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.
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.
In 1909 Memphis, going to see a fire was big entertainment, and there seemed to be quite a few of them. It wasn’t until around 1912 that Memphis got its first motorized fire engine, so the horse-drawn steam pumper wagons and ladder wagons were still in use. Large hoses for fire-fighting had been developed in the late 19th century, and fire departments also used chemicals and large extension ladders to help douse fires.
The week of October 18, 1909, seems to have been ‘Shakespeare Week’ in Memphis. Jessie went to two lectures by Shakespearean actor, Frederick Warde. He spoke on “Hamlet” and on “The Wit and Wisdom of Shakespeare’s Fools.” This took place at the Goodwyn Institute, followed later in the week by performances of “Julius Caesar” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
Jessie read “St. Elmo” by Augusta Jane Evans, originally published in 1866. Later in October she began reading “The Little Colonel at Boarding School” (1904). This was one from a series of “Little Colonel” books. The character became popular to later generations with the Shirley Temple movie “The Little Colonel.”
*Credit to George Whitworth for the photo of Engine House 1, and to historic-memphis.com for the two other fire fighting photos.
The school year is in full swing and Jessie’s days are getting more and more busy. This month she just became a member of the Junior Beethoven Club, an offshoot of the Beethoven Club, for which her piano teacher, Mrs. Tobey, was one of the early organizers. The Junior Beethoven Club was one of the first music clubs for young musicians, and from the beginning the purpose of the the Beethoven Club was (and is) to promote classical music and performance. Follow this link to the modern day Beethoven Club’s history page.
Jessie’s gotten her team uniform and spends many afternoons practicing basketball. She plays center on her school team. Unfortunately, I can find no picture of her in her uniform, so I am including some photos of girls basketball teams from 1909 so you can see the kinds of uniforms they may have had.
Nickel shows were very popular during this time, and there were several theaters in competition for customers. Short silent films were popular, and sometimes they were interspersed with live vaudeville type entertainment. Jessie mentions going to the Majestic Theatre in some of her diary entries.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was touring in 1909. Jessie and her friends went, escorted by one friend’s father, and they had a ‘fine’ time. The cowboys in the the cabinet card photo below were performers in the Wild West Show.
*Credit to historic-memphis.com for the photo of the Majestic Theatre’s lobby.
August 14, 1909, Jessie and her Mother have just left for Colorado on the train. There were several train stations in Memphis, and Union Station would not open until 1912. The Calhoun Station, which was the first depot in Memphis, may have been the terminal they left from.
Jessie read “Joe’s Luck” by Horatio Alger during August 1909.
She often mentions playing with C.S. I think this was one of her cousins who lived in the neighborhood, perhaps Aunt Sallie’s little boy (Jessie does not spell this out in her diary). Here is a photo Jessie took of Swayne playing with C.S. (in white) and a white rabbit. Another photo from Jessie’s scrapbook that I like — her Mother carrying a doomed chicken (or is that a rabbit?).
Just before Jessie and her mother left for Colorado, they went shopping and purchased Jessie a new suit for the trip. The Edwardian styles were becoming less frilly and cumbersome and more tailored at this time.
*Credit to historic-memphis.com for the photo of the Calhoun Street Train Station.
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!