1918 was not a funny year, just like 2020 will go down in history as a most unfunny year. In January of 1918 the deadly ‘Spanish’ flu had yet to strike the U.S. (the first case would be reported in September of that year in New York), but our country was at war and the public was sacrificing for that effort. On January 21, 1918 Jessie mentioned “Heatless Monday” in her diary. All stores and offices were closed and people stayed home. There was a coal shortage in the country, partly because of transportation issues. The weather had been so cold in December 1917 and January 1918 that the Mississippi River had frozen across in places and blocked all shipping traffic. But the government also wanted to conserve coal and food to ship to Europe in the war effort and so the public sacrificed in these ways for about a month. The next day (January 22, 1918) was “Meatless Tuesday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” followed (January 23, 1918).
All was not grim though and here’s a funny story from Jessie’s diary, written on Wednesday, January 30, 1918.
…Had to go to the chiropodist then went out to Clara’s (Mrs. Exby). The funniest thing happened. She was showing me some letters from her ‘godson’ (the lonely soldier she is writing to at Greenville) and lo! and behold he had sent Swayne’s picture to her and said it was him. She nearly died laughing when I told her that her godson John had sent Swayne’s picture. She said “That’s not the funniest part. He kept writing for a picture of me. I didn’t want to disappoint him so I sent him a picture of you.” Then she showed me the letter where he had thanked her for her ____ picture.
Jessie and her younger brother Swayne were quite attractive.
Excitement this afternoon. Mary Keeler and Estes Armstrong, Elizabeth Edwards and Guion [Armstrong] were married and went to N.Y. From there the boys, now aviators 1st Lieut., will go to France.
It was a double wedding that Jessie attended on September 25, 1917, probably rushed because of the war and the imminent departure of the brothers. As I was searching online for the maiden name of Mary who was marrying Estes, I came across a website (findagrave.com) about their future daughter’s death at 96 (in 2016). The short biography included in her listing told me more about the two brothers. Guion did not make it back from the War. He died in action and his niece, whom he never met, was named for him.
In this biography I also read for the first time about the Memphis Gang. This was a group of 24 men, including Frank (Bud) Latham, who all took their early aviation training together in Memphis, and who were some of the very first American aviators trained to fight in the war. When the U.S. entered World War I there were about 35 pilots in the country and 51 student pilots. During the war more than 40,000 men applied for the U.S. Army Air Service. 22,000+ were accepted, and of those only about 15,000 advanced beyond ground training school to primary flying training. After Frank did that, he went for advanced training in aerial combat at Issoudun, France, at that time the largest air base in the world. These young men were heroes and their bravery was without question.
Here is a link to Invader, the magazine for the 13th Bomb Squadron, which contains an article about a member of the Memphis Gang. The article is titled Hank, starts on page 6, and contains a lot of interesting information about the aviators.
Though I posted this photo recently, I am doing it again to point out Frank’s aviator wings on his chest. His brother Swayne served in the American expeditionary forces in France.
I just love it when I’m reading about something in Jessie’s diary and realize I have the corresponding photograph(s). For that reason I am adding another post, short on words but with lots of pictures.
Saturday, September 8, 1917: Bud sailed this morning for France. He is going to some flying school just out of Paris. I can’t bear the thought of his being gone. Still, one of his greatest ambitions is being fulfilled. Swayne to-gether with the 1st Tennessee left Nashville to-day for Greenville, S.Car. They will soon leave for France. Deep in my heart I feel as though they will both come back. Good-bye, Good-luck, God bless them! On September 22, 1917 Jessie received a letter from Bud (Frank) that he had written while still at sea on the Adriatic. She had no idea whether he was yet in France.
On September 19th Jessie received a letter from Hartwell Temple (whom she always called ‘Temp’) with some Kodak pictures of her recent visit to Nashville.
On September 22, 1917, Jessie took part in a large pageant called Armageddon given at the Fair Grounds for the benefit of the Red Cross. In her words, It presents the struggle between good and evil. Upon the world stage is Hope, Faith, Love, Song, Peace, Charity, Joy, Truth and others from Elysium, all the dwellers of Arcadia and Eutopia (Zephyrs, Sunbeams, Flowers, Fairies, Pipers, Gypsies, Shepherds and Shepherdesses, Lords and Ladies). Then Discord comes through the gateway of Pandemonium. He is followed by Ambition, Hate, Jealousy, Envy, Greed, Lust who try to destroy the Court of Love. War enters the scene, followed by Disease, Famine, Pestilence and Death. And on the instant a company of Red Cross knights dash forward to repel them, the Sons of America (boy scouts and home guards) rush into the fray, the victory is won! War is banished. The dream of the ages is realized. Costumes for the pageant were supplied by the participants. Jessie was a Medieval Lady with a high pointed hat. Her costume was back and yellow and made by Jessie, her mother, and her auntie.
It was the weekend of March 30, 1917, and Jessie was visiting close friends in Covington, Tennessee. Monday, April 2nd she wrote, “J.O. and Drew both wanted dates to-night but the country is so unsettled, so much war news going around that I refused to stay longer. [I] want to be home when war is declared.” Jessie’s train left Covington fairly early that day and arrived in Memphis soon after noon. That evening Jessie wrote in her diary that President Woodrow Wilson had asked the U.S. Congress to declare war.
Monday, April 16th, “Some how ever since I got home I’ve been sad – so much war talk. Then too seeing both Swayne and Bud in their uniforms. Swayne has joined the Chicks and Bud has been transferred to the aviation corps. Here is where I become a red cross nurse.” She didn’t become a nurse, but I feel sure she thought about it. Seeing both of her siblings preparing to depart for war in France made Jessie emotional, sad and lonesome ahead of time. She loved her brothers.
Thursday, April 26, “The night the soldiers left! Swayne came out this morning to tell us good-bye. He seemed such a man when he kissed me good-bye, the tears just streaming down his dear cheeks. Bud got excused this afternoon and came out to tell us good-bye. Never before had I realized what their going really meant. No one knows when they will ever come back. Dear Sweet Bud, how I’ll miss him, for he would always come into my room at night for a talk.” The times were somber. “I’m so sad,” Jessie wrote on May 5th. “Every-body is going away. Every-body I’ve been with lately is planning to leave and it seems all my dates are ‘farewell dates’.”
The 5th of June, 1917 was the first national registration day for the newly reinstated draft. All young men between the age 21-30 had to register. “I was at some of the booths and assisted in pinning red, white, and blue ribbons on all the men who registered,” and according to Jessie, more than 10 million men across the country registered for war service that day. The mood in Memphis that day was extremely patriotic, starting with a parade downtown in the morning that included 30,000 participants, according to Jessie.
In the meantime there were Theda Bara movies to see, and Charlie Chaplin movies always made Jessie laugh. There were fine cars to ride in. In fact, on May 1st, Jessie had a date with a fellow who drove a Peerless auto. The Peerless Motor Car Co. built high quality luxury autos and were one of the Three Ps of luxury automobiles – Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow.
During this time Jessie also became better acquainted with a young businessman from Great Britain, Douglas Gardner. He often brought her gifts when he came back from business trips or vacations, and on June 28th he brought Jessie an alligator purse from his vacation in Florida. Once in her diary Jessie speculated that Douglas was probably enjoying himself during this time in Memphis. All the local young men were leaving for the war, and he being British and 32 years of age (and wealthy – he was from an old family whose lumber business had been in operation for over 400 years at that time, since 1590!) was ineligible to serve. So he became a reliable and welcome date for Jessie and a number of other young women of Jessie’s acquaintance in Memphis during this time.
On July 17th Swayne came home on a 5-day furlough, leaving again for Camp Andrew Jackson in Nashville on July 22nd. Jessie then decided to take a train tour of military camps/forts where some of her friends and Swayne were in training. On July 31st she took the train to Nashville and within a few days ‘fell in love’ with Lieut. Temple (whom she called Temp). In her diary she declared,”I can’trealize it all happened. I was so very happy, it all seems like some wonderful dream. But at present I surely think Temp is the person I’ve been looking for all these years. He said such beautiful things…” (August 4, 1917). After nine days in Nashville Jessie headed to Signal Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee and her soldier friends at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. She spent a few days there. On her way back to Memphis the train stopped in Nashville and Jessie had one last meeting with Temp before he left for France. August 14th was the day of their parting, “We had so much to say and so little time that the principle thing I can remember is Temp’s saying “I love you” over and over… How I did want to go with Temp but I’m going to try and wait until the war is over before I marry him…” So sad! So romantic! Oddly Jessie never mentioned his first name. Then she was back to Memphis and her regular life.
August 20th Swayne came home on furlough. The next day, the 21st, Bud came home thinking he had 10 days with his family, but the very next day he received a telegram telling him to report immediately. “Bud got a telegram this afternoon to report at once so he had to leave to-night. How I hated to see him go. He is nearer to me than almost anybody in the world. I love him so much. He is so wonderful that surely he will come back.” Bud’s (Frank’s) telegram telling his mother not to worry came on the 23rd.
In the winter and spring of 1917 Jessie was 22 years old. Her life has been pretty much about dating, dancing, partying, and just having fun. She reads lots of books, she teaches Sunday School, she does some “good works,” but mostly she is just having fun. Life is about to change though. The war in Europe will soon spill over into Jessie’s life and become very personal. Not just yet though. So here is another ‘slice of life’ posting, or what I like to call cultural tidbits from Jessie’s life during February and March of 1917.
Parties! Parties! Parties! Jessie wrote so many wonderful descriptions of parties and dances in her diaries, but only in the last few months of 1916 and the beginning of 1917 does she mention alcohol at the parties. It is always with code words, she never actually says alcohol or whiskey, etc., but it is obvious what she meant. On February 6, 1917 Jessie went to a wedding reception/dance that was “certainly a memorable party – absolutely wet, simply flowing, with lots of funny little happenings.” But on March 26th Jessie wrote that she went to a dance at the Tennessee Club where there was “such a world of stags. Am afraid they were rather disappointed for they all expected some glad water and there was none.”
On February 15th Jessie mentions that the government has moved the national aviation school to Memphis. Aviation shows were already popular in Memphis, so going out to the airfield to watch the aeroplanes becomes a popular activity.
The fancy dress Mardi Gras Ball was held at the Chickasaw Guards Club on February 20th, 1917. Jessie and her date ‘Coach’ are in the top right corner in the above newspaper clipping (The Commercial Appeal). Jessie and her mother made her costume. She was a “green leaf,” so her dress must have been green. Coach (R.L. Sullivan) was dressed as “a small town sport.” As you can see from the clipping, the costumes were quite creative.
It seems like Jessie’s picture was always showing up in the local newspaper! On February 28th Jessie and some other young women posed in Grecian style costumes for a newspaper spread on an upcoming pageant. The feature was published on March 11, 1917. The above pictures are the two halves of the top of the newspaper page. Jessie is in the photo of three women on a sofa. She is on the left.
On March 18, 1917, all the young men who had been sent to the border as part of the Mexican Border War returned home. No doubt the U.S. was preparing for entry into a larger conflict, World War I. The returning soldiers included the Chickasaw Guards in Memphis, of which Bud (or Frank), Jessie’s older brother, was one. All of Memphis seemed to turn out for the parade welcoming the young men home. Jessie described the scene: “1100 soldiers led by the old Confederate veterans and boy scouts. Six aeroplanes flying above, dropping messages of welcome.” On March 23rd was the final regimental review of the First Tennessee Regiment, another parade down Main Street, and a march to Russwood Park (home of the Memphis Chicks baseball team). Jessie was among a group of girls chosen to pin medals on the soldiers, and once again had her picture in the paper.The descriptions of the pictures note that Jessie (top picture) is pinning a medal on one of the “Chicks” Frank Dooley.
And here are some random final notes. On March 6, 1917, Jessie had a date with Rabbit Curry. Irby Rice (Rabbit) Curry was an honored quarterback for Vanderbilt University from 1914-1916. He would have graduated in 1918 but enlisted in the military when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Some time between going out with Jessie and leaving for Europe, Rabbit married Dimple Jenna Rush. He joined the 95th Aero Squadron and on August 10, 1918 was killed in aerial combat over Perles, France.
‘Coach’ (R.L. Sullivan), one of Jessie’s best friends, was the football coach at Memphis High when Jessie’s younger brother Swayne attended high school and played football there. On March 11, 1917 Coach returned from a visit to Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi. He told Jessie he liked it fine. Perhaps he was interviewing for a job, because he was the head football coach at “Ole Miss” from 1919 to 1921, and the head basketball coach there from 1919 to 1925.
On November 24, 1916, Jessie gave a luncheon in honor of the debutantes. She had several activities planned. During the luncheon and after each course, the girls each received a favor which represented a prediction of the future or a personal insight of some kind. Jessie drew a dipper – for the dippiest debutante. It was also predicted that she would marry a farmer, and that in the winter of 1917 she would have a love affair that would almost break her heart, but all would end well. Next, all the girls had their palms read. Jessie was told she “was fickle, but very sincere and frank.” And finally, as Jessie said, “we saw the Ghosts of my friends.” The Ghosts of My Friends was a novelty autograph book. The directions at the front of the book were: “Sign your name along the fold of the paper with a full pen of ink, and then double the page over without using blotting paper.” The ghost of your friend would then be revealed. Jessie must have bought this book especially for this luncheon, and the ghosts of all the debutantes were revealed in it that day!
After Jessie’s signature in 1916, the next entries were her husband’s signature in 1934 (Percy A. Perkins), followed by her children. My 9-year-old mother Frances signed in 1935, and my uncle Percy signed as an 8 or 9-year-old boy. The next date listed in the book is with my signature (Jenny Klein) in 1960. I was 8. My brother Vic, who was 12, signed on July 6, 1960. My sister Karen signed in June, 1964. She was 10 at the time and is the last entry, and because we no longer had good drippy fountain pens, Karen designed her own ghost. (My youngest sister Judy missed all the fun, being too little to sign.)
There was an earlier similar book titled Your Hidden Skeleton. Jessie must have gotten this book around 1910. She began having people sign her book, friends and family, on June 1, 1910. By June 4th the book was full. But inside, I was thrilled to see her mother’s beautiful penmanship and ghost, and also her father’s signature, F.S. Latham, and her brother Swayne’s autograph. A clever, but a dead entertainment.
Debutante: a young woman, typically from a wealthy or aristocratic family, who is making her formal entrance into society.
It is an old fashioned tradition, dating from late 18th century England, and at its inception was a tool to marry off daughters. Even today, the young women are dressed in almost formal bridal attire, usually white but with no veil, and presented to a select segment of society in which an available and appropriate bachelor might espy the lovely young lass and take her off her father’s hands. That sounds mighty sexist. And in fact it is, or it was. I don’t know. But I think most young debutantes today might think of the affair more like a huge party that celebrates their passage into adulthood. (Do men do that?) In all truthfulness, I too was a debutante in 1969 or ’70. I grew up in the South in Knoxville, Tennessee, and my mother made me do it, and she made my two younger sisters do it as well. My mother was Jessie’s daughter after all.
Jessie had mixed feelings about becoming a ‘Deb’ thinking that it was too expensive, or silly and trivial. After going to all the debutante parties and balls for the previous few years, and seeing most of her close friends become debutantes, she decided to do it. On October 22, 1916 her announcement came out in the newspaper. The picture above was the photograph in the announcement. The caption under the photograph read Miss Jessie Latham. Miss Latham is one of the loveliest of the debutantes who will be formally introduced to society this season at the Chickasaw Guards’ ball on Thursday evening, Nov. 9. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F.S. Latham and will be the recipient of many social affairs previous to the ball, the first of which will be given Wednesday, Nov. 1, by Mrs. L.Y. Kerr at her home on Overton Park Avenue. From her diaries I get the impression that Jessie loved being a debutante after all. She was a very social person and rarely tired of going out, so all the luncheons, card parties, dances, and the final ball were completely delightful to Jessie.At the debutante ball. Jessie is in the second row, third from right. Dr. Coppedge, Jessie’s date for the ball, is in front of her on the floor, second from right.
Just the girls, Jessie is seated on the first row, second from right.
There were two big events for Jessie in the summer of 1916. First, President Woodrow Wilson called up the U.S. Militia to the Mexican Border. This was part of the border war during the Mexican Revolution. The nationwide call up was in May, and by the end of June it seemed all the boys from the Memphis area were leaving for some kind of basic training before they went to the border. Jessie’s oldest brother Frank (Bud) was deployed as well.
The second big thing for Jessie in the summer of 1916 was her 3-week trip to Chicago. She stayed with relatives in Evanston (her cousin Mary Katherine attended Northwestern) and almost everywhere she went she took the L, or elevated train. Incidentally, the oldest sections of the Chicago L started operation in 1892.
One day she ate lunch at Marshall Fields then went to the Art Institute and spent the afternoon. These are some the the paintings she mentioned liking in her diary. As you can see they were all fairly contemporary for 1916.
Jessie was invited several times to dances at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel. An outdoor dance floor close to the shore of Lake Michigan was an especially nice attraction unless the waves were rough.
Always a baseball fan for her local Memphis Chicks, Jessie got to go to a couple of White Sox games at Comiskey Park. In one game the Sox played Detroit and Jessie saw Ty Cobb play. According the the Baseball Hall of Fame , “Ty Cobb may have been the best all-around baseball player that ever lived.”
There were so many restaurants and theaters that Jessie visited. Several times her dates took her to Bismarck Gardens, a beautiful restaurant and entertainment venue under the trees.
Lucky Jessie also got to attend the Ravinia music festival near Chicago. Ravinia itself was fairly new, opening in 1904 as an amusement park, and reopening in 1911 as a primarily classical music festival. One evening Jessie saw the opera Lucia di Lammermoor performed by the “Metropolitan Grand Opera Co.” Conveniently, the train stopped right at the entrance gates to Ravinia.
On April 10, 1916 Jessie wrote in her diary: Such a wonderful time to-day! I was a flower girl. All of Court Square was changed into a flower garden and ever so many of us girls sold flowers all day. I sold a world of carnations, roses and little bouquets. — This is such a wonderful photograph. I believe it was taken by a newspaper photographer and may be the picture that Jessie reported was in the newspaper the day after the market.
Now, going back in time a few months to January and February 1916. Jessie began rehearsals for a big production of The College Hero in January. The performances took place February 15 and 16 and according to Jessie, it was a great success. Jessie was a dancing girl and also a college widow.
Here is one more newspaper clipping, this one of the Fancy Dress Ball given by the Chickasaw Guards on March 7, 1916 (see previous post). Jessie’s picture seems to show up in the newspaper quite frequently! She is in the middle row on the right next to the standing woman. Her date Dr. Coppedge is behind her.
While looking through some of the newspaper clippings and photos that my grandmother Jessie saved from the early 1900s, I found that I had a photo from a costume dress ball that Jessie described in her diary. On Tuesday, March 7, 1916 she wrote, “To-night will long be remembered as one of the most wonderful times I ever had in my life. Went to the Chickasaw Guard Fancy Dress Ball. I went with Dr. Coppedge. He was “The Dude” in an orange and black striped suit. I went as “America First” in red, white and blue. Got more compliments to-night than ever before and the whole night seemed like a wonderful dream.” Interesting that my grandmother called her 1916 costume ‘America First.’ This was shortly before America entered the War in Europe and ‘America First’ was a policy and slogan used by President Woodrow Wilson (among other presidents). A few days earlier on March 3, 1916 she ended her diary entry with “Dr. Coppedge called later to ask what sort of a costume I am going to wear to the fancy dress ball. He is going to take me. I racked my brain to-night trying to think of some-thing unusual.” Within four days Jessie (or someone) had made her patriotic costume. As far as Dr. Coppedge’s costume, perhaps it was based on the character ‘Sammy the Dude’ in the 1916 silent film Reggie Mixes In.’