Looking up the school where Ruth taught immediately changed my view of her career: it turns out that Omaha's Technical High in the 1920s was new, large, and very much talked about.
Posts from the ‘family history’ Category
We went to view a house today.
“Mrs Jongers cast off the writ and trampled on it”: two versions of a 1903 incident at Christopher Street Pier
The very first thing that I stumbled across when I began researching Louise D’Aubray McAllister (b. 1874) on a whim one idle evening was this New York Times article, dated 19 June 1903, detailing a dramatic set of events among the crowds at a Manhattan pier:
Three days later, on 22 June, the paper printed the shorter follow-up below. Note the circled paragraph: this is the Times quietly sneaking in a correction, clarifying that its breathless account of the incident had been wrong on some crucial points. No kidnap took place at the pier that day, after all, and there had never been any plan for the little girl to travel with her mother and stepfather on their honeymoon trip. However, Louise’s ex-husband Alexander C. Young did have form for this sort of thing, and did go on to snatch their daughter from her grandmother’s care in a separate incident very soon afterwards.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d hit a startlingly productive seam of sensational stories relating to this branch of the family. They’re such very distant connections – Louise was my 2nd cousin 3 times removed – that I hardly think of them as relatives at all, but they’re no less interesting to me for that. Alexander Young is a particularly colourful figure about whom I’d like to write more (probably not here, though. He was many things, but he wasn’t a woman).
Quantities of newly digitized historical newspapers are becoming available online all the time, and it can be interesting to look at the varying ways in which different papers cover an incident. I recently found another version of this story in the St Louis Republic, dated 21 June 1903 – after the first NYT report, but before the correction. The Republic takes a very different approach to the initial (incorrect) story of the kidnap attempt at the pier, putting a kind of proto-Daily Mail/Fathers4Justice-style spin on it.
Observe the contrasting perspectives at work: while the Times casts Louise and her new husband as relatively dignified victims of Young’s shouty, uncouth behaviour during what, we are told, was his fourth (!) attempt to kidnap his daughter, the Republic does everything it possibly can to make Young into a wronged hero. So the Times has “Snatched Baby at Pier: Alexander C. Young Took His Child From Its Mother”, while the Republic chooses to run with “Regained Child at Ship’s Pier: Recently Divorced Woman About to Take Little Girl Away With New Husband”. Damn those divorced women with legal custody! What’ll they try next?
The Republic‘s account opens with a description of Louise walking up the gangplank in front of a hissing crowd, “leaving behind her 3-year-old daughter, who had been taken from her on habeas corpus proceedings”. The implications that the crowd disapproved of Louise, that she was calmly abandoning her child at the last moment after having planned to travel with her, and that Young’s service of a writ had achieved a legitimate goal, are clear (and, it seems, completely invented). Next, the paper snidely suggests that Louise has “figured prominently” in the divorce courts “during the last ten years”, making no mention of the fact that her only divorce – from Young, who’d himself had two divorces, though this too is left out – was granted on grounds of his adultery and misbehaviour.
Then there’s the explanation that Louise has married again. To an artist, no less. And he’s French. Both papers give most of this information, but it’s only in the Republic‘s version that you get the feeling some eyebrow-waggling is being conveyed between the lines. And let’s not overlook the disorderly conduct, ascribed by the Republic to Louise and her husband rather than to Young: “So violent were the protests of Jongers and his wife that the uproar attracted the attention of the crowd on the pier, and the police were obliged to step in and restore order.”
The battle for little Louise rolled on for quite a while after this mostly-imaginary incident hit the headlines. It was widely reported, and most of the coverage that I’ve read tends towards either condemning Young’s behaviour, or describing events in a way that flatters neither parent. Sometimes there’s a bit of a sardonic “see how the rich live!” tone. But the attitude that colours this Republic piece, so keen to present Louise in the worst possible light, is rarely seen and does set it somewhat apart from the rest. Whether the paper’s editorial stance was a little backward-looking on this point, more than usually attached to a disapproving view of divorced women that was gradually being left behind by many people, I don’t know.
This page has a useful, brief account of changing laws and trends in US divorce and child custody disputes over the years. William O’Neill’s 1965 article “Divorce in the Progressive Era” from American Quarterly is worth reading as well if you’re researching the issue. No doubt there’s other, newer research to be found as well, and I’d be glad to hear from anyone who can point me towards it.
Header image: View to the south from Christopher Street Pier c.2008, sourced from Wikipedia (public domain).
This is the text that my great-uncle Ray read at Augusta Hylander’s memorial service in Hamilton, NY in 1965. (Ray was her son-in-law.) I’ve been meaning for ages to post it as a footnote to her memoir.
It’s the final bit of material I have to add about Augusta’s life, at least for now – but I still hope, one of these days, to find out more about the story of her childhood homestead surviving within the grounds of Malmö Airport. If anyone reading this knows any more about that, do please get in touch. Read more
Born in New York City in the spring of 1871, Mary (christened Margaret Braun) was the eldest child of German immigrants Frederick Braun, a carpenter, and Bertha Schneider Braun. They would eventually have four more children, including twin girls of whom only one survived infancy.
In 1880, the family – by now listed with the spelling Brown, which is what they seem to have used most of the time after this – occupied an apartment at 604 West 49th Street in midtown Manhattan. I was excited to find the address on Street View; less so to learn that it’s now a FedEx depot. Read more
In this, the final section of her memoir, Augusta recalls the new career she took up in her sixties (further evidence, if any were needed, of her fabulousness) and the events of her later life.
It’s a beautiful and moving conclusion to what has been a fascinating life story, at once ordinary and remarkable. I’m tremendously thankful that she felt moved to put pen to paper, and that Gay rescued the manuscript from the back of a cupboard, and that my grandmother held onto our copy.
I’ll do a follow-up post after the holidays with a bit of supplementary information, but for now, read and enjoy.
I stayed a few months alternately with my son and daughter, who now both lived in Hamilton, but I wanted to do something more with my life. I was healthy, active and vigorous. I had no money since John’s insurance was used for his funeral and burial, and we had owned only a very small part of our house in Springfield.
After much thought I decided to apply for a position as resident chaperone in a college. I wrote to the dean of women at Cornell University and received a letter asking for an interview. All went well, and I became a resident chaperone in a girls’ dormitory there. When I reached the retirement age at Cornell I moved to the same position at Ithaca College where the retirement age was 10 years older.
These years were very enjoyable. I have always loved young people, and get along well with them. Sometimes I feel as though I am the same age as they are! At least I have always loved them and tried to understand them. Both colleges are in the same city, Ithaca, N.Y., an 80-mile drive from Hamilton, and I saw my families frequently, and always at Christmas and for the summers. It was a good life, but eventually I reached retirement age at Ithaca in 1959. Since then I have lived with my son or daughter alternately. They both have summer homes in Maine, and my summers are spent there with them. I love Maine, and think it very like Sweden, with the sea and many lakes, the hills and small farms, the spruces and white birches.
We had a great sorrow in 1964 [Ed: Augusta wrote this section in 1964, so the events she describes here are recent at the time of writing] when my son and his wife were in Claremont, California, where he had been invited to be a guest professor in botany for the year at Pomona College. They drove from Maine to California. All went well, and they settled down in a nice apartment which had been found for them. He had been teaching two weeks when on October 8th he and his wife went to bed at night. He chatted easily for a few moments, then fell back on his pillow dead. He had had a severe heart attack. A healthy and active man, he had seldom been ill, and the shock to everyone was great. Like my husband’s similar sudden death, we had to content ourselves with being thankful that he did not suffer. He was cremated and brought home by his wife and son, who had immediately flown out to his mother from Maine and taken charge of everything, then laid to rest in the little cemetery with its white picket fence by our lake in Brooksville, Maine, the summer home of our families. Our son loved this area so much that when he reached his retirement he built a new house in Bar Harbor and this became his permanent home.
Now he has gone, and my husband John has gone, and I am living out the rest of my life at my daughter’s home in Hamilton.
A few years earlier I had one of the greatest moments of my life when in 1962 my daughter Gay and her husband Ray visited Sweden for a month in the summer. They travelled thousands of miles from coast to coast and north to south, and saw much of Sweden. In the south they explored the area in Sturup where John and I were born and lived until we emigrated to America in our teens. They were able to enter the church where we were confirmed and saw the graves in the surrounding churchyard of my parents and John’s. They saw our schoolhouse and walked on the roads we had walked on. They found the village of Svedala where I had walked to sell eggs and butter. They saw our homes, and were able to explore the inside of my home, now the summer place of a teacher from Malmö.
They took pictures of everything – our homes, the church and cemetery, the schoolhouse, the roads, the countryside. They have a picture of themselves at our door, the Dutch door on which I loved to swing back and forth as a little girl. In the picture with my daughter and her husband are two of my relatives still living in Sturup, my nephew Arvid Johanson and his wife Hilda, who treated Gay and Ray to a lovely coffee party. Standing in the door with my daughter is the woman who now owns the house. Arvid and Hilda are fine people with whom I have corresponded all my life.
Hearing first-hand about Sturup as it is today and seeing all these pictures of my home and village was a thrilling experience. Gay and Ray gave me a set of all the pictures they had taken in Sturup, and I often look at them.
John and I never returned to Sweden, not even for a visit, though we often spoke of doing so. At first we did not have enough money to think of it. Then as time went on, our ties with Sweden grew less strong. By that time our parents were all dead, and many of our brothers and sisters had emigrated to America.
But our Swedish upbringing and heritage remained strong within us, and our daughter’s visits to our homeland and her growing love for it are a source of great joy to me. I am sorry that John was never to know of her pilgrimages to Sweden and the loving acquaintance she made of our early lives in our native village of Sturup.
October 21, 1964, in Hamilton
I am now 91 years of age. I have lived for almost a century.
I know my life must be coming to an end. Gay and her husband are very good to me. I have an elegant room and a bath of my own, with a beautiful view of valleys and hills from my windows. From being a very active person formerly, I am now content to do very little. My eyes are failing, and I find myself dozing often. I have had many experiences in my life, and enjoy remembering them as I sit in my lovely room looking at the beautiful view before me, listening to my daughter play piano. Sometimes I feel I am back in Sweden, weaving with my pretty mother, or walking to Svedala with eggs to sell in the market there, or dancing around the maypole on Midsummer’s night. I think of my dear John and my son and the excitement when my daughter was born, making our family complete.
I am thankful for the wonderful life I have had, and I am ready to go when I am called. All is well, and I am a happy and grateful wife and mother.
Adjo! When the time comes, I shall leave you with all my love.
Augusta died on 22 December 1965.
Photo (taken in Skåne, 2010) © Rutger Blom, via Flickr.
At the end of the last instalment I posted of Augusta’s memoir, she and her family were starting to feel the effects of the Great Depression. Her husband John had taken back his old job at a reduced salary rather than relocate to New York City when his company’s local premises closed.
As you might guess, we’re nearing the end of the story now. There are only one or two posts to come. Read more
This section of Augusta’s memoir begins just before the birth of her daughter in 1909, and takes us through a period of relatively carefree prosperity towards the beginning of the Great Depression.
October 21, 1964
I shall continue with the story of my life. I am now 91 years old, and am living with my daughter and her husband in Hamilton, NY. Read more