During the time of the Edelweiss Club – 1918 – 1919, a flu pandemic raged. Schools were closed and then opened. Students returned to Montgomery from Fisk and Tuskegee due to the pandemic. People appeared on the sick list in The Emancipator newspaper. Some died.
The United States became involved in the first world war. Times were far from calm and peaceful, but the women met and ate delicious refreshments, played whist, went to work, and lived their lives a hundred years ago.
Who were the members of the Edelweiss Club? Thirty-seven women attended the monthly meetings judging from news items that appeared in The Emancipator, beginning on January 12, 1918 and continuing monthly during the school year, until May 3, 1919. Some were members and some were guests and not all were present at every meeting. Thirty of them were teachers. One was a seamstress. Three worked in family businesses. The other three were not employed and were relatives of members. Most of the members were single, some married as time went on. Some moved out of town. A good number never married.
All of them came from literate homes. Most of their parents owned their homes, either free and clear or mortgaged. Their fathers tended to work for themselves as barbers, carpenters and plasterers. Bertha Loveless’ father was an undertaker. Madge Brown’s father was a farmer. Alberta Boykin’s father was a mail carrier. Several lived with their widowed mother or an aunt. Most had multiple siblings.
Their parents were born in the mid 1850s to 1870 and would have been teenagers when slavery ended or were born during Reconstruction. Several were from families that were free before the Civil war. There were several clusters of cousins descended from unrelated women who were free and living in Montgomery before the Civil War.
There were no more reported meetings after May 3, 1919. The last event was a picnic dance given on June 16, just 3 days before my grandparents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham married and immediately moved to Detroit.
This photograph was taken in Montgomery, Alabama, during my grandparent’s engagement in 1919. I animated it using My Heritage, Deep Nostalgia.
My maternal grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, was born 133 years ago today. She was born in 1888 in Lowndes County Alabama, the oldest child of Howard and Jennie (Allen) Turner. Here is something my mother wrote about her in about 1980.
Somebody’s Daughter My Mother
By Doris Graham Cleage
Yes, I’ll tell you, I am somebody’s daughter. My mother was really SOMEBODY.
She was the first child of my (who else?) grandmother who was one of seven children born to a woman freed from slavery at seventeen and a free man. The woman had been trained as a seamstress in the “Big House” and she taught every one of her five daughters to sew. And so my Grandmother earned her living as a seamstress for white folks in Montgomery, Alabama.
It was fortunate that she had an independent spirit as well as a skill because she lost her husband when my mother was four years old and a younger sister was two. While grandmother was out sewing, the two children stayed with their grandparents who were very strict.
One of my mother’s earliest memories was of a spanking with the flat of a saw by her grandfather because she made footprints across the dirt backyard which he had freshly swept to a marvelous smoothness!
She also remembered him complaining often about their behavior to their mother when she came home. She spanked them too. But mother said she learned early that if they cried loudly, the spanking was shorter and less energetic. Armed with this knowledge, she and her sister made it through childhood and in due time graduated from Normal school (high school).
Mother finished in 1906 and she refused scholarships to college. She chose instead to clerk in her uncle’s general store and eventually managed it. I think she valued this and her marriage above all other experiences in her life. I think they held vastly different meanings for her. I think one represented what she really wanted to do and to be and the other represented what she thought she ought to want to do and be.
I never knew her very well. There never was time to talk to her until she was very ill and I took care of her. This seems very strange to me. My mother never worked after she married. She was always at home taking care of her family. I lived at home until I married. When I lived at home in Detroit I saw her at least once a week. When I lived in other cities, we exchanged letters at least once a week. For the last seven years of her life we shared a two-family flat. But I never knew her as a person until she was dying.
Stereotypes and structures. Forms and duties. Oughts and shoulds. How things are supposed to be. Never how they are. Cages and gags and straightjackets. And we don’t know they’re there.
When I could see and hear my mother as a person, and not as MY MOTHER, I was delighted and dismayed. Delighted that we had so much in common and that I liked her. Dismayed that she was eighty-six and ill and that life had made me wait so long to know her.
She and my father were happily married for fifty-one years. They loved and respected each other. Even in delirium I never heard either one say anything but good and loving things about the other. Mother spoke with peace and sureness about my father. But her face lit up, her back straightened, her voice got louder and she was alive when she talked of managing Great Uncle Victor’s general store. She never tired of telling me about taking inventory, counting money, keeping books, dealing with the help and customers and demanding respect from the drummers.
Drummers were white salesmen trying to get orders for their products and you can imagine how difficult it was for a handsome black woman doing a man’s job to get respect from them. But she knew the power of her ability to give or without orders and she used it without apology. Her whole tone when she straightened her back and raised her head to tell it was not of asking for respect, but demanding it – and loving the demanding!
She managed the store for the twelve most satisfying years of her life. Then she married in 1919. My father never wanted her to work. She suggested a small business several times.
He said, “A MAN supports his family. I am a man. My wife will never work.”
She knew he was supposed to be right so she didn’t press it. She wrote that all a woman needs to be happy is “a baby to rock and a man to please.” And that’s the way she acted. She kept the house, cooked the meals, rocked the babies and pleased the man. But she never believed that woman was meant only for this because she raised her two daughters by word and deed to believe that women should be whatever they wanted to be. I don’t remember her ever saying, “But women can’t be freighter captains, or airplane pilots or doctors or engineers.” she believed I could be anything and I believed it too.
How restricted she must have felt doing most of the jobs that go with keeping house and raising babies.
Today I’m going to write about my mother’s parents, Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham grandparents in my preview of the 1950 Census.
In 1950 Mershell and Fannie Graham were still living at 6638 Theodore Street. The single family frame house was built in 1913 and was probably worth about $7,000. The Grahams bought the house in 1923. If they had a 30 year mortgage, they would have had 3 more years until it was paid. I like to think that they had already paid it off. The house probably cost less than $2,000 when they bought it in 1923.
The house was heated with forced air using a converted coal to gas furnace. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom complete with indoor plumbing and running water upstairs, including a claw foot bathtub and a flush toilet. Downstairs were three more rooms, making six in all (not counting the bathroom). The kitchen had an electric refrigerator and a sink with hot and cold running water. There was also a full attic and full basement. They did not own a television but did have a radio, probably more than one. I remember one in the kitchen and one in my grandfather’s bedroom.
Mershell Graham had worked 52 weeks as a stock clerk in an auto factory. His annual wages were probably about average, $3,210. He had completed 8 years of school. He was not a veteran. Mershell and Fannie had been married once and this marriage had lasted 31 years. Fannie had birthed 4 children. She had completed high school, and had not worked outside of the home.
Living with them was Fannie’s 75 year old widowed aunt, Abbie Allen. Abbie had birthed 2 children and her 1 marriage occurred 46 years ago. She hadn’t worked in the past year. She had completed 7th grade.
All three of them would have given “Negro” for race, but if the census taker didn’t ask and assumed, they may have been enumerated as “white”. All three were born in Alabama and all of their parents had been born in the United States.
Helpful links for figuring out costs and wages were:
Mershell Cunningham Graham Jr was born at 7:45 pm on June 10 in 1921, a Friday, He was the first son and second child of Mershell and Fannie (Turner) Graham. He was delivered at Dunbar Hospital by Dr. Turner. Mershell was a big baby, weighing 8 1/2 pounds. He joined older sister, 14 month old Mary Virginia. Twenty months later his younger sister, my mother Doris, was born.
Mershell was an active boy, falling down the clothes chute and breaking a window during a game of “who can hit their head against the window the hardest” with his younger sister, Doris. In family photographs, he shows no fear of the ferocious puppy or the family chickens.
On November 1, 1927, he was hit by a truck on his way back to school after lunch. He died just after midnight on November 2. My sister, cousins and I grew up with warnings to be careful crossing the street and to remember what happened to Mershell.
My mother wrote on the page of practice writing above “Mother teaching him to write his name.”
1920 was the first election that my grandmothers, Fannie Mae Turner Graham and Pearl Doris Reed Cleage, were able to vote. It was also the first election in which my grandfather Mershell C. Graham was able to vote. Before that election he lived in Alabama, where black people did not have the vote until the 1960s.
My grandfather Albert B. Cleage had been living in the north since 1907, and so would have been able to vote in the 1908, 1912, 1916 and 1920 elections.
Family members who still lived in Tennessee and Alabama, men or women, still could not vote in the 1920 election.
With all the voting rights and demonstrations happening during the 1960s, I cannot believe I never talked to my grandparents about how they felt when they could finally vote.
The 1920 election seemed to be about as confused and contentious as today’s election.
This has been some cold day, but we went to church this A.M. and heard a splendid sermon on “Thanksgiving.” Rev. Scott never spoke better. He’s really great. The people never will appreciate him until he’s gone. Last Sunday was Harvest and it was fairly good. Might have been better but for the flu. They realized $12.50 from it. Our club held it’s first meeting last Friday evening at Madaline’s. She put on a strut, too. We certainly had a good time. We are all feeling okay. Mama is so much better, though she complains yet.
Now, Shell, about your question. Willie Lee and several others have been telling me that we were to get married for a month or more. I’ve been wondering where it all came from. I know you wrote me some time ago that you had “something to tell me,” but I never dreamed it was on this subject. It’s all okay though and if you will overlook my deficiencies, I’ll say yes. You know you like good cooking and I’d have to learn to do that, even after working in a grocery store all my life. Ha, ha! Now that you know about my inability as a cook does it shock you? Just let me know what you think about it.
Now, Shell, please don’t write any of this to any one, for it’s our own business and we can keep them guessing awhile longer. What do you say? Do this for me as a special request.
Well, dear, I’m so sleepy that I can’t write longer so you must let me off tonight with just one kiss. Ha, ha!
Being in the middle of the corona pandemic 2020, I decided to look back at my family history and see if anything was mentioned about the spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. I remembered that my grandmother wrote in a letter to my grandfather that church attendance was down because of the flu.
Because my grandmother was living in Montgomery, Alabama at the time, I took a look to see what the Montgomery newspaper’s were saying about the flu in November, 1918.
The article below came out the same day as the Sunday service mentioned in the letter.
Click for more about Dr. Bell’s Pine-Tar-Honey mentioned in the advertisement above.
Time passed and ten years after yesterday’s 1939 Thanksgiving dinner, we find that Jennie Turner is in a wheelchair, having broken her hip in a fall. Her sister, Abbie Allen Brown is in town, the Graham’s are there with their daughter Mary Virginia, her husband and two children.
“Three generations were present at the festive board of Mrs. Jennie Turner on Harding ave. A delicious Thanksgiving dinner was served, which Mrs. Turner who has been an invalid for several years, enjoyed in her wheel chair, while surrounded by her daughters, Misses Daisy and Alice Turner, and her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Graham; granddaughter and son, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Elkins, and their two children, and Mrs. Turner’s sister, Mrs. A. Brown.”
Actually Four generations were present – my great grandmother Jennie Turner and her sister Abbie, her daughters (which included my grandmother), my aunt Mary V and her daughters DD and Barbara. My mother Doris and her family (including me) were in still living in Springfield, Mass, and missed this dinner.
This year I am going through an alphabet of news items taken from The Emancipator newspaper, published between 1917 and 1920 in Montgomery, Alabama. Most are about my grandparent’s circle of friends. Each item is transcribed directly below the clipping. Click on any image to enlarge.
“Mrs. Jenine Turner Wishes to announce the engagement of her daughter, Fannie Mae, to Mr. Mershell C. Graham, of Detroit, Mich. The Marriage to take place in the spring”
On Sunday, June 15th at four o’clock Miss Fannie Turner and Mr. Mershell Graham were happily united in marriage at the home of the bride on E. Grove St. The home was prettily decorated for the occasion.
Just before the entrance of the bridal party, Mr. Lowndes Adams sang a beautiful solo, immediately after which the groom entered the parlor to the strains of Mendelson’s wedding March, with Mr. Clifton Graham, his brother, as best man. The bride entered with her uncle, Mr. V.H. Tulane, who gave her away, gowned in white satin with real lace and pearl bead trimmings the hat, a beautiful creation of white Georgette, the bride made a very pleasing appearance. She carried a large bouquet of roses and fern.
The home was crowded to its fullest capacity, fully two hundred guests being present which bespoke the esteem and popularity in which the young couple are held.
The presents were many and varied, consisting of silver, cut glass, linen, wearing apparel, money, and many useful household articles.
Rev. E.E. Scott performed the ceremony and Miss Naomi Tulane presided at the piano.
The guests were served delicious refreshments.
The happy couple left Sunday evening for Detroit, Mich., their future home.
Everybody mentioned in these articles will appear in this years challenge, plus a few others.
I found this information on Ancestry.com in Census Records, Directories, Death Records, Military Records and Marriage Records. News items were found on Newspapers.com. I also use Google Maps. The photograph is from my family photos.