep politics out of this blog.  I love our strong national discourse even when it gets a little nutty.  I believe it is what keeps my country strong.

Common sense and the ability to do rudimentary arithmetic will tell you that parents with children of vaccinating age are considerably younger than I .  I know that there are those with questions about vaccine safety.  Having to make decisions for little people who depend on you is a fact of parenthood.  I do not presume to make those decisions for anyone, but I do think that this is a case where family history can be useful to young parents.  Before you make a decision not to vaccinate find someone who was born before 1957 and ask  about  contagious disease or a least look at that picture of people in the iron  lungs.