Jessie was a happy, positive person. For me and my siblings, leaving Knoxville to visit her every summer in Memphis for a week was one of the major highlights of the year. She was so much fun to be around. In her diaries Jessie rarely talked about emotions or her most personal thoughts. She mentioned how much she loved her family. A few times she said she felt blue. But mostly her diary was a recitation of where she went and who she saw, almost a social calendar. Just because it was so rare, I pause and take note of the personal feelings that Jessie revealed in January and February of 1922.
Jessie was away from Memphis for almost 3 months. When she returned from her trip it seemed that everyone she knew was having babies. Saturday, January 14, 1922: A letter from Mollie to-day made me wish I was back on 113th St. Feel more at home with them than I do here with all these babies. Mollie was one of her recent apartment roommates in New York. Most of the people she knew in Memphis were already married and had at least one child which was common for the time.* On December 18, 1921, Jessie turned 27, and there was no one in Memphis that she was interested in. Comparing herself to her two friends named Dot, Jessie wrote, The Dots and I all seem to be of the restless variety. We should “fall in love” with some one person and settle down. I’m still waiting for some one to knock me off my feet, and there’s no such person. (January 17, 1922)
Another emotional sea change – Jessie’s good friend F.D., Francis Douglas Gardner, moved to New Orleans on January 1st of 1922. F.D. was also moving on in his life and and was in a new romance with Miriam Fleming. Jessie found herself at home a lot more, playing dominoes or checkers with the family in the evening. One night she wrote, The trouble is that I am thoroughly disgusted with one Jessie. I think I shall start to change her. (February 5, 1922) Then on February 12, 1922 she wrote, I feel as though I’ve suddenly come to a stand still, and that everybody else is moving on, that I must hurry if I want to catch up with them.
It’s no surprise if I tell you that Jessie did eventually marry, though not just yet in the story. Why not? Perhaps her mother, Jessie Swayne Latham, encouraged her to have fun, be picky, and not settle on one man too soon. Jessie’s mother married at age thirty in 1889, and had her three living children in her thirties. This set a precedent for many of the women in the following generations of our family.
*In fact, in 1920 the average age for a woman to get married was 21. For a man it was 24. Also in 1920, 70% of 1st births occurred to women under 25. No footnote given but these facts are widely available online.
On Wednesday, October 5, 1921, Jessie left on a long journey to visit family and friends. Her first stop on this trip was Abingdon, Virginia where she stayed a few nights with friends. Next stop New York City, with another train to Garden City on Long Island to stay with friends there. Then on October 25 she moved to New York City. Jessie stayed in an apartment with two other girls and two guys. I’m not sure how all this was arranged as they all seemed to be temporary tenants. New York was a lot of fun for Jessie. As she said, Life these days is one grand rush for me. (Oct. 25, 1921) Everywhere she traveled she knew people and had friends. From New York, Jessie traveled to New Haven, Providence, and Boston. Then back to New York for a couple of weeks, a quick stop in Philadelphia to visit cousins, six days in Washington, one more night in Abingdon, and finally home to Memphis. She arrived in Memphis on Friday, December 23, 1921 just in time for Christmas, and having been gone two and half months. It was a very long and eventful journey, but the part I want to focus on is her visit to Washington, DC.
Jessie arrived in Washington the evening of December 14th and stayed with her Cousin Kate Southerland at the Willard Hotel where Kate lived. (Incidentally, the Willard Hotel is still in Washington just across the street from the World War I Memorial. See the photo below.) Jessie wrote in her diary the next day, I’m with my cousin Kate so of course that means we have breakfast in bed. She left a little before noon for the State Department. Kate worked at the State Department. The next day they once again slept late and breakfasted in bed before Kate left for the State Department. Though they were cousins, Kate was quite a bit older than Jessie. At this time Kate was 52 and Jessie almost 27.
Jessie went out with various gentlemen while she was in D.C., but her most interesting times were in the company of Cousin Kate. Monday, December 19, 1921: Washington. This morning Cousin Kate took me through the State Department. Thanks to Mr. Gibbs, we were allowed to see the Secretary of State, Mr. Hughes’ private room, then the Secretary’s Ante Room. Beautiful portraits of all the Secretaries in there. I tried all the chairs.
Next Jessie received a tour of the White House. Unfortunately, The Hardings were at luncheon so we couldn’t see the dining room. That night Jessie and her date were guests at a Southern Society Ball. The ball was given in honor of Lord and Lady Lee of Fareham. Lord Lee of Fareham was one of England’s representatives at the Disarmament Conference (known officially as the Washington Naval Conference) going on in Washington at the same time. Jessie wrote, I got to meet Lord Lee and Lady Lee and they were most charming. After the ball Jessie rushed to the Hotel where she changed clothes, rushed to the train station, and caught the 3:10 AM train for Virginia. Heading home.
For a while Jessie called him Mr. Gardner. Then she called him Douglas. After they had known each other for some months and had become good friends he asked Jessie to call him F.D., so she did. I wish I had a picture of Francis Douglas Gardner for I would post it right here. My grandmother Jessie never once described his looks, only his acts and the ways in which he was such a loyal and generous friend to her, a gentleman in every way.
Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) came from a wealthy family in Liverpool, England. His family’s timber trade company, Joseph Gardner & Sons, had been operating since at least the middle of the 18th century. F.D. was in Memphis working in the timber business along the Mississippi River and often traveled to New Orleans or New York on business.
Jessie’s first date with F.D. was on May 22, 1916, and she wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement with Mr. Douglas Gardner to-night – direct from England and he is certainly a typical Englishman. I dearly love to hear him talk. He is very deliberate in his manner…. I think Mr. Gardner’s hobby is finding misspelt words. He showed me at least a dozen to-night – those signs in curios shops. He is a walker alright. We had such an interesting talk after we got home.” They continued to go out once or twice a month, and as they got to know one another and became closer friends, they went out more frequently.
F.D. was a little bit of a ladies’ man, according to Jessie. He had a group of girls/women in Memphis that he took out regularly, gave parties for their birthdays, and bought them gifts and flowers. On June 15, 1917, Jessie wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement for lunch to-day with Douglas Gardner. We had lunch at the Gayoso and had quite an interesting time. He told me tales of Borneo. He leaves to-morrow for Florida. How ‘the girls’ will miss him.”
The birthday parties he gave for Jessie and his other friends were lavish affairs with dinner for 12 or more at the Gayoso Hotel, the Country Club, or the Peabody. F.D. was also an accomplished and trained artist, and the place cards at his dinner parties were portraits of the guests (drawn by F.D. himself) in some fanciful setting, and included a bit of original prose or poetry. Every woman had a different corsage at their place, and the delicious dinner was a multi-course affair. After dinner and perhaps some dancing (live bands often played at the hotels), all the guests would drive out to someone’s home for games and wonderful prizes for everyone from F.D.. As Jessie said after her birthday, “It was all like a storybook party.”
Jessie often remarked how she’d never known anyone like F.D., that he was one of a kind, and that he was a wonderful friend. He was incredibly generous to Jessie and his friends. He almost always sent a corsage of beautiful flowers to Jessie if they had a date, and after a while every date ended with F.D. buying Jessie two boxes of candies (or rather, one box of chocolates and one box of salted almonds). After they had known one another for about a year, he began giving her very nice gifts from time to time. Sometimes Jessie would tell him that he shouldn’t give her so much, but he always said it made him happy to give gifts. When Bud died, F.D. was working in New Orleans, but he sent flowers to Jessie’s home every day. And whenever he came home to Memphis from a trip to New York or Liverpool or New Orleans, he came loaded down with presents for Jessie.
Not only was F.D. a sophisticated international traveler and businessman, an elegant gentleman from Liverpool, an artist and a poet, he was also an accomplished tennis player and an amateur golfer with club titles to his name. But most of all he was one of Jessie’s closest friends. I know that F.D. died in 1959 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, so I hope that he and my grandmother Jessie remained friends throughout his life.
A final interesting note: Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) had an older brother, Gerald Brosseau Gardner, who is known internationally in pagan and occult communities as the “Father of Wicca.”
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.
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.