Spring 1914 in Memphis

The cast of Endymion, Central High School in Memphis, 1914. Jessie is the 2nd girl to the right of the garland.

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.

A graduation gift to Jessie Latham from Helen Spengler.
Some of the gold pins Jessie got for graduation.

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.


House Party at Moon Lake, July 1913

Moon Lake, Miss., July 1913. The writing on the photo was done by Jessie as an old woman.

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.

“A machine full”
The girls “Watching”
“Miss Meacham of Memphis” –  Virginia Meacham, July 1913
“Looking in the wrong direction”
“Morgan!” Moon Lake, Miss. 1913

*Please remember that you can click on each photo to see a larger version. Captions in quotation marks are Jessie’s.


March 1913 – Friends & Family

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.”

Jessie with either Winnie or Cooper. March 22, 1913.


Winnie and Cooper, March 22, 1913.

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.

Dorothy Jane Kerr, March 1913.


Jessie Swayne Latham, March 1913.

Riverboat Cruise to Arkansas City, August 1912

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.

Party on the Kate Adams, August 1912. Jessie is sitting in the 2nd row with a dark collar.
The girls. Jessie’s mother is wearing black and Jessie is leaning out right in front of her.
The boys.

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.

Is this Glenn with Jessie? Jessie captioned this photo “At Sea.”
Jessie captioned this photo, “Can you name it? I can.” Is that Glenn on the right?
“Posing – the morning after”
“Cack and Emma R.”

During the second day of the cruise the boys and at least one of the girls put on a circus.

“Our gymnasts. Bernard, Marie Louise, Everette.” Jessie Latham, August 1912
“Oh! Circus Day.” Jessie Latham, August 1912
Friends. Jessie is on the left.
Jessie captioned this photo “The Fight,” but she does not mention a fight in her diary. Perhaps it was a performance for the ‘Circus.’
“Up in the air.” The 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.”

“Home again.” Jessie Latham, August 1912

April, 1912

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.

R.M.S. Titanic departing Southhampton on April 10, 1912.
R.M.S. Titanic departing Southhampton on April 10, 1912.

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.

Georges Barbier, 1912
Georges Barbier, 1912
Aigrettes, 1912
Aigrettes, 1912

The Flood of 1912 – Memphis

1912 Flood, Market St. in Memphis, J.C. Coovert, photographer
1912 Flood, Market St. in Memphis, J.C. Coovert, photographer

The Flood of 1912 was one of the worst floods ever documented on the Mississippi River. It was also the first major flood on the Mississippi River to be photographed. Throughout March and especially at the end of the month, Jessie wrote several times in her diary of the rain. On Thursday, March 28, 1912 she wrote: Rain! Rain! Rain! Will it ever stop? Seems as though we have been swimming around for the last month. The River is awful high, highest it’s been in years. In fact, the Mississippi had reached flood stage (35 feet) several days before on March 24th and would not go below that mark for 60 days. There had been a lot of snow that winter in the northern U.S. It suddenly melted, flooding the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Levees all along the River failed. On April 1 a huge chunk of the levee failed at Greenfields Landing, just across the River from Cairo, Illinois. The water from that break covered most of Mississippi County in Missouri. I read that at one point during this flood, the Mississippi River was 60 miles wide in one section. Perhaps this was the area.

Camping on the levee. Memphis 1912, J.C. Coovert, photographer
Camping on the levee. Memphis 1912, J.C. Coovert, photographer

The River crested for 3 days (April 6-9) in Memphis at 45.3 feet. Levees on both sides of the River at Memphis failed. Because most of downtown Memphis is built on a bluff overlooking the River, much of the city was spared. But in the lower lying areas as many as 1200 people were driven from their homes, primarily from the flooding of the tributaries. In the northern part of Memphis near the Bayou Gayoso  and Wolf River, homes were flooded by as much as 6 feet of water. People were camping out on the tops of levees. African Americans were disproportionately affected by the flood since many of their homes and farms were in these lower lying areas.

Mill Bridge at Bayou Gayoso in Memphis. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Mill Bridge at Bayou Gayoso in Memphis. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Main & Mill in Memphis, 1912. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Main & Mill in Memphis, 1912. J.C. Coovert, photographer


December 1911 in Memphis

Christmas card, 1911

Here are a few cultural tidbits from December 1911.

On December 9, Jessie went to hear the Spanish child prodigy pianist Pepito Arriola. He was 13 at the time. Follow this link to a story about Pepito in the February 1910 issue of Etude magazine.

Silk party dress, c.1912
Silk party dress, c.1912

Jessie turned 17 on December 18, and was very busy going out on dates — to dances, card parties, dinners, movies, the theatre, etc., etc. In the 19th century courtship was done at home, in the parlor or on the porch, and under the watchful eyes of parents and siblings. But things changed in the early 20th century, and probably because of the spread of automobiles. Though some courtship took place in the home, for the most part everyone went out for dates.

Jessie Latham
Jessie Latham

A couple of days before her birthday, Jessie went to Gray’s photography shop and had pictures made. This photograph of Jessie, which I posted previously on her birthday, was taken at Gray’s and may be one of those photos. She looks about the right age, I think.

I took note of two small gifts Jessie mentioned in her diary. One was a hand painted hat pin holder given to her for Christmas by her good friend Willie Swift. The other gift, a cut glass nappe (or lemon slice plate), Jessie gave as a prize at her ‘Chanticleer’ party on December 29, 1911. The pictures below are examples and not the actual items that Jessie had.

Hand painted hat pin holder
Hand painted hat pin holder
Antique cut glass nappe
Antique cut glass nappe

October 1911 in Memphis

John Winsch Halloween postcard, 1911
John Winsch Halloween postcard, 1911

October of 1911 was very pleasant in Memphis. Jessie and her mother spent some time shopping for clothes for the new season, looking especially for a suit, some new boots and a hat. Her brother “Bud” continued to recover from typhoid fever.  His temperature seemed to come and go, and for the most part, he stayed at home in bed. Mid-way through the month, however, he was able to get up, dress, and even drive Jessie to school and downtown a couple of times.

On Saturday, October 21st, Jessie took part in a Liszt Memorial at the Amateur Musical Club. Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811. Jessie played the Schubert-Liszt piano arrangement of “Hark! Hark! the Lark.”

Jessie seemed to be enjoying school, maybe a little too much! On Wednesday, October 25th she wrote in her diary, “They have moved all our seats in the study hall, it’s fierce. I have to sit right under the teacher’s nose *all the* time. Makes me bad.” Knowing Jessie as I did as her granddaughter, I’m sure it was because she talked too much! ‘Fierce’ seems to be one of Jessie’s new expressions since she used it a couple of times in her diary around this time.

The last couple of days in October were spent packing and making preparations to move to the Latham’s new home on Overton Park Avenue.

Enjoy these Hallowe’en postcards and photographs from 1911.

Hallow'een in 1911.
Hallowe’en town,  1911.

1911 Halloween catAG_Vintage_Halloween_1911

Hallowe'en Witch, 1911
Hallowe’en Witch, 1911

Fall Festival, Souvenirs & Egg Creams, September 1911

Fall Festival cover, Memphis 1911
Memphis Fall Festival program booklet cover, 1911. George Whitworth Collection, historic-memphis.com

In 1911 the Business Men’s Club of Memphis created the first Fall Festival,  a 3-day event, September 26-28. On Monday night, September 25th, Jessie and friends “went to town in the machine to see Main Street. It was beautiful, a regular fairyland.” The next day was the opening of the Tri-State Fair, coinciding with the first day of the Fall Festival. Because it was the first day of the fair, children got off school early. Most of them probably went to the afternoon parade celebrating  Arts & Industries. On Wednesday there was a parade of the Blue and the Gray, a reunion of old Civil War veterans from both sides who marched together down Main Street. Swayne was a drummer boy in the parade. That was followed by a barbecue in East End Park. Jessie wrote, “Never have I seen so many people down town on one night. The parade was worth it though.” And finally, the last day of the Festival culminated in the grand DeSoto celebration, a historical pageant and parade celebrating the life of the explorer Hernando DeSoto. “It was the most beautiful I ever saw. The floats were all about DeSoto with torches burning on all sides, with fireworks too.”

A page from the program booklet for the Fall Festival in Memphis, 1911. George Whitworth Collection, historic-memphis.com
Canadian Maple Leaf pin given to Jessie from Sara, September 1911
Maple leaf pin from Canada, given to Jessie from Sara C., September 1911

On September 10, 1911, Jessie mentions that her good friend Sara C. “gave me such a pretty little gold maple leaf, the emblem of Canada.” Sara, whom Jessie often calls Taby or Tab, had recently returned from a trip to Canada.

Egg Creams. Did you know there are no eggs in an egg cream? In the September 30, 1911 entry in her diary, Jessie talks about giving her brother Bud, who is recovering from typhoid fever, an egg cream. This piqued my curiosity. The recipe is actually very simple. Follow this link to watch Martha Stewart preparing a Vanilla Egg Cream.


Tri-State Fair grounds, Memphis, 1911.
Tri-State Fair grounds, Memphis, 1911.

September 1911, Memphis

This posting is a bit of odds and ends — some cultural tidbits of 1911.

Baltimore Dairy Lunch, Detroit. restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com
Baltimore Dairy Lunch, Detroit. restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com

On September 7, 1911, Jessie wrote in her journal, “Got some lunch at the Baltimore Dairy. It was grand.” The Baltimore Dairy Lunch was one of the first chain restaurants in the U.S.  Founder James A. Whitcomb started the restaurants in the late 1880s in Baltimore and Washington D.C., and  within 30 years most big cities had a Baltimore Dairy Lunch.  They were quick lunch counters where patrons made their orders and carried their lunch to their seats, one-armed wooden chairs (patented by Whitcomb) that discouraged long, lingering lunches.

Jessie’s older brother Bud (Frank) left Memphis for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on Monday, September 11, 1911. By the next weekend he was back home with a case of typhoid fever. As the 20th century progressed, cases of typhoid fever became less frequent, thanks to the introduction of vaccines and improvements in public sanitation and hygiene. But in 1911 typhoid outbreaks were still occurring. This was, after all, the decade of Typhoid Mary, a healthy carrier of the pathogen living in New York. She worked as a cook and is thought to have infected 51 people, 3 of whom died. Back in Memphis at the end of September 1911, Bud seems to be recovering.

Central High School, Memphis
Central High School, Memphis

On September 18, 1911, school starts again in Memphis. Jessie went to Memphis High School. (You can see a picture of Memphis High in my posting of April 20, 2015, Debating Societies, Tally Ho Rides & the Birdmen Return.) This year a new school, the successor to Memphis High, opened and was called Central High School. On September 19, 1911, Jessie notes that “The desks haven’t come yet so we have to sit on the floor in the classrooms. Just like a circus. We cut up to beat the band.”

On September 23, 1911, Jessie, Winnie, Alma and Alta Mai go see the musical or comic opera Madame Sherry at the Lyceum. Jessie can’t get the song Every Little Movement out of her head!

The Lathams bought a new house on Overton Park Avenue and will soon move there. On September 24, 1911 Jessie writes, “Auntie, Swayne & I went out to see our new home on Overton Park Ave. It is beautiful.” The farmhouse where they had been living was Granny Swayne’s house, formerly her father Col. E.H. Porter’s country house. Granny died in early January, so perhaps the Lathams needed or wanted to move so that Granny’s estate could be settled. It is likely that they wanted a smaller and newer home closer to downtown Memphis. Of course I don’t know this since Jessie never wrote about that in her diary. Incidentally, the address written at the top of the photo below is incorrect. Jessie was a very old woman when she went back through many of her old pictures, writing on some of them, and she confused the number with an address from later in her life.  The address of the Latham’s soon to be new home was 1759 Overton Park Avenue.

Latham's home on Overton Park Avenue, Memphis
Latham’s home on Overton Park Avenue, Memphis