Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Making of Childhood Memories

So many parents have commented on how they would like to give their children a better childhood than they, themselves, had experienced. Most of us, having achieved an improved version of the American Dream our parents once chased, are able to do that for our own families.

In widow Mary Kelly Phillips case, the challenge was a bit more complicated. There is no way—no matter how much we may try—to make up for the father a child has lost in his or her early years.

But I’m sure she tried.

By the time the Phillips court case had come to the point of a verdict—and then, rebuffed an attempt to gain a retrial in June, 1914—Mary’s oldest daughter, Helen, was nearing thirteen years of age. The youngest child, Celeste, had just cleared her seventh birthday.

Fortunately, thanks to the chatty Society pages of the various Fort Wayne newspapers of the time, we can gain a glimpse of how Mary’s girls fared, sans father, in their pre-teen and teen years.

From The Fort Wayne News on October 12, 1915, we learn of Celeste’s attendance at a gala celebration of a fifth birthday for a friend. Let it be noted that the “few” friends listed along with Celeste amounted to a sizable gathering.
Little Miss Rosella, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hosbach, invited a few of her little girl friends to her home on Saturday afternoon…to help celebrate her 5th birthday anniversary. The afternoon was spent in playing games and several pretty favors were awarded those fortunate enough to prove themselves winners in the contests. At 5 o’clock the small folks removed to the dining room, where a beautiful big birthday cake and other goodies…awaited them. The dining room was decorated in pink and white and at each place at the table dainty pink baskets filled with bonbons added a pretty touch. The children who enjoyed this jolly celebration and who with presents, numerous and pretty, made this day an unusually pleasant one for Miss Rosella were Misses…Celeste Phillips…

Another interesting celebration mentioned in the August 4, 1915, Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel—complete with group photograph—was the surprise party for a grandmother and her two granddaughters. The large group was treated to a rather nice party. It’s too bad the names listed in the article didn’t seem to correspond to the individuals’ placement in the photograph. I would have liked to see if Helen and Grace were able to keep up with their peers in their choice of party frocks. I tend to think they did.

Not all the articles concerned themselves with frivolous events. There were some reports of fundraising efforts in which the Phillips girls were listed. Charitable events seemed, during that era, to be the hallmark of the more fortunate in society, though others certainly could participate in such events as a way to show their own gratitude for what they’d been given. I suppose I shouldn’t read much into such stories. Helen led an effort, herself, to raise funds at one event for the Red Cross. Even younger sisters Margaret and Celeste were apparently encouraged to participate in creating fundraising opportunities, as their names could be seen listed in this event mentioned in The Fort Wayne News and Sentinel on one Friday, August 2, 1918:
The sum of ten dollars was realized for the local chapter of the Red Cross by a group of young girls of the southside as the result of an entertainment and sale which they held Wednesday afternoon and evening… The entertainment consisted of a playlet entitled “The Dinner Party,” …Besides the entertainment the girls had refreshment booths at which they sold ice cream, pop, popcorn and other things which swelled the fund quite a little…

Perhaps all children—whether destitute or coddled—became subjects of fawning society pages during that era. I really don’t know. From the wide variety of entries in which Helen, Grace, Margaret and Celeste were mentioned over those years, it appears that there were many bright spots in their childhood. True, that might have been owing to fine, upstanding and magnanimous citizens of Allen County seeking to insure that no underprivileged child be left out of the city’s social goings-on. I prefer to think of it as a sign that their mother, though a widow, was not doing so badly, after all.


  1. Oh my. Can you imagine being a Woodward or Bernstein wannabe and being assigned to cover a child's birthday party? Can you imagine how thick our newspapers would be if they covered every shindig at Chuck E Cheese or Monkey Joe's?

    1. Yes! Think about it! But that was then...a very different world, and a small-town style of "reporting."

  2. People were social back then, My husbands Grandmother used to be in charge of the "area news" which often included birthday celebrations and comings and goings of various people...many ladies throughout the community turned in their news via telephone...which caused many spelling mistakes with names. I suppose in bigger cities it was the Society page, in smaller areas it helped to sell papers:)

    1. That was a smart move for selling newspapers. Not to mention...I'm glad they did, or else I and so many others wouldn't have any way at all to take a glimpse at what life was like for our ancestors.

  3. Small town newspapers really provided us color for the "black and white" days!

    I wonder what will the "record" be like for us, say a hundred years from now - it's beyond imagining.

    1. I found it fascinating to read about the project to archive the old GeoCities content--in some cases a bunch of babble, but in other cases a wealth of information. To be able to capture an entire Twitter stream or Facebook timeline...well...I don't know. It would serve the time capsule aspect in a way, but be so much effort to distill the valuable down to a representable scale--maybe something like a word cloud?


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