Category Archives: Edelweiss

N – Anita NESBITT

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

Click to enlarge

Anita Nesbitt was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the third of the twelve children of Joseph and Mattie (Wilson) Nesbitt. Eight survived to adulthood. In 1900 Anita’s mother said she had birthed four children and all were living. In 1910 Mattie who was 36, had birthed 12 children of which seven were still living. She’ had given birth seven times during the decade between the census of 1900 and 1910 There was one set of twins.

Her parents were both literate. The children all attended school. Her father, Joseph was a house carpenter. They lived on the same block of Tuscaloosa as Gwendolyn Lewis and Nellie Taylor and several blocks from the Booker Washington School, where Anita taught for some years.

The teachers associated with the Edelweiss Club were: Georgie W. Farris, Effie Mae Todd, Cecile Walton, Daisy Turner, Anita Nesbitt, Madge Brown, Juanita Davis, Jessie L. Freeman, Naomi Rodgers and Janie Binford.

When she was eighteen Anita graduated from State Normal school in 1916. The following year she started teaching at Day Street School. After that she taught at Booker T. Washington until 1926 when she married. She was 29. Her husband worked at the Veteran’s Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, about 38 miles from Montgomery. They had one son. When her husband died in 1978 she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her son, who was a dentist. That is where she died in 1982 after a long illness.

M – MUSIC

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

While looking for possible sources that can account for why the name of “Edelweiss” was choosen for the club, I came across this piece of piano music.

There were several piano teachers giving private lessons in the community. Recitals and musicals by these classes and other groups happened regularly. The second number on the program below is Edelweiss, op. 31 – Lange!

The Montgomery Times Sat, Mar 02, 1912 ·Page 3

I’ll be looking for a delicious salad course to share when we get to “S”.

The women in Edelweiss were a musical group. Some, like Bertha Loveless, sang at weddings and at community affairs, other’s played the piano for gatherings and weddings. Many played piano duets or solos at their graduation from State Normal School. My grandmother Fannie played the piano, although she wasn’t playing by the time I came around. Perhaps some of them played “Edelweiss”.

Madeline Abercrombie

Madaline Abercrombie not only played the piano, but taught others to play during her years as a teacher in Montgomery schools. Later she decided to only teach in her own home.

My Fannie wrote to my future grandfather, Mershell,

Our club held it’s first meeting last Friday evening at Madeline’s. She put on a strut too. We certainly had a good time. We are all feeling okay.

The Alabama Journal January 9, 1973

I wondered what the price of a piano was in those days.

The Montgomery Advertiser, Nov 25, 1915

There were also wanted advertisements like those below.

The Montgomery Advertiser, Sunday May 6, 1917

You can read a full post about Madeline Abercrombie from 2021 here Madeline Abercrombie

L- LEAVING Montgomery

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

The Great Migration

In 1916 the word was everywhere – move north, you have a better chance. Friends and neighbors who had made the journey sent back word. The Chicago Defender sent newspapers all over the country with articles about lynchings and poetry. There were articles about a better life in the north. Jobs that paid a living wage. About being able to vote. Pullman porters distributed the Defender throughout the south, even though the white authorities tried to prevent it.

About half of the Edelweiss woman left Montgomery for parts North. They were part of the Great Migration of over six million black people who left the South between 1916 and 1970. My grandparents and most of their friends and family left Montgomery during the early part of the migration.

They left Montgomery and went North.

Fifteen stayed in Montgomery. Three stayed in the south, but moved north to Birmingham, Alabama. One moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

Almost always they traveled on segregated trains in Jim Crow cars until the train crossed into the North.

Ten went to Detroit, including my grandmother and her sister Daisy. One went to Chicago, one to New Jersey and one to Springfield, Ohio. Sometimes siblings went together. Sometimes one went first and others followed. Women married and left with their husbands. They roomed with those who had gone before them and made a place for those that followed. New churches were started by members who found themselves in a city without a church like the one they left behind.

Find more information about the Great Migration in these blog posts:
Eliza’s Children Move North
Letters from home – Montgomery to Detroit 1918
Founding a New Congregational Church
Those Left Behind
Going Down South 1931 – My father describes his trip South.

K – Gabriella Snow KELLY

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

Gabriella Snow Kelly was not a member of the Edelweiss Club. Her younger sister Alice Snow was. Both were teachers. Gabriella Kelly is here because I needed a “K” . I did a bit of research on her and decided to share it in the research form, along with her obituary which gives us an overview of her life.

Research for Gabriella Snow Kelly

I found that the Mrs. Kelly whose husband, James Henry Kelly, died in Detroit in 1918 and mentioned by my grandfather Mershell in his letter of proposal to my grandmother Fannie Turner, was Gabriella Snow, club member Alice Snow’s older sister. She had married several years earlier and she and her husband relocated to Detroit.  According to his death certificate, her husband died of a syphilitic heart attack, probably sudden and certainly fatal. His wife took his body back to Montgomery for burial and never re-married. She taught and died many years later and is buried with him in Oakwood Cemetery.

I also spent quite a bit of time trying to find their house, which, according to the census records, was at 128 Morgan Avenue. I found a Morgan St. way over west along the railroad tracks. And also found a Morgan Avenue in a modern map, where Amanda is located on the 1910 Montgomery map.  I surmise that the family lived to the west of the Centennial Community, in the West Montgomery African Community.  

Ah ha! I just found the family in the 1910 census and they are living at 128 Amanda! So they do live right near to Edgar Spiegnar, a couple of blocks from Lowndes Adams family home. (These were both friends of my grandfather) I thought she was the most westerly member until I found Jessie Lee Freeman living several block further west, a few blocks East of my grandfather Mershell’s good friend Lowndes Adam’s family home.

A woman named “Alice Larkins” first appears in the 1850 census as an infant, along with her mother “Mary Larkins” and siblings.  Alice Snow was named after her mother, Alice Larkins. If this is the Alice Larkins who was Alice Snow’s mother, that would make her another descendant of a free-before-the-Civil-war woman.   Alice Snow’s father, Abram Snow, was a carpenter. He died in 1909 at the age of 64.

Alabama Journal, Montgomery, Alabama · Saturday, August 02, 1969

J – JESSIE Freeman Serves a Two Course Luncheon

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times. Click on any image to enlarge.

The Emancipator, Montgomery January 23, 1919

This is the second time Jessie Freeman has hosted the meeting. This time she served a delicious two course luncheon.

I looked for the hours school was in session to answer Anne’s (Anne’s Family History) question – why were they called luncheon when I said they met in the evening. A school day was from 9 AM to 2 PM. Although that is later than the usual lunch time of 12:30 or 1 o’clock, it was too early for dinner, hence “Luncheon.” That’s my guess.

This week we have two delightful dainty delicious dishes.

For a more savory dish, at the suggestion of my sister, we will serve Pimento Cheese on toast. It was sold in the local Montgomery grocery stores but the best would be homemade. I have looked and looked for an early recipe, to no avail.

The classic combination is grated sharp Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and diced jarred pimiento. People add various extras – garlic salt, hot sauce, onions, cream cheese. Serve on crustless bread. Make a bread pudding out of those crusts so you don’t waste anything.

For the dessert course, Charlotte Russe, take your pick of flavors.

Two blog posts about ice boxes, which is where these items would be cooled in 1918.

Our New Refrigerator – 1948
Everyday Things Then and Now

I – INFLUENZA

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times. Click on any image to enlarge.

In 1918 Cleo Nelms, the third of the six surviving children of Jesse and Fannie Lee (Grimes) Nelms, was born in Barbour County Alabama but the family moved to Montgomery about 1904.

Her mother worked as a seamstress in the early years of her marriage. Her father, Jesse Nelms was a bartender in Barbour County. Later he worked as a dining car waiter on the train between Montgomery and Alabama. For several years he sang in several groups that performed both on the train and at events. He also sold insurance. He must have made a good living as he sent his daughters to college. Cleo to Fisk and her older sister Bessie to Howard. Youngest daughter Fannie to State Normal School through to a college degree. All three of them taught school.

The “Spanish flu” epidemic hit Alabama first in Huntsville in September of 1918. By October it had spread south to Montgomery. On October 22, more than 12,000 cases were reported in Montgomery.

The reaction reminded me of what we went through during the first few years of the Covid epidemic – schools were closed, masking was recommended, businesses were closed. Gatherings were discouraged.

The Emancipator, Montgomery, Alabama, Sat, Nov 02, 1918 · Page 3

People worried about the months of school students would be missing and urged them to CATCH UP! There were no computer classes so students didn’t have any school work to catch up on.

There was a discussion of whether the teachers should continue to be paid while they were not in the classroom. It was decided they should be or they might give up teaching and find other work. The Edelweiss Club had meetings in November and December of 1918 and continued during the New Year to meet. As far as I can tell they all made it through their pandemic alive.

You can read more about it here, a short piece 1918 Influenza in Alabama

H – Harmony Quartette

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times. Click on any image to enlarge.

Besides working as a notary public and then as secretary/bookkeeper for the family Loveless Undertaking Business, Bertha Loveless also kept up a busy social schedule, both entertaining and singing at programs and weddings and with the Harmony Quartette. I wish I had a recording of them singing, but I did find a copy of an old 78 record with Geraldine Farrar singing one of the songs.

The Emancipator
Montgomery, Alabama • Sat, Oct 11, 1919 Page 1
To hear one of the songs that Bertha Lou Loveless sang with at the above program, click. Recording is scratchy.

They were very active during 1918 and 1919 and after that, I can find no mention of them in the newspapers. At any rate they were once very popular and here are a few more clippings from that time. Perhaps it’s like what happened in the early 1970 when the radical groups faded away as people burned out, or started families and went in other directions.

Bertha’s father was one of the founders of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and a deacon before his death. Rev Martin Luther King JR. was pastor at Dexter Avenue in the 1950s. I noticed a few names that I recognized in the program above. Lowndes Adams was a good friend of my grandfather. Janie Adams was his sister. Lucile Caffey and Lorine Farris were Edelweiss members.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

G – GENERAL Notarial Work Done

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

Bertha Lovelace was born in 1890, the third and youngest living child of Henry Allen and Lucy (Arrington) Loveless. There were eight children born. Five died of convulsions, measles, pertussis, bronchitis, croup and hepatic obstruction before they reached their fourth birthday. After his first wife died, Henry Allen married again. He lost his second wife and 9th child in 1915. His third wife survived him.

In 1908 Bertha took the teachers exam along with my grandmother Fannie. They both passed but neither taught. They both worked in their family business. For Bertha that was the Loveless Undertaking Company. In 1911 the Loveless family incorporated the H. A. Undertaking Company. They went on to become one of the biggest undertaking companies in the Montgomery African American community. I found Henry Allen Loveless very interesting and I am sharing a bit more about him below.

From “The National cyclopedia of the colored race, Vol 1”
by Clement Richardson (Click to enlarge)

March 7 – Bertha Loveless Entertains

            Miss Bertha Loveless entertained the Edelweiss Club at her home, March 7th. All the regular club members were present, besides several invited guests. A delicious luncheon was served and all present expressed themselves as having spent a very pleasant evening.

As her father seems to have hijacked this post there will be more about Bertha Loveless and the Harmony Quartette tomorrow.

F – Sanitary FOUNTS

In 1918 and 1919 thirty-seven young women, friends and neighbors of my grandmother Fannie Mae Turner were members of the Edelweiss Club in Montgomery, Alabama. These are snapshots from their lives, place and times.

Day Street School is were our Edelweiss Hostess for today, Gwendolyn Lewis, taught. Day Street School was first mentioned in the Montgomery Advertiser in 1898. It was added to the other two public schools for African American students. Day Street School was a two story frame building. There was no light except that which came in through the windows. Heat was from stoves.

In March of 1918, the principal, teachers and the Day School League raised between four and five hundred dollers for improving the school grounds. The school yard was graded and sodded. A concrete wall was built from the street to the front door and the sidewalk was improved. A new flag was purchased by the students. In December of that year sanitary toilets were installed to replace outhouses and a sanitary drinking fount was installed.

Day Street School had twelve teachers in 1918. Five of them – Alice Snow, Gwendolyn Lewis, Sadie Gilmer, Lorene Farris and Jesse Freeman, were associated with the Edelweiss Club.

Gwendolyn, Hattie and Fannie 1919 Detroit, Michigan

Edelweiss Club Meets

The last two meetings of the Edelweiss Club were held at the homes of Miss Madeline Abercrombie on High Street, and Miss Gwendolyn Lewis, on Tuscaloosa Street, February 7th and 22nd respectively. Delightful repasts were served on each occasion. Miss Madge Brown was the guest at the meeting at Miss Lewis’s. Whist was played. The first prize was won by Miss Winefred Nixon; the guest prize by Miss Madge Brown.

Weather Forecast: Probably local rain Friday and Saturday. Montgomery temperature: highest 50; lowest 35

Gwendolyn Lewis was born in 1895, the youngest of the two children of George W. and Venus (Hardaway) Lewis. Her brother Lafayette was three years older. Their father was a postal carrier, the first and only black carrier at the time. Their mother graduated from Fisk University and taught school for several years before her marriage.

In May of 1900, their house burned to the ground. In 1906, when Gwendolyn was eleven, her father was arrested on charges of stealing mail. There was stolen mail found on his person and in his house. He was bound over for trial. His $500 bond was paid by Nathan Alexander, a member of the same church and a respected African American businessman. In 1908, George Lewis died.

After her husband’s death, Venus went back to teaching and taught until 1922. In the 1910 Census the family was living in a house they owned free of mortgage. Brother Lafayette was working as a florest. Gwendolyn was a student and Vensus was teaching.

Gwendolyn graduated from State Normal School in 1912. Other Edelweiss members in that class were – my aunt Daisy, Gwendolyn’s cousin Juanita Davis, Sadie Gilmer, Isolene Hunter and Winifred Nixon.

Gwendolyn began teaching at Day Street School the following year and taught until she married my grandfather’s best friend, Clifton Graham, in August 1918. They moved to Detroit soon after.

E – EDELWEISS

How did this club come to have the name of “Edelweiss”? The women that were members were African American, not of German heritage. World War 1 was ongoing when the club started in January 1918. The song “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music had not yet been written. The only book I found that may have been around at that time is Edelweiss: A Story By Berthold Auerbach, published in 1861. The edition I found online was published in 1878. There are modern editions so it might have been around in the early 1900s.

I found this synopsis of the story at Edelweiß: “One of the most famous stories about the edelweiss is of a young man risking his life climbing the steep rocky face of a mountain to gather edelweiss flowers for a woman as a demonstration of his love and bravery. In the 1861 novel ‘Edelweiss’, German author Berthold Auerbach exaggerated the difficulty of acquiring the flower, claiming: “The possession of one is proof of unusual daring.” This presentation was a reinterpretation of the story following an invitation to perform at F14 Gallery in Dresden, Germany.”

The Emancipator, Montgomery, Alabama · Saturday, February 09, 1918

“The Edelweiss Club met last Friday evening with Miss Juanita Davis on South Union Street, and was delightfully entertained.”

Juanita Davis was born in 1893.   She was the youngest of the six children Samuel and Mary (Hardaway) Davis. Juanita and her siblings attended school growing up. They all lived to adulthood.

Samuel Davis was a literate carpenter. They lived at 609 Grove Street, on the corner of S. Union. It was down the block from First Congregational Church and about a block south of Madeline Abercrombie and a block north of Fannie and Daisy Turner. Swayne School, Booker T. Washington School and the Montgomery Training School were very nearby. They owned their home free and clear of mortgage.

Her mother, Mary Hardaway, was born free to Josephine Hassell a free woman of color who in 1845 had been granted, the right to remain and live in Montgomery as a free person. The law was free people of color had to leave the state without such an Act by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama.

When Juanita was twelve, her father died of uremic convulsions in 1905. He was 53. Uremia is caused by extreme, irreversible damage to your kidneys. This is usually from chronic kidney disease.

Juanita’s oldest sister, Viola, taught at Cemetery Hill School from 1904 until she married in 1911. After their father died, Viola was the only one working outside of the home. She continued teaching at Cemetery Hill until 1911, when she married.

Juanita started teaching in 1910.  She was 22 when her mother died. Juanita continued teaching up to 1922. She was active socially, attending club meeting and whist parties.  She may have married or died, but I was unable to find her after 1922