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.
Jessie had a lot of boyfriends, and by that I mean friends who were boys (or men). She was outgoing and vivacious, related well to men/boys and loved to be around them. Quite possibly it had to do with being the middle sister to two brothers whom she adored. And don’t get me wrong – she had lots of girlfriends too. That’s apparent from her diary. She had a wide circle of friends and didn’t much like to be alone.
When Jessie started dating Wiley Graham in April 1915, she wrote a comment in her diary regarding his looks that caught my eye.
March 25, 1915: “… He is so good looking, it is seldom that I like really good looking boys.”
First of all, Wiley was not quite a boy. I believe he was four years older than Jessie, and for most of 1915 Jessie was 20 years old. And secondly, is that Wiley in the picture above with my grandmother Jessie? I don’t know, but I hope it is since I think this fellow is quite attractive. Jessie, however, was attracted to something different. It mattered more to her that the guy she was with be interesting and smart.
For most of 1915 Jessie’s most serious beaux, that is, the men with whom she had a more romantic relationship, were Doug Brooks from Deeson, Mississippi and Wiley Graham from Memphis. But Doug traveled a lot on business, and Wiley was probably frustrated that his proposal of marriage was not taken seriously by Jessie, leaving plenty of time for Jessie to go out with other men (or boys, as she liked to call them).
Here is a small gallery of some of Jessie’s ‘boyfriends’ in 1915.
Is that definitively Doug Brooks? I think so, but I have deduced that from the things I have read in Jessie’s diary and some of the captions in Jessie’s photo album from that time period. As for Edgar Poague, I know from Jessie’s diary that he was a good friend of the Brooks family and was with them quite a lot during the houseparty at the Brooks plantation in Deeson the summer of 1915. Likewise with the identification of Adolph and Alex. Jessie was truly great friends with them both and enjoyed their company, but for her it was not romantic. She identified Adolph in her photo album, and I recognized the pictures from the description she writes of a day Alex, Adolph, she and another girl went ‘kodaking’ in downtown Memphis.
Another of Jessie’s suitors was Coach Sullivan, known as Sully. He was actually the football coach at Central High School, and Swayne’s current football coach. He looks to be quite the catch, nevertheless Jessie just thought of him as a great friend.
Here is another ‘slice of life’ posting, cultural tidbits from Jessie’s life in the Spring of 1914.
On April 2nd, 1914, Jessie wrote in her diary that she and her friends ran from school over to Bowers grocery store at noon to buy food for a picnic lunch. They bought pickles, sweet rolls, adnas, fig newtons, Saratoga chips, chocolate cakes, Tit-bits, and candy. I have not found any reference to adnas in my research, so I have no idea what that is. Fig Newtons have been around for a long time, and in fact were first patented and made in 1891. Saratoga chips are the original potato chips invented in 1853 by Chef George Crum at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York. Tit-bits was a general interest magazine with articles, as the sub-title read, “from all the most interesting books, periodicals and contributors in the world.”Jesse Reno in 1859 and Charles D. Seeberger in 1897 are both credited with inventing the escalator. Reno’s 1859 version was powered by steam. Seeberger, with the help of the Otis Elevator Company, entered his invention in the Paris Exhibition of 1900 where it won first prize. At different times both he and Reno sold their patent rights for the escaltor to the Otis Elevator Company. Jessie notes on April 4th that she and her friend Sara “went through all the 10 cent stores & rode the moving stairs or rather ‘escalator’ in the new Kress.”
Family history says that Jessie’s mother was very funny and often cracking jokes. Jessie had a good sense of humor too. One of the final senior assignments in English class was Shakespeare’s Macbeth. On April 28th Jessie wrote, “I read all of Macbeth this afternoon. When I finished I was sure glad for “If ’twere done, then ’tis done and its good if ’twere done quickly.”
Reading Jessie’s diary I am often reminded that driving and riding in a car in the early part of the 20th century could be dangerous. There was no driver’s ed. or driving school. A driving license cost little and people learned to drive on the road. On the evening of April 25th Jessie notes that they got their car out of the shop. The Latham’s Hudson had been in the shop for a while, and must have had some body work done because the auto was repainted dark blue from its original black. Five days later on April 30th Bud wrecked the car again. At around 11:30 that night he was bringing several of his work colleagues home from working late at the bank (or so he told Jessie) and must have been speeding, because the car skidded out of control throwing several of them out of the car and injuring some of them. Jessie was sure that was the end of their Hudson. The running board and the back wheels were ruined, but the Lathams had their car back from the shop again within a couple of weeks.
I am also reminded that everyone’s health was more fragile in the early 1900s before antibiotics, vaccinations, and sanitation improvements. On Mother’s Day (May 10, 1914), another one of Jessie’s friends died. Susie Fleece was her name, and though Jessie didn’t identify the disease, Susie seems to have died of tuberculosis.
Jessie graduated from Central High School in Memphis on June 2, 1914. She received many presents which she lists in her diary on June 1, 2 and 3 – “a perfectly exquisite diamond ring from mother and dad, a silver card case all filled with money, just beautiful, from Aunt Minnie,” many gold pins, a parasol, stationery, gauze fans, silver hat pins, gold dress clasps, slipper buckles, and so on. As Jessie would say, everything imaginable! On June 1, Jessie took part in her senior class play. They performed Endymion, and though she didn’t specify the author, I believe it was an Elizabethan era play by John Lyly (c.1588) based on the Greek myth. The auditorium was packed and according to Jessie they had to turn hundreds of people away as there was not even any standing room available. There were 83 classmates in the production and Jessie was a Dryad. The next day, June 2, Jessie graduated. Her class sang two songs as part of the ceremony, Glory to Isis ( Aida) by Verdi and The Heavens are Telling by Haydn.
On Monday, July 21, 1913, Jessie and about 30 of her friends left on the train for a house party at Moon Lake, Mississippi. It was given by Mary Carr in honor of her visitor, and included 18 boys and 10 girls. They spent three days full of of fun and games, food, ragtime dancing, boating, fishing, and playing pranks on each other, returning to Memphis on Thursday the 24th of July.
*Please remember that you can click on each photo to see a larger version. Captions in quotation marks are Jessie’s.
I get a little thrill when I can match up Jessie’s photos with her diary entries. Here is another example from Jessie’s diary written Saturday, March 22, 1913: “Winnie, Cooper and I were some sports in our silk kimonos and boudoir caps at breakfast this morning. We took more cute pictures. I hope they are good…”
In Jessie’s photo album she titled the following two pictures – “As they look in the morning.”
Glued into Jessie’s album right next to those two pictures are a photo of Dorothy Jane Kerr, who is either a cousin or a close family friend, and a photo of Jessie’s mother, also named Jessie.
On August 19, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary, “This afternoon we left on the Kate Adams for our boat trip to Arkansas City. I realize fully that I cannot begin to write what a perfectly wonderful time we did have. There are 31 in our party – Marie Louise, Winnie, Cooper MacFarland, Elizabeth Roston, Sara C., Carolyn H., Emma R., Mary Carr, & myself, Glenn, Mitch, Jack Burch, Joe T., Herbert H., Billy, Bernard, Perry, Milton, Monty, Julius, Shep, Hurley, Lee, Cecil, Canuck, Paul, Everette, Swayne & Lucious, Mother & Mrs. Buck are our chaperones.” Who’s counting? But there are 9 girls, 20 boys – all teenagers – and 2 chaperones, Mrs. Latham and Mrs. Buck. Those two women must have had their hands full! Family stories about my great-grandmother, Mrs. Latham, also named Jessie, were that she was hilarious and a lot of fun to be around. All the kids enjoyed having her as chaperone on their river boat cruises or house parties.
For much of the summer Jessie had a crush on Glenn. This understandably made her long-time boyfriend Richard quite jealous and they had a few arguments on this topic. Glenn went on the River Boat Cruise but Richard did not.
During the second day of the cruise the boys and at least one of the girls put on a circus.
Wednesday, August 21, 1912, Jessie wrote, “We reached Memphis late to-night. A bunch came home with us and we had a house party. Glenn, Monty, Perry, Lucious and Elizabeth P. spent the night here.”
Without a doubt, the main event occurring in April of 1912 in Memphis was the Flood (see my previous post, The Flood of 1912). Luckily, Jessie and her family lived on the bluff on which much of Memphis was built and were protected from the ravages of the flood. Life went on, even though parts of the city remained under water.
Early in the morning on April 15, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic, on its maiden voyage, hit an iceberg and sank. The news went out over the wires and Jessie and her family read about the disaster later that morning in the newspaper, probably while they were eating breakfast and getting ready for the day. Jessie wrote in her diary: “Monday, April 15, 1912: We read in this morning’s paper about such a terrible thing. The sinking of the Titanic, the world’s greatest ship on which 1,595 persons lost their lives. Oh! it’s terrible to think of it. Most of the women and children were saved. John Jacob Astor the great millionaire was lost. How awful it is to think of the homes this has filled with sorrow.”
And finally, here is another cultural tidbit. On April 30th, 1912, Jessie wrote in her diary: “After my music [lesson] I went all over town looking at aigrettes. They sure are pretty but mighty expensive.” An aigrette is an ornamental head piece, often made of feathers, usually egret feathers.