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When I started the genealogy blog, started going to genealogy meetings, and became more involved with genealogy social networks, I think what I was truly looking for was discussion.  I wanted to connect with people researching similar problems and get advice, and perhaps offer it sometimes.  I was recently inspired by Randy Seaver’s crowd-sourcing of a family history problem he’s been tracing for years.  So I’m crowd sourcing some ideas and info on Anna Jean (Bennett) Douglas.

I don’t have one percent of Randy’s readership, but I am hoping that a reader might know something about Montreal records, Boston records, Bennetts, or have some magic pixie dust to sprinkle on this.

Here is what I know about my grandfather’s “Aunt Jennie”:

Aunt Jennie with great-nieces around 1932 – my mom Pat and her twin, Ann.

The early years of Aunt Jennie’s life are a mystery, up until her marriage to William W. Douglas in 1884.  I have very little to go on.  The details of her early life are interesting to me because Aunt Jennie’s mother is my gg-grandmother Catherine Yonge (Bennett) (Baldwin) Ross from Surrey, England.  Knowing more about Jennie’s early life is bound to reveal more about Catherine’s.

The mystery period is 1853-1884:

  1. She usually reported her birth date as 16 July 1853 or 1854 in either Belmont, NY or Rochester, NY.  No contemporary record found.
  2. 1860 Federal Census, Amity (now Belmont), Allegany County, New York, she is living with mother Catherine and stepfather Edward Baldwin (“Ed Baldin”, “Cate”), plus young sister Hattie.
  3. 1873 Marriage #1 to Harrison Gilley, Sterling, Mass.  Jennie’s mother lived in Sterling with new husband #3, Hiram Ross.  Harrison Gilley was a Boston druggist and Civil War vet.  Record on FamilySearch.org.
  4. 1884 Marriage #2 to William Wilberforce Douglas, a Providence attorney, in Newton, Mass, where Jennie’s mother and stepfather Catherine and Hiram Ross were now living.  Second marriage for her, first for him.  Record on FamilySearch.org.   She is listed as “Ann Jean Bennett”, not Gilley.
  5. An early undated picture of Aunt Jennie has a “Montreal” mark.  Why would she be in Montreal?  Were her father and brother (both named William Bennett) there?  Or could it be a picture taken while traveling?

Anna Jean in Montreal. “Wm. Notman & Son, Montreal”

AFTER 1884, no more mystery; we know a lot about the rest of her life, because my mom knew her.  Aunt Jennie was a loyal friend to all her nieces and nephews and their families. She and her husband traveled extensively.  I believe my grandfather was a favorite; mom has many mementos of Aunt Jennie’s life and travels.

  • 1900 Federal Census, Providence, R.I.  Living with husband W.W. Douglas; they never had any children.
  • 1910 Federal Census, Providence, R.I.  Living with husband W.W. Douglas
  • 1920 Federal Census, Providence, R.I.  Living with husband W.W. Douglas
  • 1930 Federal Census, Washington, DC.  A widow in an apartment in DC.  She later returned to Providence.
  • 19 Aug 1939.  Death in Providence.  My mom remembers how sad it was to pay the last visit to her apartment, shortly before Aunt Jennie’s death.  Buried at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence.
  • I have her Probate records from the Providence City Hall.

Anna Jean and husband, Judge Douglas, at their home at 121 George Street, Providence, early in their marriage.

Here are my questions:

Where was Anna Jean in 1865?  not in the NY state census for Amity.  In 1870?  She was not living in Sterling, Mass. with her mother, the newly remarried Catherine Ross (wife of Hiram).  In 1880?  Since I also have very little trace of her brother, artist William Blackstone Bennett during these years, she may have been with him and her father.

Her father is named either Thomas or William T. Bennett. Who is he?  I have found him only once – Aunt Jennie’s brother William married in 1890 in Digby, Nova Scotia and gave his father’s info as William Bennett, builder and stated his own place of birth was Rochester, NY.    The 1890 Rochester City Directory does list a William Bennett, Carpenter, b. r. 448 North av.  But no other Rochester City Directory has a William Bennett that seems to be a builder or carpenter.  He may have been in a different location entirely by then.  But something about that Nova Scotia record (plus the fact that Anna Jean and her brother were not always with their mom) suggests to me that William Bennett Sr was still living in 1890.

How did she meet and marry Harry Gilley from Boston in 1873?  How long did they stay married?  where and when did they divorce?

How did she meet her second husband William W. Douglas, who spent his life in Providence?  I know quite a bit about his family and professional history, but it doesn’t give me any clues.

I love this picture. She has the dog (Dinah) dancing on the dining room table!

The pictures tell the story

The quality of the last two snapshots is not good; I suspect Uncle Will bought a camera for home use when they were first available – could that have been in the late 1880′s?  My mother remembers Aunt Jennie when she was quite old, and the thing she is most sure about is that her father cared very much about Aunt Jennie.  Just based on the pictures here, she looks like someone you would want to meet.  I love how proud she was of my beautiful mom and her sister.  I love how her husband was willing to snap photos of the dancing dog – probably quite expensive in those days!

About the only two solid ideas that I have are:

  • explore Boston City Directories for first husband Harrison Gilley’s whereabouts each year. He was in the 1870 U.S. Census in Boston, living with his family. His 1891 Civil War pension application indicates he is divorced.   He died (“Harry Gilley”) at the Consumptive Hospital in Boston 25 Jun 1892.  The city directories may indicate how long the marriage lasted.
  • The other idea is to seek the divorce record of Anna Jean and Harrison Gilley “New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians” by Diane Rapaport (Burlington, Mass., Quill Pen Press:  2006)  suggests that divorce records from this time period will be in the archives of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Boston.  She suggests contacting them for information on locating a specific record.  I sent an email tonight, I hope they can help me.

If anyone has any better ideas, or can find anything, let me know!

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Over the last few years I have made a lot of progress on tracing my mother’s family.   Over the next year or two I hope to do some research on ten problems I’ve identified.  I am recording them here, and I will provide links, in the future, to any postings I do about each one.

What surprised me about this list is the huge range of skills and strategies that I would need to pursue these questions.  Searching in accessible resources and repositories has helped, but not solved these problems.  This is where research really begins. None of these are easy, but working on them will be a real education.

1. Jessie Ruth (McLeod) Murdock, 1861 – 1936

Jessie Ruth McLeod with husband Louis Murdock

Jessie Ruth McLeod was born March 10, 1861 in Pictou, Nova Scotia.  She is my great great grandmother along the all-female line.  Her marriage certificate lists her parents as William and Rachel McLeod.  She arrived in the U.S. around 1881.  There is no evidence of her coming with close family, but it’s hard to believe she came without family or friends at all.   Her subsequent life I know all about, but this is all I have of her family origins.  I have only one possible match in the Canadian census, and the only other clue is that her eventual father in law, William Murdock, had also come from Pictou, much earlier.

  • Skills needed:  Make timeline for her, try once again to learn more about her father in law’s Pictou  family, and explore naturalization records in Massachusetts.  Re-explore family records for clues.

2. Catherine (Youngs Bennett Baldwin) Ross, 1835 – 1907

Worcester Daily Spy, 03 May 1894. Catherine and third husband, Hiram Ross, lost their house in a fire in Sterling, Mass.

Another great-great-grandmother, Catherine Youngs, is the kind of mystery woman a person could chase for decades.  Born in Surrey, England, perhaps on 4 Jul 1835, Catherine arrived in the U.S. around 1843.  On one marriage certificate she lists her parents as William and Catherine Youngs.  On another, she lists them as “unknown.”  Three of her children thought her maiden name was Youngs, and one thought it was Spaulding.  She was married three times, to Bennett, Baldwin, and Ross.  After her marriage to Hiram Ross in 1870, I know a great deal about her.  Before that, very little.  Her first home in the U.S. could have been Massachusetts or New York, or someplace else.  If she came with family, I know nothing about them.

  • Skills needed:  Analyze all data reported by her and by others about her, look for other British citizens in Allegany County, New York, explore early British census and vital records,  explore U.S. immigration and naturalization records in Massachusetts and New York, look for the first husband William Bennett using methods appropriate for common name searches, and talk to my mother about the idea that her father could have been wrong about his grandmother’s maiden name being Spaulding.

3. Maria (Shipley) Martin, 1848 – ?

Maria’s daughter Bessie’s marriage announcement fails to mention Maria’s husband, although I know he was alive. — The Milton News/Dorchester Advertiser vol. XII No. 24, 10 Sep 1892

The problem with yet another great great grandmother, Maria Shipley, is almost the opposite problem.  Born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia around 1841, I know a great deal about her Shipley/Innis/Dougherty/Bransby/Munroe ancestors.  She came to the U.S. around 1885 with her husband and children, and at least one sister. But after her daughter’s wedding in 1892 in Milton, Massachusetts, at which time she seems to be separated from her husband, I have no knowledge of her.  So I would like to know more.

  • Skills needed:  Find local newspapers for any town she might have been living in. Pin down locations and circumstances for each relative I know of in Massachusetts, which would be her estranged husband, her six children, her sister, and a niece.

4. Anna Jean (Bennett Gilley) Douglas, 1854 – 1939

Anna Jean in Montreal. Perhaps around 1880?

My grandfather’s aunt Anna Jean Bennett was born in Belmont, New York in 1854 and her parents seem to have divorced, perhaps, soon after.  By 1860 she was living with her mother and stepfather in Belmont, in obscure poverty.  In 1873 she married a Boston druggist, Harrison Gilley.  They divorced at some point and in 1884 she married a Providence attorney, William Wilberforce Douglas, who became a judge and, eventually, Chief Justice of the R.I. Supreme Court.  From 1884 on, I am very familiar with her life.  But other than that first marriage record, I have no idea what happened to her from 1860 to 1884.  The lovely photographic portrait of her above was taken in Montreal during this period.  Her brother was a globe-trotting artist.  Who was her father (named William Bennett)?  I would like to know her story, which I suspect is fascinating.

  • Skills needed: Learn more about Canadian border crossings  for this time period, as well as Montreal resources such as newspapers, employment records, city directories, high schools, art.  Try to find her in the 1870/71 census, and 1880/81, possibly living with her father in the U.S. or Canada, using searches on multiple members of the family, since her father and brother have very common names. Since the first husband was from Boston, use city directories to pin down his locations over many years. Review all later artifacts, documents and photos for additional clues.

5. Hannah (Andrews) Lamphere, 1819? – 1878

Cemetery surrounding the Long Society Meeting House in Preston

Hannah Andrews, my ggg-grandmother, was born in Massachusetts or Connecticut around 1819.  She has a brother Alden and her parents’ names may be Jesse and Sarah Andrews.  She married Russell Lamphere, Jr. in 1838 in Preston, Connecticut.  There were a number of Andrews who moved from northeastern Massachusetts to Preston about 130 years before Hannah was born.  But Hannah may actually have been born in Massachusetts.  Her brother married a girl from Springfield, Mass.  I can find no sign of her parents – I wonder if they died young.

  • Skills needed: do another literature search, analyze known information, learn more about guardianship records just over the border in the central portion of southern Massachusetts and also in Preston.  Explore church records for the church where they married.

6. Daniel Lamphere, 1745? – 1808

Russell Lamphere, late of Westerly, but now residing in Norwich

Daniel Lamphere is the father of my gggg-grandfather Russell Lamphere, Sr.  The detail above from Daniel’s 1808 probate file, about his son Russell, is part of the substantial evidence of the branch back to Daniel.  Daniel, from Westerly, is likely descended somehow from George Lamphere, an original settler of Westerly, R.I.  But there were several Daniel Lampheres in the area at that time and it’s confusing, so, no luck so far.

  • Skills needed: Learning more about all the people surrounding Daniel and his wife Nancy is the strategy I have started and plan to continue.  Track down his Westerly deeds.  Find out where he’s buried. 

7. Lydia (Miner) Lamphere, 1787 – 1849

The Factories at Yantic Falls, Norwich, from “Connecticut Historical Collections” by John Warner Barber, 1836.

Lydia Miner of Norwich, Connecticut, my gggg-grandmother, married Russell Lamphere, Sr. in 1807 in Norwich, CT.  She passed away in Norwich in 1849.  There is some suggestion she may have been born in Rhode Island, most likely just over the border in Westerly, like her husband.  Miners originally settled the nearby southeastern corner of Connecticut.  People familiar with the well-documented Miners/Minors think this problem should be easily solved, but so far, it hasn’t been.  I believe Lydia and her husband were attracted by the growing factories in Norwich, since they lived in the Yantic Falls neighborhood.  Of all of my family, they were among the earliest to abandon farming for industrial life.  It’s possible that she and Russell met as factory hands, or that her father worked in an early factory.

  • Skills needed: Local Yantic Falls history is likely to provide additional clues.   Also, less easily accessed sources of local Westerly and Norwich information such as church  records, town council records, the Connecticut State Library, cemetery records, and still more tracing of each of their children may help.  Analyzing every available fact may bring up other possibilities.  I would like to find where she and Russell are buried.

8. Thomas Arnold, 1733 – 1817

Thomas’ father (Lieut. Thos.) appears in a 1748 Highway District list, a good source to learn who the neighbors are, on page 30 of “History of the Town of Smithfield” by Thomas Steere, 1881.

My ggggggg-grandfather Thomas Arnold comes from a well-documented Smithfield, Rhode Island family.  But of course my branch is not so well documented.  His wife, Rachel, might be a Smith.   That possibility is repeated here and there with no evidence.  I wonder if a concentrated look at deeds or other local records might help me determine Thomas’ association with nearby Smith families.

  • Skills needed: Investigate town records from Smithfield and any deed connected with Thomas (who is not the only Thomas Arnold in that area).  Continue to research each of the children.

9. Mercy (Ballou) Aldrich, 1778 – ?

1803 Divorce granted to Mercy Ballou by the R.I. Supreme Court

Working on Thomas Arnold, and local deeds, might help me figure out whatever happened to his granddaughter, my ggggg-grandmother Mercy Ballou, who divorced Nathan Aldrich in 1803. I have no knowledge of her life after that, but I would like to know what happened to her.  Her former husband, and his second wife, sold property to her father after the divorce, and I believe they moved up the road to Wrentham, Mass after that. I am trying to pin down her father Richard Ballou’s property to find a location she may have returned to after her divorce.

  • Skills needed: There are numerous small family cemeteries in Smithfield.  I wonder if she could have been buried there.  Her father’s 1824 will only mentions his wife and “lawful heirs”, no specifics.  Knowing far more about her siblings might help.  

10. Russell R. Lamphere, 1818 – 1898

After leaving Alabama in the mid-1870′s, Russell ended up using his metalworking skills at the Oriental Mills, in Providence. This is the building (Union Paper) as it appears today.

Of all the details of my ggg-grandfather Russell Lamphere‘s life that I don’t know, one thing that I am most curious about is his relationship with Connecticut Congressman John Turner Wait.  Congressman Wait submitted a war reparations bill for Russell Lamphere three times in the 1880′s.  What happened in Alabama that would have justified reparations, and why were they submitted by a Connecticut Congressman even though Russell and his family had moved from Alabama to Rhode Island?  There is nothing in Congressman Wait’s rather illustrious family history that suggests a connection to either Russell’s wife or mother, and yet I suspect there is a connection, or at the very least, perhaps Mr. Wait left some papers.

  • I am also learning a lot more about Tuscaloosa, Alabama during the Civil War.  A kind reader approached NARA in Washington DC about any files connected to Russell’s war claims.  Staff did some substantial searching; it wasn’t perfunctory.  So I feel fairly confident there is nothing to be found there.  I need to move on.  I have a half-formed idea that studying Congressman Wait’s complete genealogy will reveal some answers to my own.

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Yes, you read that right, my family members were willing to make a little research trip recently.  They got a few instructions from me and off they went to the beautiful county seat of Belmont, New York, to look for some court records.  How did I get them to do this, you ask?  I really have no idea.  Incessantly asking, perhaps …

Dad searching in the records

Dad, Mom, my sister Bonnie and brother in law Doug spent an afternoon in Belmont looking for records of our ancestors Edward and Catherine (Youngs) Baldwin, who lived in Belmont for less than a decade around 1860. Two children were most likely born there, Harriet and my mother’s grandfather, Miles Edward Baldwin.  Catherine’s earlier marriage may have taken place in Belmont, or perhaps not.  Although my breakthrough about the origins of the Baldwins has helped us know more about Edward Baldwin, we are still mystified about many details of Catherine’s complicated life (which began, somehow, in Surrey, England).

Allegany County Courthouse

Here are the questions:

  • Are there birth records for any of the children?    NO.
  • Are there records for either of Catherine’s marriages?   NO.
  • Is there evidence of a divorce between Catherine and her first husband (who was still living in 1890) or, less likely, between Catherine and Edward?   NO.
  • Are there any records that might throw some light on Catherine’s first husband, William Bennett?   NOT REALLY.

Mom going through an index

This last question is somewhat less clear because they talked to the county historian, Craig Braack, and he told them that there was, historically, a large Bennett family in nearby Granger.  We may be able to contact them.  My relatives made notes of some Bennetts found in census volumes there.  They didn’t go into deeds, which are unlikely to be fruitful in this case.

Current location of the county historian’s office

The county historian can help genealogists hire a local researcher if they are unable to visit Belmont.  That is how email questions will be handled.  He pointed out that for the early years when no official records were recorded, local newspapers might occasionally have birth, death or marriage notices.  An overview of local newspaper holdings can be found at the New York State Library.  For those wishing to access a few volumes of Allegany County Probate records from home, FamilySearch has some Allegany County Probate Record books.

They enjoyed a nice lunch at the Fountain Bistro nearby.

Lunchtime at the Fountain Bistro

All in all, I think it was a worthwhile trip.  It was good to get confirmation that government birth, death and marriage records were not kept in Allegany County at that time.  A divorce between Catherine and husband #1 was worth searching for.   Another place where I will try to find that is Middlesex County, Massachusetts, or Worcester County, Mass.  Next on the research strategy list would probably be immigration or naturalization records for Catherine, either in Massachusetts or New York.  I’ve tried to find that, but haven’t tried hard enough.

It’s certainly good to have some support on the genealogy front.  Whether the relatives hunt for old pictures, consult other relatives, accompany you to the cemeteries, or actually go looking for records, it really helps.

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By 1900 Sophia had lived through an unusual childhood (Part 1), a wonderful educational opportunity (Part 2), and an early career success and downfall (Part 3).  At this point she married my gg-uncle William Blackstone Bennett in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

A contemporary newspaper article about the marriage was written by someone who had met her and William, and probably influences my view of them more than the many architecture articles I’ve perused.

The Boston Daily Advertiser of May 3, 1900 reported from Winthrop that “both are highly esteemed and respected”; she “early displayed a talent for art and architectural design.”  Several medals related to Sophia’s work on the Woman’s Building were mentioned.   The writer denied an apparent earlier story that she had ever “gained any income from her needle”, saying that although she was “versatile as well as talented”, “needlework of any sort is not among her accomplishments.”  The couple “studied art together and thus found their first mutual interests.”  The wedding was performed in Providence by “Justice Douglas, brother-in-law to Mr. Bennett.  It was therefore a family affair.”  William is described as a “portrait painter, and spent years in Montevideo and Buenos Ayres.”  Lately he “has given more of his time to interior decoration and design.”  William’s daughter returned from staying with her aunt in Orange to “become a member of the newly formed household” and is “well pleased with her handsome and young new mama.”  He closes with a word about the bride’s “attractive personality,” mentioning “all the charms of a modest, well-bred, highly cultured and talented American girl combined with the dower of her Spanish ancestors in the way of glorious eyes and hair.”

They only had 9 years together

Ad from the 1904 Winthrop Directory

This ad from the 1904 Winthrop Directory shows that William’s business had moved into the interior decor realm.  I would have to assume that this provided a better income than portrait painting, however, I also suspect he never stopped painting.

William died of pneumonia on April 11, 1909.  The couple never had any children of their own.  Sophia and her stepdaughter, Jennie May, continued to live in the home they owned in Winthrop at 369 Shirley Street.  In census records, Sophia usually listed herself as a Designer – Novelty Co.  Jennie May became a nurse and is listed that way (as “Minnie”) in the 1918 “Winthrop Directory”.  A picture of her in uniform was among my grandfather’s WWI photos.

Jennie May Bennett, 1920

Jennie May grew up

Jennie May was married by 1920 and living in Gardner, Mass. with her husband.  They had one son that I know about, Billy.  One last picture shows a family get-together around 1935 with Jennie May, her son Billy, Aunt Hattie’s widower Uncle Gene, Jennie May’s cousins Jim Baldwin and Edna Baldwin (Edna’s husband Miles is undoubtedly taking the picture), Edna’s father  Russell Darling who must have gone along for the ride, and finally the two unruly tots are my mother and her twin sister.  The man behind Jennie May might be her husband; my mother is not sure. The picture was taken at Uncle Gene’s home in Cochituate, Massachusetts.

Sophia died in 1953

Sophia remained in Winthrop until her death in February, 1953 at age 84.  I know very little about her life after 1920 but if I ever reconnect with Jennie May’s descendants I will help them add more details to the archives at MIT.

I suspect, but don’t know, that Sophia was the best thing that ever happened to that “Novelty Co.”  and that her fame may have faded but her talent and hard work never did.

Sources

Gullet, Gayle. “Organized Women Advance Women’s Work at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.”  Illinois Historical Journal (Winter 1994). PDF edition. Illinois State Historical Society. http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1994winter/ishs-1994winter259.pdf

“Hayden, Sophia Gregoria.”  In Notable American Women: The Modern Period, edited by Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green, 322-24.  Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980.

“Lucky Sophia Hayden – Her Design Selected for the Woman’s Building at the Chicago Exposition,” New York Herald, 06 April 1891, p. 4, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank  (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 Oct 2011).

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Boston. 1880 U.S. census, population schedule. Enumeration District 766, p. 493, dwelling 128, family 173, Sophia Hayden; digital images. Ancestry.comhttp://www.ancestry.com : 2010.  From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop Township. 1900 U.S. census. Enumeration District 1578, sheet 3A, dwelling 49, family 61, William Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop Township. 1910 U.S. census. Enumeration District 1689, sheet 12B, dwelling 247, family 271, Sophia G. Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop.  Precinct 3. 1920 U.S. census. Enumeration District 676, sheet 23A, dwelling 339, family 583, Sophia Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Massachusetts. Suffolk County. Winthrop. 1930 U.S. census. Enumeration District 13-573, sheet 30A, dwelling 408, family 674, Sophia Bennett;  digital images.  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com : 2010. From National Archives microfilm.

Millet, F.D. “The Designer of the Fair.”  Harpers New Monthly Magazine, November 1892, 872-83.

“Miss Hayden’s Romance,” Boston Daily Advertiser, 03 May 1900, p. 8, col. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 Oct 2011).

“Sophia G. Hayden.”  In We The Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth Century America,” by Madeleine B. Stern, 67-76.  New York: Schulte Publ. Co., 1963.

Weimann, Jeanne Madeline. “The Fair Women.”   Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981.

“The Woman’s Building.” In Rand McNally and Company’s A Week at the Fair, 177-182.  Chicago: Rand McNally, 1893.  http://ia600200.us.archive.org/8/items/randmcnallycoswe00chic/randmcnallycoswe00chic.pdf

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Sophia Goes to the Fair

Remembering Sophia Hayden Bennett, Part 3
Sophia’s great moment

Before she married into my family (Part 1), Sophia’s talents and education (Part 2) led her to a career in architecture.

The 1892 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition was planned to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in North America.  More importantly to those who pushed the Chicago site, it was meant to showcase the booming city of Chicago to the world.  Many noted architects from leading firms were offered opportunities to design the impressive buildings and grounds needed for the huge 6-month event.  For the Woman’s Building, the “Board of Lady Managers” insisted on a female architect, and launched a competition for the job.

Woman's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, from The Book of the Fair by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1893

Sophia’s entry won the competition.  She was 21 years old.

She was paid $1000 for the job, far less than the male architects working on other buildings.  She had a lot of work to do to prepare the plans and, being inexperienced, was surprised when fairly major changes were demanded in the midst of her work.  As the building progressed, the Board of Lady Managers, led by prominent Chicago socialite Bertha Honore Palmer, wished to highlight the talent and workmanship of many artistic women, and so accepted loans of “women’s work” from many quarters of the world for inclusion in the building.

As the requests to accommodate these works caused more and more friction with Sophia, who was determined to produce a building that followed sound design principles, the crisis apparently came in the form of Sophia’s meltdown in the office of the Fair’s Chief of Construction, Daniel Burnham.

Entrance to the Woman's Building, from The Book of the Fair by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1893

The meaning of this (a “nervous breakdown”?) and its aftermath are hard to pinpoint in the many accounts that have been written in the 120 years since.  Sophia withdrew from most of the actual construction phase but returned later and was given a medal and various accolades.   However the damage to her career was done since men used the upset to point out that women were incapable of managing construction.

Despite the  almost incalculable pressures brought to bear on an inexperienced 22/23-year old, the fabulous building itself and its early completion were never proof enough of her competence in a world that wanted to doubt women’s strength.  After her return to Boston, she was unable to find architectural work again, even though some of the architectural community had risen to her defense.  This leaves people wondering if dropping out of architecture may have been her own choice.  The Women’s Building was destroyed, along with most of the others, after the fair closed.

In an ironic twist, it should be noted that Mrs. Palmer’s goal was to use the Woman’s Building to change, forever, the perceived role of women in the workplace by showcasing their work; Sophia may have been one casualty in a complicated battle that was not, perhaps, actually lost.

Sophia returns to Boston

Once back in Boston Sophia pursued a career but was never offered a position in architecture.  In 1900, she married my g-g-uncle William Blackstone Bennett, an artist. Here is where most architecture articles end the story, suggesting that she vanished into a sad obscurity.  Given her enormous talents that may seem to be the case, but of course life goes on and I would like to know more about her life.

Next time, the few things I have learned.

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Sophia at MIT in 1888 - photo courtesy of MIT Museum

Remembering Sophia Hayden Bennett, Part 2
Back to Sophia’s story

After an unusual childhood (Part 1), a determined Sophia Hayden was among  the first women admitted to the Architecture Program at MIT in 1886.  She was one of two women in the program.  An 1888 photograph of all (about 25) MIT female students – each holding an implement appropriate to her studies – shows her looking taciturn and perhaps bored with the picture taking. She was reportedly a quiet, serious and intelligent student.  She completed the four year program with honors and graduated in 1890.

Doing some research

I made my first visit to an academic archive.  The MIT Museum holds some pictures, articles, and the thesis drawing submitted by Sophia.  I made an appointment and a kind archivist welcomed me there.  The folder of papers that I examined held the suggestion of a letter and biographical sketch from Sophia’s stepdaughter Jennie May, whose married name and 1950′s address were noted, however those documents were not among the holdings.   A visit to the School of Architecture and Planning’s Archives brought nothing else of significance although I did have the thrill of meeting an archivist who easily recognized Sophia’s name.

Sophia Hayden looking at the camera, setting unknown, courtesy of the MIT Museum

In an effort to present all facts, and not ignore those that I can’t fathom, I should add that one 1991 letter in the Museum archive mentioned that Mrs. Elihu Root III (Mary “Molly” Bidwell Root, 1917 – 2004) was the niece of Sophia.  Sophia did have three brothers and a sister, however, based on what I can quickly glean of Molly’s parents I see no way that she can be a niece or great-niece.  A mystery.

The MIT Museum holds Sophia’s thesis project, a large watercolor rendering of a Fine Arts Museum plan in the Beaux-Arts style.  The picture, below, does no justice to the project.  The original is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever seen.  The proportions, the exquisite detail and the subtle colorings show that Sophia was a natural artist.

Thesis project, elevation of a Museum of Fine Arts, photo courtesy of the MIT Museum

After graduation, Sophia accepted a position teaching mechanical drawing.  The reasons for not moving into an architectural firm at an apprentice level are not clear, although doubtless she felt she was unable to obtain that position.  Her female classmate did, however, obtain such a position.

In 1891 Sophia saw an advertisement for an architectural competition.  She entered and won.

Next time (Part 3), the story of Sophia’s amazing architectural achievement and the reason why there are no existing buildings designed by her.

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My gg-grandmother Catherine Spaulding had 4 children.  Because I have had very little luck tracing her and her husband(s) further back, I have focused a lot on those four children.  They were Aunt Jennie, my g-grandfather Miles Baldwin Sr, Aunt Hattie, and an artist, William Blackstone Bennett.

Of the four, my mother probably knew the least about William, so everything I’ve learned is from research.  He was the oldest, born to Catherine and a mysterious first husband, William or Thomas Bennett, in western New York around 1853.  He was not with his mother and the subsequent husband in the 1860 census so I can only guess he stayed with his father after a divorce.

William was a painter (sometimes “portrait painter”; later “decorator”) and traveled extensively as a young man, to various parts of the world.  That doesn’t fit well with what I know of Catherine’s life so I can only assume, again, that his father was the catalyst for this style of adventurous living. The first time I find him living with Catherine’s family is in an 1889 city directory in Newton, Mass.

He married for the first time, in 1890, a young woman from Digby, Nova Scotia named Harriet Ella Crosby.  He and “Ella” became the parents of Jennie May Bennett in 1891.  A second daughter born in 1895 lived for about nine months.  In 1896, Ella died from consumption.

After this tragedy it’s unclear how William got through the next few years but I did see, on a GenealogyBank.com local news article, that Jennie May spent some time with her mother’s sister in Orange, Massachusetts.

William marries Sophia Gregoria Hayden

In 1900, William married again, to Sophia Gregoria Hayden.  They were both residents of Winthrop, Mass. (a seaside section of Boston) but were married in Providence with Aunt Jennie’s husband, the judge, presiding.  By that time, Catherine and her third husband were also living in Providence and were in attendance.  I found the newlyweds, and Jennie May, in the 1900 census in Winthrop, living at 218 Shirley Street, and I was startled to see that the bride had been born in Chile.

Sophia’s story

photo from the November, 1892 Harper’s Magazine

Sophia Gregoria Hayden was born in 1868 in Santiago, Chile to a Peruvian mother (Elezena Fernandez Hayden) and a father (George Henry Hayden) who was a dentist from an old Massachusetts family. (Coincidentally, my mother is also descended from the Haydens, so there’s a distant connection).  She was baptised on 25 Jan 1869 in Santa Ana, Santiago, Chile.  When she was old enough to go to school, she was sent to live with her grandparents, George and Sophia Hayden, in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts.  When eventually her father and siblings moved to the U.S. and took up residence in Richmond, Virginia, she stayed with her grandparents.

I suspect that Sophia was remarkable from birth, and that is why she was sent to Boston for her education.  She was smart and immensely talented.  She graduated from Jamaica Plain High School in 1886.

Sophia was determined to pursue her dream of becoming an architect.  Next time, the story of how she did that (article 2 in this series).  This is a series of four articles, so there is also part three about Sophia’s experience at the fair, and part four about her subsequent life.

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