The House Party, June 1910

A Night in June, 1910. Thomas Cooper Gotch. Newlyn Archive, UK
A Night in June, 1910. Thomas Cooper Gotch. Newlyn Archive, UK
House Party pp1 June 1910
Elizabeth, Willie & Jessie (R), House Party 1910.

Jessie was having a house party at the end of June, and she started planning and preparing for it at the beginning of the month. Cleaning, shopping for a picnic dress and “motocycle riding” with Elmo (and loving it) were some of her activities. She had her guy friends move a big stump into the front yard on the 13th, and on June 18th there is more talking and planning for the “lawn fete” and house party.

Jessie (L) and the Stump, June 1910
Jessie (L) and the Stump, June 1910
Jessie (L), Elizabeth and Willie, June 1910
Jessie (L), Elizabeth and Willie, June 1910

Finally on Tuesday, June 21st, Jessie and the gang met Willie Swift from Corinth, Mississippi at the depot. She was the first of Jessie’s guests to arrive. The next day they all went down to the depot to meet Elizabeth Pearson from Okolona, Mississippi. One of that day’s activities was a Tally Ho ride given in honor of her guests, in large horse drawn carriages that carried several people.

On Friday, June 24, 1910, Jessie hosted a Japanese garden fete in honor of her guests. She writes in her diary, “The yard was brilliantly lighted with Japanese lanterns. Had a fortune tent where an oriental beauty read the palms of the guests. Had a band to play all evening. About 50 were here. Had a fine time. We didn’t get to bed until late.”

House Party June 1910
House Party June 1910
Human pyramid House Party 1 June 1911
Human Pyramid, Jessie on top, June 1910

Another guest, Kate Craddock, arrived on the following Monday the 27th. They had a picnic lunch on the lawn, but at sundown Jessie’s yard became a “gypsy camp.” Sleeping tents were arranged and a delicious dinner of hamburgers and marshmallows was cooked over a campfire. 7 girls and 4 boys spent the night, though not much sleeping went on.

House party picnic at Overton
House party picnic at Overton, Jessie on R
Picnic at Overton Park
Picnic at Overton Park, Jessie kneeling  on L
The Circus at Overton, House party 1910
The circus at Overton, house party 1910

Wednesday June 29th, Jessie gave a picnic at Overton Park for the house party. Finally on Friday, July 1st, Jessie’s guests left. She was lonely, but by Saturday she returned to her usual routine. She, Mildred, Richard and Everette went auto riding through Overton Park and along the Speedway, one of the earliest expressways in the country. The name Speedway was later changed to the Parkway.

Speedway, Memphis c.1910. George Whitworth Collection.
The Speedway, Memphis.  George Whitworth Collection


Graduation and Halley’s Comet, May 1910

Noonday Rest, 1910, John William Godward
Noonday Rest, 1910, John William Godward

There was not much rest for Jessie in May of 1910. Despite the fact that she spent most of the first week sick in bed with tonsillitis, every day following seems to be filled with some special activity relating to the end of the school year in Memphis. On May 6th, Donna, Mildred and Jessie went to an elocutionary contest at the Goodwyn Institute. Their good friend Frank won, so the Merry Maids sent him flowers. On May 7th, Sara and Jessie went to the closing exercises of the dancing school at the Jefferson Theatre. And it continued from there — field day, basketball games, musical recitals, recitation recitals, rehearsals, club meetings, and so on. Since Jessie was graduating from Pope Elementary School and would enter high school in the fall, she had to take final exams in grammar, spelling, geography, civics, and arithmetic. On June 3, 1910, Jessie graduated from Pope School. She was class president and by her own account, “conducted the exercises.”  She also read her composition, Historic Memphis, which won the prize for best composition in her grade.

Halley's Comet during 1910 approach. Prof. Edward Emrson Barnard, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI. Pub. in NY Times 7/3/1910
Halley’s Comet during its 1910 approach. Prof. Edward Emerson Barnard, Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Published in the NY Times 7/3/1910

On May 20, 21, and again on May 25, Jessie remarks in her diary that she “saw the comet” — Halley’s comet, that is. Her remarks coincide with the time that the comet passed relatively close to the earth (between May 14 and 22, 1910), making a spectacular sight. This was the first time photos were made of the approach of the comet, and the first time that spectroscopic data was obtained, analyzing components of the tail of the comet. One of the substances discovered was the toxic gas cyanogen. French astronomer Camille Flammarion claimed (and it was reported in the NY Times) that when the earth passed through the tail of the comet (May 19, 1910), the gas would poison the atmosphere and snuff out all life on the planet. This caused some panic amongst the gullible, and dollar signs in the eyes of some entrepreneurs (comet pills, gas masks).

ranchersuicidesubmarine & comet 1910CometComic1910

The New York Times published another article, this one by Mary Proctor, now trying to calm people’s fears.


Another interesting story related to the 1910 Halley’s Comet regards American author Mark Twain. Twain, whose birth name was Samuel Clemens, was born November 30, 1835, exactly 2 weeks after the comet’s perihilion in its apperance of that year. In his autobiography Twain said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.” Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, the day after the comet reached perihilion.


February & March in Memphis, 1910

Little Colonel's HeroLittle Colonel's Knight Comes RidingThese two months of Jessie’s life were filled with her usual activities — school, basketball, music, her clubs, church, and her friends. In February Jessie read  her new book, Little Women, and continued with the seemingly endless (!)  Little Colonel  series. She read The Little Colonel’s Hero, and in March she read The Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding. February 5th she joined the Junior Beethovens at a box party to see the Russian pianist, Josef Lhévinne. Jessie, a pianist herself, was quite impressed with his playing. On February 12th Jessie saw the play Dorothy Vernon of Hadden Hall. It was based on the novel of the same name about a girl’s life and romances in Elizabethan England. According to Amazon and the New York Times, Dorothy Vernon of Hadden Hall by Charles Major was the third most successful novel of 1902. DorothyVernonofHaddenHallJessie attended parties on Valentine’s Day and on George Washington’s Birthday (where the party goers powdered their hair!). On March 5th Jessie saw the comic farce Charley’s Aunt, and according to her, “it was the funniest thing I ever saw. I laughed till my sides ached.” Charley’s Aunt, written by Brandon Thomas, was hugely successful from it’s first performances in England in 1892, and on Broadway where it opened in 1893 for an extended run. On March 19th Jessie saw the pianist “Sherwood” and the singer Marie Stapleton (the actress Jean Stapleton’s mother) perform at the Women’s Building. On Easter (March 27, 1910) Jessie mentions that she got some eggs and other Easter things, as well as some Christy pictures. Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) was a very popular illustrator of the time.

W. S. Penley as the original Charley's Aunt, by Alfred Bryan
Original Charley’s Aunt, by Alfred Bryan
Sailing Close, Howard Chandler Christy
Sailing Close, Howard Chandler Christy



Happy Birthday, Grandmother!

Jessie Latham
Jessie Latham

Today is Jessie Latham Perkin’s 120th birthday. Happy birthday, Grandmama! We miss you! There are SO many things I wish I could ask you now!

Jessie had a long life with good health. She died in 1991 at the age of 96. To her grandchildren she was a happy, playful, loving and positive spirit, just as she is in her diaries as a young woman.


Entertainments — January 1910

IlTrovatoreLibretto1910sIt’s a different world in 1910, where a 15 year old girl goes downtown with her friend to dancing school, then to see the grand opera Il Trovatore, and finally meets up with some boys for sodas before going home. There were all kinds of cultural offerings available in 1910 Memphis. Jessie saw several plays in January. At the Bijou she, Sara, Emma and Othella saw Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. The next weekend Jessie, her mother and Emma went to Higbee School (for girls) to the Drama Club’s presentation of The Top Landing: a farce in one act by Robert C.V. Meyers.higbee-leftside

The day after that she went to the opera. Jessie says the opera was at Houck’s which was a piano store on Main Street. But right next to it was the Royal Theatre. Perhaps that is where she saw the opera. In the picture below (Main St., Memphis 1911), Houck’s Piano Co. can be seen at the bottom left. Right next to Houck’s is the Royal Theatre. (click/tap on photo to enlarge)  royal-1911-2

About a week later Jessie and Emma went to the Lyceum to see Little Nemo, which Jessie claims was the finest play ever seen in Memphis. Little Nemo was a fictional character in the popular comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland.LittleNemo In 1907 an extravagant production with a score by Victor Herbert, and costing an unprecedented $100,000, went on tour with good reviews and sold out houses. A mythical character, the Whiffenpoof, was introduced in the show, and the word itself became very popular with the public. A hit song came out with the same name, as well as a popular singing group.

Jessie continued to read the books in the popular Little Colonel series by Annie Fellows Johnston. First she read The Little Colonel in Arizona, then The Little Colonel’s Christmas Vacation, and at the end of the month The Little Colonel:  Maid of Honor.

LittleCol.XmasVacaLittle Colonel in ArizonaLittle colonel Maid of Honor


Christmas 1909

Advent calendar, early 1900s
Hannes Petersen 1885-1960

December 18, 1909 was Jessie’s 15th birthday. She celebrated by having 7 girls over for dinner, and got lots of nice presents which she lists in the back of her diary:

What I got on my 15th birthday 1909

Silver toilet set (comb, brush, mirror) – Papa;  two pair of silk hose, dress, and party – Mamma;  book “Little Women” – Granny;  box of paper – Swayne;  turquoise ring – Ethel;  cake – Aunt Lady;  silver file – Othella;  bottle of perfume – Sallie;  hat pin holder – Mildred H.;  pretty handkerchiefs – Emma, Sara, & Donna.

Xmas Tree w_ candlesJessie was still in school through December 23rd, although she took half a day off because her brother, Bud, came home from college. On Christmas Eve, as was the tradition, Jessie and her family decorated the Christmas tree, and Jessie hung a stocking for herself and one for her big doll too. Christmas trees were still commonly lit with candles. Electric lights on a string (called a ‘festoon’) had been introduced by General Electric in 1903, but were far too expensive for average people to use. Interestingly, in 1908 insurance companies in the USA tried to have candles on Christmas trees banned because of the many fires they caused.

Xmas tree candles, early 1900s
Xmas tree candles, early 1900s

A phrase that Jessie uses several times on Christmas Day is “have a Christmas tree,” as in “Went to Aunt Sallie’s for dinner and a Xmas tree,” and “Had everybody here at night for a Xmas tree.” Typically in the early 1900s, presents might not be wrapped, and sometimes they were hung on the Christmas tree. I’m guessing that when they had friends or relatives over “for a Xmas tree,”  that was an occasion to light the candles on the tree and exchange presents.

On December 29th, 1909, Jessie and two of her best friends (and fellow Merry Maids), Donna and Emma, went downtown and had their picture taken.

left to right - Emma, Donna (seated), Jessie
left to right – Emma, Donna (seated), Jessie

Toys, Personal Hygiene and Marshmallows

Jessie is almost too old to play with toys, so she doesn’t mention many, but on a cold day when all the children were playing inside, she writes that Swayne fixed the Humpty Dumpty Circus. It could have been very similar to this Humpty Dumpty Circus from 1905.

Humpty Dumpty Circus 1905
Humpty Dumpty Circus 1905

Every once and a while Jessie mentions that her mother has washed her hair. Shampoos were only just becoming  available in stores, and liquid shampoo was not invented until 1927. In any case, women might only wash their hair every 3 or 4 weeks. Eggs or egg whites were thought to be excellent cleaning agents for hair, and there were various other potions or tinctures that one could mix up and use for oily or dry hair. In between washes women used a dry shampoo of cornstarch to soak up excess oil, which they brushed out thoroughly with a long soft-bristled brush. Margaret Mixter wrote the book Health and Beauty Hints (1910)

M.Mixter1910in which she describes ways a woman can enhance and prolong her ‘beauty.’ One tip:  “By the time a woman is twenty-five years old she should devote at least ten minutes, night and morning, to massaging her throat under the chin. She may see no reason at that period for massage, but should she take the trouble, by the time she is forty she will not have the hanging “dewlap,” which, more than anything else, proclaims her no longer young.” Hmm… perhaps I should have been massaging!

In the cold weather Jessie and her friends loved to roast marshmallows in the fireplace. When I looked to see when marshmallows were invented, I was surprised to find that the marshmallow candy actually originated in ancient Egypt and was made from a mallow plant which grew in the marshes. Drawing the sap from the roots of the marsh mallow plant, which acted as a thickener and binder, the Egyptians mixed it with eggs or egg whites, honey and nuts to make a medicinal sweet treat that soothed sore throats and mouth ulcers. In the mid-nineteenth century marshmallows were so popular that a quicker way of producing them became necessary. Gelatin replaced the mallow plant sap in the new production method, so all medicinal value of the sweet was lost.


Late November 1909

Several of Jessie’s friends were sick in the latter part of November, but Jessie managed to remain healthy.  Since a deadly yellow fever epidemic killed around 5,000 people in 1878, Memphis had been gradually undertaking many health reforms.  This was still ongoing in 1909 with new city departments created to help improve sanitation and fight infectious disease. Check out the Tennessee4me website for  a more in-depth look at the history of Memphis’ work to combat infectious disease.

Mary Porter Swayne
Mary Porter Swayne
Porter-Swayne home (Jessie's home)
Porter-Swayne home (Jessie’s home)

On November 16th Jessie writes that “granny came home.” Granny’s name was Mary Katherine Porter Swayne and she was Jessie’s maternal grandmother.  The house in which Jessie and her family lived was the house Granny had inherited from her father, Col. E.H. Porter. Col. Porter (Jessie’s great-grandfather) had a town house at 3rd and Exchange, but he also had a big house and farm on what was then the outskirts of Memphis. This house and what was left of the farm is where Jessie was born and her family lived. (On the other side of the locket holding the picture of Mary Swayne is a picture of her husband and Jessie’s maternal grandfather, J.T. Swayne.)

J.T. Swayne
J.T. Swayne

little colonels holidaysJessie read another Little Colonel book — The Little Colonel’s Holidays. School, music lessons, concerts, and basketball practice took up most of her time. Thanksgiving was especially busy. Although Jessie does not mention a big meal in her diary, she writes that she went to church in the morning, then to a football game between Memphis High School and M.N.S.(?), and finally to the Rhoda Royal Circus at the Auditorium.

Memphis High School football team, 1908. George Whitworth Collection,
Memphis High School football team, 1908. George Whitworth Collection,
1909 Program
1909 Program










*M.H.S. 1908 football team photo credit to the George Whitworth Collection,

Early November 1909

David Bispham, c.1905 Harvard Theatre Collection
David Bispham, c.1905
Harvard Theatre Collection

On November 1st, Jessie and her mother went to the Bijou to see singer, David Bispham. Mr. Bispham was the first American-born baritone to make an international name for himself. He must have sung at this concert, though Jessie didn’t mention it. But she did remark upon his recitation of Poe’s The Raven, which she thought was “fine.”

Margaret Mayo
Margaret Mayo

Early in November Jessie read The Little Colonel’s House Party (1900) by Annie Fellows Johnston, another offering in The Little Colonel series for children. Jessie and her mother went to the Goodwyn Institute to see the the play Polly of the Circus by Margaret Mayo. Mayo was an actress, a playwright, and later a screenwriter. Polly of the Circus became a silent film in 1917 and was made again in 1932 with Marion Davies and Clark Gable.

Several times in her diaries Jessie mentions that she has gone ‘nutting’ out in the country. Imagine — autumn, the leaves have turned beautiful colors, the sun is warm, and the youngsters are gathering nuts in the the woods — what a lovely scene that must have been!

Nutting, Autumn Thomas Moran
Nutting, Autumn – Thomas Moran

A Visit by Taft and Hallowe’en in Memphis 1909

1909 postcard
1909 postcard

The last week of October, 1909 was a normal active week for Jessie with school, music lessons, basketball practice, club meetings and parties.  MXX (Mystic Twenty) had a Hallowe’en Party at Jessie’s home.  The next night the Merry Maids gave a Hallowe’en Party at Mildred Higham’s home. Everyone came as a ghost, but quickly took off their sheets at the party.  Too hot, I guess! Trick-or-treating was not yet popular on Halloween, but parties were popular.

Mayor Malone of Memphis and President Taft
Mayor Malone of Memphis and President Taft

The other big event of the week was a visit to Memphis by President William Howard Taft to formally open the new YMCA.  Governors of 40 states came to Memphis for the occasion. Taft arrived via the Mississippi River aboard the steamer Oleander.  Of course, Jessie was there to see the boats come in and the big parade which followed with the governors and over 200 autos taking part.

One final interesting thing to report for October — Jessie got her permit (October 6, 1909). She is 14 years old, will turn 15 in December, so I am guessing that it is her driving permit.


1909 Hallowe'en Card
1909 Hallowe’en Card

Happy Halloween!