Things were slower in Memphis in the middle of the summer. Jessie kept up with her music lessons and and her clubs, Merry Maids and Mystic XX. There were band concerts in the parks many nights of the week — Gaston Park, Bickford Park, and Overton Park all had frequent band concerts. Jessie and her friends gave a concert themselves at Jessie’s house, for which they built a stage and sold tickets (making $27).
Jessie’s mother, Jessie Swayne Latham, was well known in Memphis for her civic and church and leadership. For many years she served as President of the Board for the Porter Home and Leath Orphanage. Jessie followed in her footsteps a bit, often going to the Home for Incurables to play the piano for the residents.
There were some birthdays in July. Dorothy Jane had her 10th birthday party, which Jessie attended. I don’t know if Dorothy was a cousin or just a little girl in the neighborhood that Jessie was fond of. Jessie’s dad had his 55th birthday in July as well.
We are all a product of our times and the environment in which we live. 1909 in Memphis, Tennessee was not that far removed from the Civil War. Many veterans of the conflict were still alive, and naturally there were organizations which sprang up to support the veterans and the families of veterans. Jessie writes in her diary (June 7, 1909) that she went to a meeting of the U.D.C., the United Daughters of the Confederacy. At first I didn’t want to include this information, because to some that might scream RACIST! But it is history and it is fact. My grandmother was a southern born woman with deep roots in the South. She was not a rebel. She was a genteel and sheltered 14 year old girl. The meeting of the U.D.C. was in preparation for a huge event Memphis was hosting – The United Confederate Veterans Reunion 1909. Memphis, being centrally located and on the Mississippi River, was accessible to many Veterans. It was a huge 3-day event, June 8-10, with parades, concerts, boat rides, etc.
On June 8th Jessie rode in the yellow float of the Floral Parade. (Is that Jessie looking at the camera?) On the 9th she sang at several events, and on the 10th was the big Veterans parade. All of downtown Memphis was decorated with bunting. Once again, credit for the photos goes to http://historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/ucv/ucv.html. Check this website out for more historic photos and information about this event.
Quite a few times in 1909, and maybe 1910 too, Jessie ends a diary entry with “burned wood.” I couldn’t think what this meant. Did she build a fire in the fireplace or somewhere else? Was she smoking cigarettes and using “burned wood” as a euphemism? Finally, I remembered that I have a decorative wooden disk that came from Grandmother. It was made with with a woodburning pen to make a picture, a picture that looks a little like Jessie, or at least like a girl of her period. If you look closely on the bottom right, you can see her name that she burned into the wood. I remember these kinds of kits from my childhood, and you can still buy them today. I’ve also added a postcard of Memphis from 1907.
When I am reading Jessie’s diaries, I love to try to find pictures or information about the parks and buildings she mentions, the books and magazines she reads, the musical or theatrical performances she sees, the clothes she wears, the songs she loves, the cars she rides in, and so on and so on. In the diary posts for May, 1909, Jessie talks about going to the Goodwyn Institute to see an elocution contest. Other times Jessie mentions going to the Randolph Building to practice for a program. She mentions going to the Women’s Building quite a bit, usually to see recitals or some other music or piano related activity. The only Women’s Building I can find is the one built at the Fair Grounds in 1908, and now known as the Creative Arts Center.
East End Park was another favorite place for entertainment. This was the city’s most elaborate entertainment complex with a lake and a music pavilion, a theater for vaudeville performances, carnival rides, and a roller skating rink. A beautiful carousel was purchased for the park in 1909. Fortunately the park was easy to get to with the streetcar stopping right at the entrance.
Overton Park is a large city park first established in 1906. Within its grounds are the zoo, a golf course, a band pavilion, hiking trails and forest land. It is as popular and important to Memphians today as it was in 1909.
**Picture credits to Historic-Memphis.com. The creators of this website have filled it with all kinds of information and historic photos of many old buildings, parks, and churches in Memphis. It’s a great website and a treasure for those interested in Memphis history.
Memphians in 1909 had many ways to entertain themselves. Theatres such as the Lyceum and the Orpheum were popular for vaudeville acts, musical and theatrical performances, and silent movies. There were even large entertainment complexes such as East End Park.
Josef Lhévinne was a Russian pianist and teacher who performed in Memphis in January, 1909. Jessie went to see him with her mother and thought he was “fine.” Lhévinne was around 29 at the time.
Jessie mentions in her diary that she went to a “box party” and saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. This was a popular book first published in 1901, made into a theatrical production and later a film.
East End Park was a very popular place to go. There were rides, vaudeville shows, dancing, food, and it wasn’t too far from home.
I’ve added this last image because I love Art Nouveau, and it was popular in the early 1900’s. Alphonse Mucha was one of the most popular artists of the Art Nouveau style. This poster was for an International Exposition in St. Louis (not far from Memphis) in 1904.
This time I added most of Jessie’s March diary entries just so you can get an idea of the typical way she is spending her time. Social clubs like the Merry Maids (MM) and the Mystic Twenty or Mystic XX (MXX) are popular. At this time Jessie is 14.
The top picture is the Lyceum Theatre in Memphis. Below is a page from one of Jessie’s scrapbooks. It shows her home and her playhouse. Jessie is the girl in the front seat of the wagon, on the left – always smiling!
Jessie led a very busy and happy life. She had lots of friends and they were always going places and doing things. Favorite activities were going down town and ‘bumming,’ playing various games outside, dancing, playing the piano and singing popular songs, going to concerts, plays, moving pictures (silent ones, of course), having various club meetings, and so on.
I think these are some sort of ‘fast’ photo images that Jessie and her friends had developed. Taking pictures was another pastime. In the photos on the left, Jessie may be the girl in the top. The blue photos (probably another ‘fast’ photo image of some kind) are family shots again. In the top image, standing are Frank (Jessie always called him ‘Bud’), an unidentified girl, and Jessie. Her grandmother and mother are seated. The bottom image is Frank with the unidentified girl.
Jessie was a busy girl! She is busy with school and various activities there (like playing center on the girl’s basketball team). She also takes music/piano lessons twice a week, is active at church, and is a member of several clubs. One of her clubs is The Merry Maids, for which Jessie is Vice-President.