She’s Got Those Memphis Blues, 1922

Jessie Latham, 1920.

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.