Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Post-Parting Blues

After losing a husband, especially in those early years of the twentieth century, a widow didn’t have many opportunities to support herself. Compounding that dilemma with multiple children, then factoring in the loss of both her parents and only sister, left Mary Phillips with limited options once she lost Patrick in that unexpected work incident in 1912.

Just in case she came up with a way to support her family, I took a peek at the next census record to see if she were listed as a working woman.

The 1920 census didn’t provide much help. Though her oldest daughter, Helen, was now eighteen and employed as a stenographer for a printing company, Mary’s own “occupation” was listed as “none.”

Interestingly, though, that same census record revealed that Mary owned her home, free of any obligation to pay a mortgage.

Granted, Mary—now fifty two herself—still had three daughters of school age living at home, including twelve year old Mary Celeste. In addition, the household included a lodger—though on closer inspection, it turns out to be Mary’s own baby brother John Kelly, now forty two, who worked as a conductor for the railroad, himself. Perhaps he and his sister had made financial arrangements to help her through this difficult challenge.

Knowing that, by 1920, this era was experiencing a number of changes—including that of women working outside the home—I thought I’d look up some city directories to see if Mary was listed as a seamstress, or took in laundry, or found some other home-based way to make ends meet.

The closest city directory available for Fort Wayne after Patrick’s death was for 1917. Admittedly, that was five years after his passing, but at least it provided a snapshot of a date prior to that 1920 census. And yet, even here, the listing only mentions Mary as “widow Patrick H.” followed by that same home address. Other women on that page were shown as having occupations, but not Mary.

Could it be that John took on the responsibility of supporting his brother-in-law’s four children as well as his sister?

While that would have been magnanimous of him—and while he most likely made sacrifices on behalf of the distraught family—that may not have been the case, as indicated by headlines appearing in The Fort Wayne Daily News nine months after Patrick’s death:
Sues Wabash for $10,000
Does Mary Phillips for Death of her Husband


  1. I see we're playing with a little dark humor crafting a playful title in the wake of a horrible accident. You rock! And so does Mary -- no whimpering widow here.

    1. Mary certainly seemed to have some spunk--which is good. That kind of episode would just destroy some people.

  2. Hmm.. if she won that much I would be greatly surprised. The railroads of the time were usually let off the hook pretty easy for all the carnage they did...

    1. That, in itself, may be the very reason why that lawsuit was being pushed forward.


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