In continuing to clean out a cardboard box of pictures, albums, and papers that mostly came from my great-aunt Susan, I started thinking about her. She was a big influence in my father’s life and I am curious about her life, so I put this post together, in a first take of how she lived. (That box is now emptied out and off my office floor.)
Susan Ruhama Salt (known as Ruie by the family) was born 28 Mar 1893 in Saltair, Ohio to John Clifford Salt and Kate Coffin Salt. She was the youngest of three, two of who survived to adulthood. Her brother, Henry, was my grandfather. Aunt Susan, as we always knew her, was our stand-in grandmother. How that came to be is part of a family story replete with secrets and various characters that my mother spent years trying to piece together and understand.
Ruie and Henry (both of whom were born after the death of their older sister Anna Catherine before she was 2 years old) were raised by their mother Kate alone from just months after Susan was born. The story about their father, Cliff, was that he had sustained a head injury while cutting ice one winter, which later resulted in his being probated to the state mental hospital. His wife Kate was named his guardian, and he lived the rest of his life there as far as is known. Kate and the children continued to live at the family’s farm until Henry was old enough to be out on his own. Then Kate and Ruie moved into Bethel, a town not very far from their farm so that Ruie could go to the high school in town. Ruie was very studious and made very good grades according to her second cousin. She also played in the all girls’ band (I don’t know what she played). She had a sweetheart while she was in high school but his family moved away from the area so “nothing came of that”. Kate did not approved of Susan’s having boyfriends, for some reason, and she seems not to have had any serious ones after high school.
After Ruie graduated from high school, Kate wanted to move back across the Ohio River to Newport, Kentucky, closer to her father and sister. It was decided by the family that Ruie should study nursing. Although in the beginning she didn’t really want to, she was sent to nursing school at the Speers Memorial Hospital. This hospital was chosen by the family because it was nearby, and because the head was a relative of one of the family’s long-time servants, Sophie Kahrwald. I assume that the reason for sending her to learn nursing was that her mother Kate and she were pretty poor and dependent on Kate’s family. Ruie, by having a profession and ability to work, could help out.
So Ruie, who started going by Susan about this time, went to nursing school. In the beginning it was hard going for her, but she was encouraged to persist and eventually she enjoyed it. The year before she graduated, the Ohio River flooded many of the towns in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. Here is what the setting looked like.
In fact, this was part of the huge natural catastrophe of Easter weekend 1913, which included flooding across all or parts of 15 states plus tornadoes. (Here is a site that describes this major disaster.)
Susan graduated from nursing school in 1914.
As a young teen I would have loved it if she had been a Frontier Nurse, riding horseback to visit patients in the backwoods, but that isn’t what she did. She worked at the Hospital for several years, and was in the Army Reserves and called to active duty in the Army Nurse’s Corps when World War I created the need for additional nurses. She didn’t serve overseas, but served at the base hospital at Camp Jackson in South Carolina from 1918-1919. She then came back to northern Kentucky and continued to do hospital work. In 1931 she did the course in anesthesia at The Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland and then worked in operating rooms.
Eventually she took on managerial roles and she may have ended up as the superintendent of nurses at the hospital. I am not clear whether she always worked at Speers or whether she moved on to a hospital in Cincinnati. My mother always said she was at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, but so far I have found no evidence of this.
I know that when my father was a college student (in the late 1930s), she was living and working in the Cincinnati/Newport area. She had lived with her mother, Kate, until her death in 1928 and then on her own. She was quite independent for the times, working and living on her own, having a car and traveling. She took my father on several extensive trips of the U.S., both when he was a youngster and when a college student. She stood in for his mother both before and after Grandma Carrie was institutionalized.
In 1939, Susan bought a house in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her Coffin relatives had a house there, which she had been able to spend about 6 weeks each winter in. I think it was in Florida that she first met Bill Liverett, who was the chauffeur and handyman for the Coffin family. The family objected to Susan having any relationship with him. Bill left their employ and joined the Navy, serving from 1942-1945, and after he returned he and Susan married in 1946. By this time the older family members who had objected, and had often ruled Susan’s life, were all dead. My father had married and they had started a family. She was finally freer than ever before to make a choice for herself.