Another Women’s History Month has arrived and I can’t resist starting with this joyful photo of my Granny, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) with her nephew, Robert “Bobby” Hugh Oliver, Jr. (1930-1976). I can hear her laughing. This is an expression I remember well. And of course she’s holding Bobby’s dog, Snooky. Of course she is.
This is one of several photographs taken during the summer of 1936, presumably at the Landsdowne, Pennsylvania home of my grandfather’s brother and sister-in-law, Hugh and Claire (Loughney) Oliver. My grandparents, mother and her siblings were living in Beirut, Lebanon at the time, with three children between the ages of four and ten, so it was surprising to find my grandmother there without the rest of the family. But there she is with her mother, Mary (Hill) Mills. Elsie must have come from Beirut to visit her mother.
Mary Mills (known to her family as “Dear”) was 60 when this photograph was taken. She had been widowed a little more than ten years. After a lifetime in Baltimore, Dear was living in an apartment in Queens, New York not far from her son Jimmy Mills. This visit from Elsie was to be their last. Mary Mills died in Queens just a year later.
The third image is of the three sisters-in-law, presumably gathered for the visit from Elsie and Mary: Dorothy (Kay) Oliver, who was married to A. Douglas Oliver; Elsie, married to my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver; and Claire, married to Robert Hugh Oliver.
I had a delightful lunch last week with Mary Lee, who inherited this album that had belonged to her great aunt, Claire (Loughney) Oliver, wife of my great uncle, Hugh Oliver. I wrote here about Mary Lee’s and my first encounter over family photos, and am beyond thrilled that we got to meet (so much fun!) and look at photos together. More to come from this album, but today is for remembering Granny’s peals of laughter, her mother Dear, and “the Oliver Girls” in honor of Women’s History Month.
Thank you again to Mary Lee Witaconis for sharing these glimpses of the extended Oliver family.
My devout Granny always said she wasn’t interested in heaven unless her dogs would be there. I feel the same way about family history. It’s not complete without the ancestral dogs. I come from a long line of dog people. In the great nature versus nurture debate, I’m not sure where the trait for being an obsessed dog lover comes in, but I believe I got it from both sides. It’s considered normal in my family to stop the car to get out, cross oncoming traffic and introduce oneself to a random dog (or at least to fight the urge). So here’s a quick chronicle of some of the beloved canines.
As a teenager, my mother had a formal portrait taken with Tess, the family boxer (thank you, cousin Diana, for unearthing it!). My grandmother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver, adored her grandfather, Nicholas Snowden Hill, in part because of the time he arrived and told the grandchildren to choose between the two deep pockets of his overcoat, only to find that there was a puppy in each pocket. He also made her a gift of Mars, the circus pony she admired.
Mum’s paternal grandparents, Daniel and Emily Oliver, ran an orphanage and school in Ras el Met’n, in the mountains outside Beirut. Daniel always had several dogs, and the annual large group photographs of the students, faculty and staff, all feature him, front and center, with a couple of dogs at his feet. My mother would add that she remembers him being harsh with the dogs, but he certainly appeared attentive in the photos, often looking fondly at the dogs and not the camera.
My Oliver grandparents had many beloved dogs living in Beirut when Mum was a child. I remember tales of Alsatians, (as they were known to them, German Shepherds to us in the U.S.)–Lorna, Ronnie, Topsy. More on their adventures in another post. Later there were boxers, starting with Pronto. And when my grandparents settled in New England there were came Tess and my childhood friends, Judy, Penny, and Jenny.
My fourth birthday present was Jeff, a handsome Great Dane, and a great delight to my dad. Family lore is that I was harassing Jeff one day, when my mother heard me shriek. She came running, only to find that Jeff–so much bigger than I was–had gently pinned me to the wall, head on one side of me and tail on the other. He’d had enough! We lived in an apartment in Baltimore near a reservoir. My parents had a VW beetle and exercised Jeff by holding his leash out the car window and slowly driving the loop road around the reservoir. He must have been quite a sight.
I know less about the dogs on my paternal side, but Bill Stephenson, my paternal grandfather, had a series of beloved dachshunds and shelties–Bosco, Princess, Oscar–and was very clear that he liked them better than most people.
And no history of the family dogs would be complete without the dogs we raised our own children with: Sadie (1997-2009), Cosby (2007-2014), Daisy (2015-2020), and now Ellie (born 2018).
Now we’re blessed with the next dog generation. Our angelic granddog, Coco, who lives in a Hawaiian paradise where she gets to hang out at the beach with her parents and littermates. The dog love continues.
Dearest daughter mine and dearest mother mine, Happy belated International Women’s Day! When I think of extraordinary women, there you both are and as I collect images of the women we came from, it seems only right to put each of us right at the center. Maybe I’ll write more about them individually as this Women’s History Month goes on, but first I just want to gather their wonderful faces around us.
Look at these women. Their lives spanned four centuries. They were born on three continents. A few lived their entire lives close to their birthplaces, but most spent much of their lives in faraway new places like you both have. In all three centuries before your move to Hawai’i you had ancestral women uprooting and moving from one continent to another or across the United States. Elizabeth Goldsberry migrated as a child with her parents from North Carolina to western Missouri by wagon before 1850. When she was 45, Maria (Milnes) Mills and her husband James left Derby, England and moved to Virginia with nine children, ages 4 to 23. And Emily (Wright) Oliver joined her father on his Quaker mission work, traveling to Syria in the 1890s, where she stayed to teach at a Friends school, married Daniel, and spent the rest of her life as his partner and support in the Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage in Ras el Met’n, Lebanon. I’ve always loved that in a still patriarchal world, Emily was given equal billing in the naming of the school!
There were talented painters on all sides–Katharine Brengle, Alice Stephenson, and Elsie Oliver. Your Quaker grandmothers, Emily Oliver and her mother Mary Ann Wright, were both teachers. Some came from lives of privilege made possible by slavery. Anne Elizabeth (Snowden) Hill and Eleanor (Carroll) Brent both came from wealthy families with many enslaved workers. (Something I’m working to learn more about). Catherine (Nuth) Johnson was President John Quincy Adams’s mother-in-law.
You know well that all families are complicated, and these women’s families were no exceptions. Some endured hardships, wars, losses of parents, husbands, children. There were divorces and health challenges. Some died quite young, but most lived long lives. I think of them as mothers and grandmothers. I picture them with their little people and know there was so much love and laughter. That comes to us from all sides, so keep loving and laughing! You’re both strong and wise, funny and smart, edgy and opinionated, stubborn as can be and full of love. All these mothers and grandmothers, greats and many, many greats shared those traits and must be so proud of you. I know I am.
The 19th Amendment, which gave many (but not all) women the right to vote in the United States was ratified 100 years ago today and this anniversary has me thinking of the women in my family who won the vote. Six of my direct ancestors were of voting age when women’s suffrage became legal in August 1920–one grandmother, three great grandmothers, and two great great grandmothers. As my ancestors always were, these women were scattered around the country. Two were in Maryland; one was in Missouri; and three were in Kansas.
Elsie Mills (1899-1993) – Elsie Mills (later Oliver) was my maternal grandmother. In August 1920, she was 21 years old and living in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the eldest child of James Mills, an English-born physician who taught at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and his wife, Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (more on her below). Elsie was a budding painter, studying at the Maryland Institute of Art. They lived at 853 Park Avenue, Ward 11.
Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (1876-1937) – Mary Mills (known as “Dear” to her family), my great grandmother, was 44 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was born and raised in Baltimore City, and married her husband, James at the age of 23. In 1920, Dear and her family, Elsie (age 21), Audrey (age 17), Jimmy (age 15) and Mary Carroll (age 12), along with “Ma” Seaton, the 65 year old Irish cook, lived in a modest row house not far from the Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine, where James practiced and taught.
I don’t know when Elsie and her mother Mary may have actually first voted. There was a legal fight against allowing Maryland women to vote that was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922. (Women won the vote!) But Maryland did not vote to ratify the 19th Amendment until 1941.
Alice Christine (Sheely) Stephenson (1878-1958) – When the 19th Amendment was ratified, my great grandmother, Alice, was 42 years old. She was born in Indiana, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and attended Western College and Seminary for Women in Oxford, Ohio before her 1899 marriage to R.W. (Richard) Stephenson. In 1920, she and R.W. lived at 250 Clark Street, Ward 4, Augusta, Kansas, with their three sons, Paul (age 17), William (my paternal grandfather, age 9), and Clark (age 8). She was a prolific water color painter.
Stella Lee (Owen) Miller (1881-1942) – Stella Miller, my great grandmother, was 39 in 1920. Born and raised on a farm in Webster County, Missouri, she had been married to her husband, Franklin Pierce Miller, a former school teacher and for 21 years. She had three living daughters at home–Marjorie (age 19), Thelma (age 16), and Esther Jane (my paternal grandmother, age 6) and had lost her third daughter, twelve-year-old Nellie, earlier that year. Stella’s mother, Clementine Esther (Bodenhamer) Owen (more below), was also living with the Millers in 1920. They lived at 112 West 2nd Street, Ward 2, Coffeyville, Kansas.
Clementine Esther (Bodenhamer) Owen (1854-1925) – In 1920, my great great grandmother Clemmie Owen was 66 years old. She was born in Marshfield, Missouri to parents who had both migrated there from North Carolina. Clemmie’s father appears to have abandoned his wife, Elizabeth and Clemmie when she was very young. Elizabeth remarried in 1860 and Clemmie was raised by her stepfather, a farmer in Ozark, Missouri. She married James Washington Owen (1848-1889) at 17. By the time she was 35, she was a widow and had given birth to seven children, lost two of them, and had lost her mother. When the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, Clemmie was living in Coffeyville, Kansas with her youngest daughter, Stella.
While Kansas ratified the 19th Amendment, women were allowed to vote in local elections there starting in 1887, and in 1912 won universal voting rights. So perhaps Alice Stephenson and Stella Miller had already been voting for years. Clemmie Owen moved from Missouri, (where women did not have the right to vote until 1920), to Kansas between 1910 and 1920, and may have seen the 1920 ratification as a new opportunity.
Amanda Jane (Hahn) Miller (1849-1942) – My great great grandmother Amanda Jane Miller was 71 in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, raised on her family’s farm, the fourth of sixth children. According to the 1940 Census, Amanda attended college for two years, presumably before 1870, when she married John Fremont Miller at age 21. For the first 15 years of their marriage they had a farm in Stark County, Ohio, where six sons were born, including my great grandfather, Franklin Pierce Miller. By 1885 they had moved the family to Webster County, Missouri, where the Miller family established a thriving farm and had two more children. A biographical sketch about John Miller indicates that he was active in Democratic Party politics, so perhaps Amanda joined him in casting her vote.
Of course, I don’t actually know when or where or even if any of these women cast their votes, but I love thinking of each of them hearing the news 100 years ago that they had the right: my Granny (the only one of these six I actually knew) as a very young woman; Mary, Alice, and Stella, each with a house full of kids; Clemmie, long a widow and grandmother, living her last years in her daughter’s home; and Amanda, at home on the farm with her husband John, having raised her large family. My next vote will be cast in memory of them all.
This is my Genealogy Blog Party entry for Women’s History Month at the Genealogy Blog Party for March, 2021!
When Ancestry alerted me of the anniversary of my great great grandmother Mary (Cocke) Hill’s death, I pulled up her obituary from the Baltimore Sun of October 31, 1903. I’d read it before, but imagine my surprise to read down to the list of honorary pallbearers. Out jumped a name I hadn’t noticed before–Major W. Stuart Symington–none other than (bear with me here) my husband’s step-father’s grandfather. OK, so Mary Hill’s husband, Nicholas S. Hill, also served in the Confederate Army, and both were from Baltimore. Not shocking, but fun to find.
I chuckled, texted a couple of family members, and went back to read it again. And noticed that Frank H. Hambleton, my step-father-in-law Fife Symington’s other grandfather, was also listed as an honorary usher! For real.
Mary Hill was taken ill while entertaining guests at the Washington, D.C. home of her daughter Irene Bolling. And bless the Baltimore Sun’s fuzzy little heart, they even gave Irene’s street address and mentioned that Mary was entertaining in the drawing room when she was stricken. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Zillow and similar real estate websites are fantastic resources for getting a look at family places.
Here is Aunt Irene’s home at 1808 Riggs Place in the Dupont Circle section of Washington:
City directories list Professor George M. Bolling at this address only from 1904 until 1906, with many other Washington addresses in the years preceding and following, so they must have been renting. Bolling taught Greek and Sanskrit at Catholic University during these years.
Thanks to the magic of Zillow, (oh, how I do love the internet!) I was even able to find interior photographs of this lovely, well-preserved house. This may have been the drawing room mentioned in Mary’s obituary:
A follow-up article appeared the next day, 1 November, 1903, describing the funeral held at the Baltimore Cathedral, where many other Hill family occasions occurred, and the procession to Bonnie Brae Cemetery. I recently visited the Cathedral and the cemetery (now New Cathedral Cemetery), where both my great grandparents are buried, and was touched to find their son-in-law, my great grandfather, James J. Mills with them.
What an unimaginable thing it would have been for the Hills and Symingtons and Hambletons to think of the connection of their respective offspring so many generations later!
Mary Watkins Cocke (Johnson) (1834-1903) and Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandparents (Irene (Johnson) Bolling (1862-1946) was the daughter from Mary’s first marriage.)
Mary Carroll Hill (1876-1937) and James J. Mills (1863-1925) great grandparents
When I visited Baltimore in April, exploring the places where my mother’s family lived, worshiped, studied, and worked, I hadn’t yet discovered the wedding announcement that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on June 1, 1898. What a gem! So today I remember my great grandparents, Mary Carroll Hill and Dr. James J. Mills, married 120 years ago today and return to two of the places I visited last month.
Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills in 1915 at age 40. This picture reminds me so much of her daughter Elsie, my grandmother.
The wedding in the grand Baltimore Cathedral is described in exquisite detail in the article below, so I’ll stick to a few highlights.
Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, father of the bride (my 2nd great grandfather) walked Mary down the aisle. Oddly, there is no mention anywhere of the mother of the bride, Mary (Cocke) (Johnson) Hill.
The large cast of clergy was led by the eminent Cardinal James Gibbons, a close friend of Major Hill. With four priests officiating in red and white vestments embroidered in gold, it must have been quite a spectacle.
I’m loving the detail in this article, with vivid fashion descriptions, down to the orange blossoms fastening the bride’s veil and her bouquet of white sweet peas, a description of the church decorations, and an account of all the music.
Seeing the names of the bridesmaids, ushers, and a long list of guests invited to the wedding breakfast at the bride’s parents’ house got me curious, and I’ve been down the rabbit hole looking up bridesmaids, ushers, and wedding guests. No big surprises, but I found a few entertaining tidbits and a photo of bridesmaid Nanine Brent. Caton Mactavish, the ribbon boy, grew up to become a Baltimore newspaper journalist and close friend of Ogden Nash and H.L. Mencken.
Nicholas S. Hill, Jr. (1869-1936), my 2nd great uncle, was Mary (Hill) Mills’ older brother, and was an usher in the wedding. Uncle Nick was also the father of my favorite extra grandmother, Isabelle (Hill) Guthrie (1896-1995).
Nanine Brent, a distant cousin of Mary’s, was a bridesmaid. This photo was taken at another wedding where Nanine was a bridesmaid.
My visit to the Cathedral in April was a thrill. The building, described as America’s first cathedral, is glorious and was beautifully restored not long ago.
Baltimore Cathedral, c. 1902. Designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and completed in 1821
Baltimore Cathedral interior, April 2018
Cardinal James Gibbons, c. 1903.
Following the wedding ceremony, guests joined the family at Nicholas and Mary Hill’s home just a few blocks away at 813 North Charles Street for a breakfast. I had the thrill of being able to visit this house. The first floor now houses a vintage clothing shop (The Zone), so I popped in and got a look at the parlor, which still retains a bit of original detail.
The newlyweds, James and Mary, returned from their wedding trip and lived here with her parents for the first year of their marriage, which meant that my Granny, Elsie Mills, was probably born in this house.
813 North Charles Street, home of the Hill family and location of the wedding breakfast.
813 North Charles Street, parlor
And the article from the Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1898:
Historic view of the Cathedral and photo of Cardinal Gibbons are from the Library of Congress collections.
After an eighteen-month hiatus from blogging due to the chaos of work and family life, I retired last week. So…I’m taking a deep breath and jumping back into blog life and family exploration.
Post-retirement getaway number one will include a quick family history stop in Baltimore next week. No research, but a 24-hour pilgrimage to visit five generations of houses, work, school, and worship places, and a cemetery. I lived in Baltimore until I was five, and with no family there after we left, have never really explored the family sites.
Nicholas Snowden Hill about 1909 with his daughter, Mary (Hill) Mills, and grandchildren. L to R: Elsie (my grandmother), Audrey, Mary Carroll, and Jimmy.
A big part of my love of genealogy (and of history in general) is about putting people in the context of their places–geographical genealogy. I want to be able to visualize where they lived and what they did there. Placing Granny in her childhood home–an urban row house on Park Avenue, Baltimore, full of children; picturing the 1912 funeral of her beloved grandfather, conducted by his lifelong friend, Cardinal Gibbons, at the Baltimore Basilica; walking the Johns Hopkins University campus where my dad studied and my parents strolled with me as a toddler, all keeps their memories alive and vibrant in a way that mere names and dates never can.
And then there’s my inner architectural historian at work. To see these buildings that are so evocative of their time and place–the Italianate row houses in the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, the 1920s apartment building near Hopkins, the spectacular, high Victorian Johns Hopkins University Hospital. These places would speak to me even if they weren’t tied to my family, but those connections make them especially dear.
Step one in my geographical genealogy research is to figure out where my people lived, most often through census records and city directories. According to these records and the deeds for the property, my great grandparents, James and Mary (Hill) Mills moved to their home on Park Avenue in 1900 with my grandmother, Elsie, age 1. They had been married two years, and rented the house for five years before Mary bought it in 1905. They remained on Park Avenue for the rest of their married life. James, a physician and medical professor at Hopkins, ran his practice from home, and he and Mary raised their four children here. By the time James died in 1925, the children were grown, and Mary sold the house and moved in 1927.
After identifying the locations of family places, then comes the fun part–seeing what they looked like. Through the wonders of Google maps street view I’ve figured out which of these homes and related places are still standing (happily, most of them), and found current images of the ones that survive.
James and Mary (Hill) Mills’ home on Park Avenue in Baltimore (left of the white building).
My pilgrimage will include a few sites from my own early childhood, including a peek at one of my earliest homes.
The Bradford Apartments on St Paul Street, where I lived with my parents in the late ’50s.
And for extra thrills, real estate websites have even provided interior views of the Park Avenue house (now apartments, but a few original details survive), and some beautiful 19th century interior features of the Eutaw Place house where my grandfather was a tenant while he attended medical school at Johns Hopkins. Seeing the very rooms where my family lived a century ago takes my breath away.
A 2nd floor bedroom (Granny’s?) in the Park Avenue Mills House, courtesy of an online rental listing.
Perhaps my grandfather, Ken Oliver, had a chair in this first floor window, or in a similar upper story window when he rented here on Eutaw Place in 1926.
Of course, public buildings are easy to find, and I’m headed to see a few of those as well. James Mills, my great grandfather, taught at the Hopkins medical school, where my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver was his student in the 1920s. One thing led to another, and Ken married Dr. Mills’ daughter Elsie in 1925.
An early view of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, completed in 1889.
I grew up on my critter-loving grandmother’s stories about Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, her adored, indulgent grandfather, and most of those stories were about animals. Grandfather Hill took her to the circus, and soon after, he bought her Mars, the circus pony. He told her he had a surprise, and to pick a pocket in his overcoat. There was a puppy in each pocket. Granny’s stories were magical to a granddaughter who was equally animal crazed.
Nicholas Hill was a colorful figure in Baltimore. His family was among the earliest, Catholic settlers of the Maryland colony. He was raised in what is now Upper Marlboro, on one of Prince George’s County’s large tobacco farms. Sadly, his father, Charles, had many enslaved workers there. (A topic for further research). After serving in the Confederate Army in Arkansas as “Commissary of Subsistence,” he worked for many years as purchasing agent for the B & O Railroad, and later was managing director of the Carrollton Hotel and the Merchants’ Club.
I was curious about the Merchants’ Club, and a quick search led to this treasure:
This 1896 article from the Baltimore Sun went viral. It was reprinted in publications ranging from The Annals of Hygiene, a medical journal; to Good Houskeeping, to the Scranton Republican, which expanded on the unappetizing muskrat, “its flesh is fat and greasy unto nastiness.”
Part of my family history search always includes looking for the places as well as the people, and up popped this wonderful image of the Merchants’ Club, site of the muskrat luncheon.
Design for Merchant’s Club Building on German St., Baltimore, MD J. A. and W. J. Wilson, architect(s). From the American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882
The Baltimore architectural firm of John Appleton Wilson and his cousin, William Thomas Wilson designed the Merchants’ Club. They were active from the late 19th century through 1907, and designed many private homes in and around Baltimore, many in the Queen Anne style, along with public and commercial buildings.
Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 destroyed both the Merchants’ Club and the Carrollton Hotel, and most certainly had a profound impact on Nicholas Hill’s life. To be continued…
The Annals of Hygiene, Volume 11, p. 383
American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882