The journey begins
Mrs. W. L. Steely
104 W. Main St.
Chanute, Kansas, March 8, 1917
Dear Mr. Liebstadler:
“This will introduce to you Miss Beals, of Humbolt Kansas. She is wanting some goods and also a trimmer for a few weeks. You will confer a favor on me by doing the best you can for her.
. . . I will stand good for $50 worth of goods for her. She wants some classy shapes, some patterns etc.
. . . Hoping you can help her I am
Mrs. W. L. Steely
And so with this letter my journey begins. A journey to rediscover my grandmother’s life as a young woman trying to make it on her own as a milliner. For years I had known that my grandmother Madge worked in the hat trade before her marriage to my grandfather, but never knew any details. She didn’t talk about that part of her life and I was too young to realize the importance and bravery of her actions so long ago.
After my junior year in college I married and started my own life and put her information in the back of my mind for some other day. After all, there was plenty of time. But, unfortunately there wasn’tt any more time. Madge died of the flu within the year, buried in the dress she wore to my wedding.
Her daughter Jane, my aunt, who has done extensive genealogical research into our family history going all the way back to England and Ireland, never thought about writing down her own mother’s history. I know a lot about the man Madge married, my grandfather Ray Meredith. How he owned the Kansas Mattress Factory; about his Irish uncles who ran a stable in downtown Wichita; I even have information about his parents. A father who abandoned his family for the Klondike gold rush and a mother who, needing to support that family, traveled to Cripple Creek Colorado, baby in tow, to cook for miners.
What I do know about Madge is that she was born on Feb 22, 1896 in Montpelier, Indiana and the family traveled to Kansas by covered wagon in the early 1900s. I have a wonderful photo of her in her early teens
standing in front of their sod house. I also know that she married my grandfather, Ray John Meredith, on June 21,1922 at age 26. An age at that time that might be considered bordering on old maid status. I have very little information of her life in between. My mom loved to regale me with tales about her dad Ray, but Madge was just her mom. Now my Mom is gone as well, just when I would love to sit down and talk with her about grandmother Madge.
Earlier this year my aunt Jane, excited about my new online vintage shop named after my grandmother, mentioned in passing about Madge’s hat shop in Scooba, Mississippi. She also mentioned that she took my grandmother back to Scooba in the 1970s and found the building where the hat shop had been located. Never having heard any of this I was astounded. In the mid-1910s Madge somehow had found an investor, moved to Scooba, lived in a boarding house and started a new life away from home and family. The bad news is that my aunt didn’t remember the where the shop was located and hadn’t taken any photos of their trip.
So here I am, going through two huge suitcases of old letters, papers and photographs from my cousin in Wichita, trying to find a hat shop in Scooba, Mississippi without an address, shop name or exact date. I do know the shop was open only for a short time around 1917. Was Mrs. Steely the investor? Is this letter about Scooba or something in Chanute, Kansas?
Today my husband, Mr. Madge, & I start our trip to his family reunion in Missouri. On the way we will stop in Scooba armed with only a couple of old letters, one photo of Madge with a Scooba girlfriend and a hand-drawn map that my aunt drew up from memories of her visit 40 years ago.
Once there we will meet with Sarah Dauterive, a wonderful librarian at the Tubb-May Library, East Mississippi Community College in Scooba who has been helping me try to find this needle in this Mississippi haystack.
So stay tuned. Ora Madge Beals Meredith, I know you are out there somewhere.