This old photograph is of my grandmother, Elizabeth (we called her Mommom), the youngest girl next to the littlest child, her brother Edwin, and my Aunt Margaret and Aunt Emily, the eldest sister and subject of this post.
My family saves letters, journals, photographs, scrapbooks, all kinds of memorabilia, from the people who went before us and I’m the recipient of much of this bounty. I’m not even sure what all I’ve been entrusted with, so am taking stock. One of my favorite finds is a scrapbook, circa 1902, that belonged to my great Aunt Emily, whom I know of but never met in life. She died long before my birth. Dad gave me her scrapbook years ago, but I’d rather forgotten about it until my recent find.
Young Emily filled the now dilapidated pages with magazine clippings, pictures, Valentine and Christmas cards, and keepsakes valuable to a teenage girl at the turn of the 20th century. The fallen apart scrapbook is beyond saving but I cut out my favorite pasted in cards and images. Emily grew up the cherished daughter (one of three sisters and a brother) to loving parents, with a good, comfortable life, her father being a banker. One of the items in her scrapbook is her dance card from what may have been her debutante ball. A tiny pencil hangs at its side to enter the names of the gentlemen requesting a dance. No young men are listed, which puzzled me, as Emily was an attractive, vivacious girl, who boasted in a letter to her papa about daring to ride ‘astride’ when other genteel ladies rode side saddle, so it’s not because she wasn’t admired.
Christmas cards (shown above) were different in that era. The Valentine’s cards are more familiar. Tastes have changed over the decades, but romantic love isn’t out of favor, not entirely anyway, and definitely not with me.
(An assortment of cards and events)
(Valentines from 1902)
After immersing myself in Emily’s scrapbook, and remembering what Dad told me about her, I feel closer to this distant aunt. Dad said when Emily died it was partly the doctor’s fault because he didn’t appreciate the seriousness of her condition (kidney disease). She’s reported to have said, “I told you I was sick,” towards the end. I don’t know if Emily could have been saved in that era, before antibiotics, if the doctor had been aware of her deteriorating health, but maybe he would have tried harder. Dad said Emily had developed the reputation of being a hypochondriac, which made the medical community downplay her complaints. I wonder if she truly was a hypochondriac or whether she was discounted as women often were in the past and still are today.
After Emily’s death, she was laid out in the formal parlor in the family homeplace where friends and family paid their final respects. Dad remembers his grandfather, Emily’s father, seated by her side, begging her to wake up because she appeared to only be sleeping. Dad said how cruel he thought it was that Emily had been made to look so lifelike in death. His grandfather kept Emily’s picture on his bedside stand and kissed it every night. He never got over the untimely death of his beloved daughter. So sad.
I don’t have Emily’s picture as an adult and hope one turns up, but I found this lovely Edwardian lady in her scrapbook. Maybe Emily looked much like her. Both are brunettes.
I’m touched and inspired by Emily. Perhaps, you are too. Dad once told me the years of his youth and those of his parents’ generation were a gracious time to live, if you could stay alive. There were many illnesses and injuries to carry you away without the treatments available today. I should add, and if you had the money to live well, always a plus. Even with the risks of that era, I deeply appreciate the graciousness and civility my Virginia ancestors enjoyed. Maybe I’ll pack some antibiotic and travel back, as I do in my time travel romances.