Excerpt for All Aboard! Memoirs of the MacDowell Sisters, Sweethearts of the Air by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Copyright 2012

All Rights Reserved

Transcribed from the typewritten 1931 manuscript in the McDowell family archive

By Raechelle Downing & Kayleigh Downing, Edited by Todd Downing

Editor’s Note

I grew up with my grandmother’s tales of her aunts’ adventures, their brief celebrity as recording artists and pioneers of radio, as independent businesswomen in an era when such a thing was unheard of—indeed, before women could even vote. The artifacts of their colorful lives were ever-present: the autographed photos of Edison gracing the wall, the pungent smell of history on a ukulele case that had made innumerable crossings by ocean liner and Pullman car, the sepia portraits of two sisters—one dark-haired, the other prematurely silver—who looked like my grandmother but were part of a past generation that was gone by the time mine had arrived.

I hesitate to use the term “strong woman”, because that incorrectly reinforces an ancient stereotype—that women are somehow less-than. That’s never been my experience, and it certainly wasn’t theirs. These were women who grew up the daughters of pioneers and settlers, and who used those scrappy, self-reliant qualities to blaze their own trail in business and entertainment in the first part of the 20th Century, often in the face of societal limitations of the time.

When I first read the old, yellowed manuscript in the summer of 2001, I realized that this autobiography would be of immense value to some—with its firsthand accounts of life in early 20th Century America, the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, the Great War, celebrities of the day, and all those cities: Wichita, Toledo, Oklahoma City, Detroit, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., and Honolulu. It’s a treasure trove for historians, as well as an amazing story of sisters who seized life with gusto and touched many with their art.

Transcribing and editing their memoirs has been an education, not only in family history but in the composition and colloquialisms of a century ago. My assurances that aside from a few typos and formatting glitches, I have endeavored to keep their original syntax and conversational flow perfectly intact. In many passages, one can almost hear them animatedly weaving their story.

A brief note of thanks should be given: to my wife Raechelle and my daughter Kayleigh Grace, for their help in transcription, and to the family at large for their encouragement in this endeavor.

Likewise, a contemporary dedication would seem in order. My grandmother Dorothy was four years old when Edith and Grace rescued her and her older brother Bennett from the Catholic orphanage in Texas where their own mother had deposited them without informing their father (who was laboring in the oil fields of Oklahoma). She spent time in their care in Hawaii and Hollywood, the recipient of ice cream money from western star William S. Hart, and—some 90 years later—is the keeper of the family archives. She has been the biggest impetus to completing the book.

Thanks also to my mother Nancy, for her help filling in the blanks.

It is with great pleasure that I share this work by my great-great aunts, Edith and Grace McDowell (known professionally as The MacDowell Sisters, “Sweethearts of the Air”).

We hope you enjoy the odyssey of many miles and more than a century that is ALL ABOARD!

- Todd Downing

Seattle, WA 2012

(Great-Grandnephew of
Edith & Grace McDowell)


McDowell Sisters

Why Our Story Was Written

As pioneers of radio broadcasting we feel that our five years of experiences over the air may be interesting to you. Also our ten years of “traveling and earning our way" with our typewriters. While broadcasting from 1922 until 1927 steadily, and occasionally up until the present time, thousands of our radio fans have urged us to tell them something of our lives…in fact, begged us to write a story of our lives!

Never having had time nor opportunity up to the autumn of 1930, we then decided to accept their suggestion and tell the story two sisters who have always been on their own and still made their dreams come true! If, by telling of our struggles and successes, we can be an inspiration to other girls who find it necessary to work for a living, we shall be most happy. Or, if we can cheer up those who are discouraged… the sick and shut-ins who have been so fond of our music… and give them a clearer and happier, we shall feel that the pa.st year of sitting here at our typewriters has been well


While we have been practically lost to our radio public for the past five years, we have news from WFAA, our station in Dallas, that there has never been a day that letters are not received by them, asking for tire MacDowell Sisters, and that they are still arriving at the present moment.

We have always sent blessings with our music, and we hope that this “letter” will prove to be a blessing to everyone who reads it. When you read of the years we have been pounding the typewriter you will understand that we enjoy talking to you via the blessed machine which supported us so many years. We hope to come back and talk to you over the “mike” very soon. Aloha Everybody!

Faithfully yours,

Edith and Grace, "Sweethearts of the Air”

To our mother
to our radio listeners
who inspired us
to write our own story

Chapter 1

Our Mother

Before writing of our childhood days, we would like you to know something about our mother. She was born in Wood County, Ohio, in 1853, and spent her entire girlhood in the neighborhood of Prairie Depot (now called Wayne) Rochester, Patterson and Fostoria.

Her mother was Rachael Jackson, a distant relative of the historical Andrew Jackson; her father was Peter Wilson, a descendant of the Earl of Warwick of England. Mother‘s name was Helen Frances.

At the age of nineteen she married Daniel MacDowell, also of Wood County. They both came from large families, and they had seven children of their own… Ernest Lee, Walter Douglass (who died at the age of 19), Edith Emily, Grace Clarissa, Elma Winifred, George Stanley and Allen Wilson. Six of us are still living. Mother died in 1915, father in 1920.

Mother was left an orphan at the age of four years, and from that age until she married, she moved from one family to another forty-one times. We want you to read a few pages from mother’s own story of her sad and pitiful childhood, which she wrote in 1914, the summer before she died. She had been ill eighteen years, and. having so many hours when she was not able to do anything but read and write, she studied and read many books, and wrote 100 pages about her childhood.

She had often told us of her childhood experiences, but would not dwell on them, as they were so sad. We are sure many orphans have passed through the same trials and sorrows, which seem almost unbelievable to children who have nice comfortable homes and loving parents. Mother had an unusual memory and an unfailing trust in God for protection at all times.

After reading her diary one wonders how there could be such cold-hearted and cruel people in the world, to allow a poor, innocent child to go from place to place, and never give her a word of love nor kindness, when her little heart was bursting with natural affection for some human being to respond to her.

The love that was denied her when a girl, was surely poured out on her own children to an unusual degree, and it is to her we give the credit for the great love that we send out to the world through our healing music. Our great desire is to keep on giving our music to the world until every heart is softened and filled with love toward all poor little children who are left alone to fight the battles of life!

Mother Helen’s Diary:

“My very first recollection is sitting on my mother’s lap, the old red cradle by her side, her breast waiting for me to nurse. She sewed out a great deal and left me, the youngest, with five older children.

“Each time she went away I remember I made a terrible howl. She took me with her one day to sew for a woman. This woman had some small boys. In order to keep me from playing with them they told me there was a big cross bull in the road, which frightened me so I hid behind the door, (and I just about stayed there all my life).

“Those four short years that I had a mother passed, despite the hardships, tricks and tormenting of my half-brothers and sisters. There were five: Adeline 16, Jane 14, Edwin 12, Joseph 10, Levi 8 and myself 4.

“I remember my mother’s last sickness quite well. She was so patient with me and allowed me on the bed, and even tried to amuse me. Oh, there is nothing like a good mother. I wonder how she fed and clothed us.

“One day I remember mother craved milk, and someone said, ‘Let her have all she wants, for she cannot live.’

“The day they buried mother big flakes of snow fell. I was standing by the open grave. Following that, I remember having whooping cough. I was staying with grandmother and grandfather Jackson. He was a fine looking man, large, ruddy, blue eyes and silver hair. I think I had more affection for him than any one at that time, as he showed more affection for me. When grandmother baked, he would beg her for a lump of sugar for me.

“Grandmother was lame, having broken one of her legs. She was dark, had black eyes, very wrinkled and very impatient.

“She had raised eight children of her own, and I suppose she was tired when I came there. No caresses ever appeared in that family; instead, a big whip was always in evidence, and if the broomstick was more convenient, that was used.”

“When the Civil War began, my grandfather was ill and had only a short time to live, and his last intelligent words were: ‘As soon as the last shovel of dirt is on my grave, go to war!’ Both of the boys went and never came back.

“Without any men folks to help grandmother, she had to give up housekeeping, so she sent me out to earn my own living. She sent me to a neighbor woman, but I was so homesick and unhappy that I bundled up my clothes one afternoon and ran away into the woods, intending to build some kind of shelter and live by myself.

“When I got to thinking of the dark I decided to run over to my aunt Nancy’s, because she had a baby boy I liked, so she said I could stay with her a few weeks. I must have been nine or ten years old.

“It was during those weeks of late summer time that I chased out into the woods one Sunday morning after the cows. The woods were dense, and not being able to head the cows off and start them home, I started back without them and got lost. This frightened me terribly, for there were occasionally to be seen bears, panthers, wildcats, and even porcupines—and snakes were plentiful.

“I got down on my knees and prayed to be shown the way out. I have wondered since how I learned to pray, for I do not remember having anyone teach me at that early age. There must have been some guardian angel watching over me, for I seemed to be protected from any real tragedy, although at that time things looked big and awful to me.

“As I waited and pondered I remembered that someone had said when cattle had enough to eat, they would take you home if you started them. So I wandered around until I heard the tinkle of their bell, followed it up, found them and drove them straight home. All I got at aunt Nancy’s was ridicule, and no sympathy for getting lost.”

“About this time my poor brother Levi took cold going in swimming, and they shipped him over to some relative to die, and I wasn’t notified for several months.”

“If you could have seen my wardrobe. Little thin calico dress. Don’t remember petticoats. A thin little shawl. But that did not trouble me. If they had only shown me a little love I could have stood the whippings and everything else.

“After staying several places and working like a slave for my board, I finally got homesick for grandmother Jackson. I must have had a hidden well of affection for her, or she had some for me, as I always went back to her. So at fourteen here I was going back to her again. She was then living with my uncle, so I had to walk ten miles. When I reached there, uncle George refused to let me stay, but threatened to kick me out.

“I had to start out and find another family to work for. I remember one Sunday morning they were really going to take me to church with them, which meant a ride in a big wagon, a strange church and a big dinner.

“Just as we were ready to start, one of the calves got out of the pasture and I had to run lickety brindle to help get it back. Of course I was barefooted, and as I rushed over an old pile of boards I stepped on a big rusty nail. Well, that settled the day for me. They went and I stayed home, suffering all day in terrible agony. I just rolled on the floor and held my foot up in the air. That is a day that will always remain a painful memory.

“One Sunday morning I took a notion to cut my hair, so cut it I did, and got ready to go to Prairie Depot to church. I walked of course, and it was at least five miles. How I must have looked.

“I was fourteen and was getting what schooling I could, but working for country folks, there was little time for the hired girl to attend school, or church either. I was seldom able to attend a whole winter term after I was large enough to work, and never to summer terms. At that time they were winter and summer terms.

“One summer I remember attending school at the Shoup school house. There were woods all around it on the side of the building, and I do love woods… not the heart of big woods… too much danger there, but thin woods—all sizes of trees, old hollow stumps where one might camp daytimes—big old fallen trees, covered with thick soft green moss—much, much prettier than any soft plush or Brussels carpet—little fallen trees, just right to climb—birds singing—squirrels skipping with saucy tails—oh, a thousand charms I cannot tell on paper.

“The summer I speak of, Mrs. Guernsey taught. I loved her, which is a fortune in itself—just to be around someone you love. All my teachers were good to me.

“The boys brought axes, hammers and nails, selected a pretty spot the size of a room, or larger; left a tree in the center, which formed shade, and a place to hammer nails to hang up our bonnets, or whatever, then they cut branches and stacked all around for shade and walls, then they put a pole across two trees and made a great swing that took two boys to push it. It went as high as the small tree tops, and oh joy, it would come my turn sometimes!

“I was a very happy little girl, even though I could not furnish a thing to help. I doubt if I even dared to tell grandmother about it. Of course everyone carried dinners. I do not remember any kind of dinner I carried, and I honestly doubt if I carried any. Perhaps if I got hungry I ran home, and believe me, I would go hungry before missing any play.

“I DO remember taking buckwheat cakes one day, with nothing on them, but that must have been in the winter. Now, this isn’t fiction at all. I suppose the reason I remember them I might have been somewhat ashamed, for Mary Troxel brought such delicious dinners, pickled peaches (little clings with the skins on), yum, yum, it makes me hungry yet. She used to give me one now and then.

“That reminds me that grandmother had rented a peach tree full of peaches that stood in a field quite a distance from the house, and some of the boys and girls, knowing who they belonged to, sneaked to the tree one day, and with baskets in hand they picked every peach and took them home. Could it be that they did not like my grandmother? I did, and would have fought for her. When their parents found out where they got them they made every one of them carry the peaches to our house, so grandmother had her peaches picked free.

“A couple years afterward I remember I wanted to go into town to Sunday School. I was living about five miles out in the country with a family. When I got about half way, I grew so thirsty I stopped at a nice white house to get a drink of water. I opened the gate and started in, when a great white bull dog came strolling around the house to meet me. I was not afraid. He neither barked nor smiled, but walked right up to me and sank his big teeth right through the top of my shoe, leaving two holes in the shoe and two in my foot. Blood oozed up through the shoe. They took me in and had me sit down and I suppose they brought me a drink, but I didn’t want any then.

“I was so frightened and sick, but started on. Oh, I could hardly get to town. Went to Mrs. Cramer’s mother, a nice motherly woman. I could hardly get my shoe off. How it pained. I sat with it on a chair for a week. Good Mrs. Clark doctored it. I never went back to that place in the country to stay.

“I was without a home again. This problem—facing a girl of fourteen years—sank so deeply in my memory, that it has come back in dreams all my life.”

“Again I grew homesick for grandmother Jackson, so I trudged ten miles to see her. She was now living with uncle George. Aunt Sarah Ann could have used me to good advantage, as she had so much to do and several little children to look after, but uncle was very close-fisted, and he simply would not feed me for all the work I was willing to do. Except for a few days at a time.

“In going from Patterson to Fostoria, I had to make a change at Caray and Findlay. When I arrived at Fostoria, I still had eighteen miles to go to reach the MacDowell family, with whom I had stayed one summer. I still remember my hat. It was white straw, which I trimmed myself with green ribbon. After getting on the train, I met a young lady who lived in Findlay. She asked me where I was going. She told me I could not make connections without staying all night in Findlay. I must have looked dismayed, as I certainly did not have money enough to stay at a hotel, and anyway it looked bigger than going to a hospital or any other dreadful place. At any rate, her aunt invited me to go home with them for the night. Maybe they were not angels, and maybe I was not relieved.

“This family had an adopted daughter, who was quite snippy with me, so I was put to bed with the good old grandma, bless her heart. Then it set in for a good hard rain, and I was thankful to be in such good hands, for this was Saturday night and my train did not run on Sunday.

“Went to church with them the next morning, and found three sisters I had known. They took me home with them to stay until evening service. After service I went home with the same good woman to wait for train time on Monday.

“I was so timid among strangers that I was really afraid to eat all I wanted. Monday morning was bright and fair. Mr. Mullen, good soul, went with his wheel-barrow and wheeled my trunk from one station to another, and I landed at Fostoria with one dollar.

“There were the three Lesher girls, almost broke, so we bargained with a cab to take us to Milgrove, about thirteen miles away. I do not remember having any lunch, but arrived in Fostoria late in the afternoon. I left my trunk at the station, and when I reached Milgrove walked the five miles to the MacDowell home. I found Mrs. MacDowell coming out of the house, carrying the baby, and I was surely glad to see them. Some of the family, going to Fostoria later on, brought my trunk back.

“MacDowells were living in their new house and I was eager to see it, and Susie, the newest baby. Mrs. MacDowell found me a place to work with an aunt of hers.

“Lived in this neighborhood quite a while, getting better acquainted with the MacDowell family, going to spelling school and church doings with some of their young folks. When I was nineteen, one of their sons, Daniel, who was a few years my senior, asked me to become his wife.

“We were married on the 4th of July, 1872. We arrived at the preacher’s home, I with my grey poplin trimmed in white fringe, white lace hat, trim shoes size 4; Daniel, with very light trousers, boots much too tight, black coat.

“Thus ended my childhood, and while I realize that the reading of my diary is very depressing, if I had been a rich little girl with all the trimmings that belong, my life might have been much pleasanter reading.”

Chapter 2
Our Childhood Days

(Grace Broadcasting)

Our parents settled near Cloverdale, Ohio, about thirty miles from Toledo, where they cleared the timber and built their own home. Five of us children were born in this home, and we regret to say that the first thing we remember about our dear mother was that she had to work so hard and that she looked so worn and tired. However, she never failed to be kind and loving to us, and as soon as we were old enough, we helped her with the housework in order that her burdens would not be so heavy.

When the youngest of five children was about four years old, mother and father sold their little farm and we boarded the train for the state of Kansas. Why they wanted to go so far from the old homestead, where they lived all their lives, we do not know, unless it was that they grew tired of pioneering in the woods, driving miles through deep muddy roads in wet weather, to buy the necessities of life.

Father bought a little farm in Kingman County, Kansas, and it was so sandy that when the terrible sand storms swept over the country, there would be very little left but the house. We used to run down in the “cellar” when we saw a big black cloud coming over the prairie, for we never knew whether our house would be standing after the storm ceased. Another terror that passed our way several times, while we lived on that farm, was the “prairie fires” that swept everything before them. Father would rush out, hitch the mules to the plow and make several furrows around the house, which luckily saved us from destruction.

Brother George, who now lives in Toledo, Ohio, was born on that sandy farm. Just before he was born there was a terrible electrical storm. Mother was sitting out on the step to get air, as it was very sultry. After this electrical shock, it was only a little while until her baby was born, the shock seeming to hurry the matter along. When the doctor and neighbors arrived to take charge of the case, they found a lusty boy crying a greeting to them.

Mother had wanted father to buy a small piece of land just outside Wichita, and raise fruit and vegetables, but he was influenced by the real estate man to sink what little he had brought with him from Ohio, into that worthless sand farm. Believe it or not, there must have been some real estate sharks in those days!

About the only fun we children had while living out in this sandy country, was rolling down hill in barrels, as it was just sloping enough to make little hills here and there. There was not much that would grow on that soil, but we managed to raise watermelons and peanuts. We also raised chicken and pigs, and sometimes the coyotes would sneak up and catch the chickens if someone did not chase them off with a pitchfork.

Perhaps we have good memories too, for we remember one night a neighbor came riding up on horseback, crying, “The Indians are coming! Get into your wagon and fly for your lives to Cheney!” Well, mother was not going to “fly” until she packed a trunk full of her most precious belongings, and clothes for us children.

In a little while we were all tucked in a big wagon on a feather bed, with blankets over us, for we had not time to dress. Everything that could be packed into the wagon was taken along, and we drove to Cheney about fifteen miles away.

We expected every moment to see Indians coming to kill us. Our neighbors traveled all night in wagons and on horseback and we all reached Cheney about daylight. As this little town stood on a hill we could look back and see our house still standing. This time it just happened to be an Indian scare.

We drove home again and found everything in its place, but the little calf, which had forced its way into the back kitchen and was tangled up in a big batch of bread dough. Mother had set bread the night before and it had run over the sides of the pan and on to the floor. This was a small matter, however, as we were thankful the Indians had not come our way.

In the summer of that same year the older members of our family worked so hard, that father, mother and Ernest came down with typhoid fever and nearly died. The rest of us were too young to do much, but the neighbors came in and nursed them back to health.

When they grew strong once more, they thought it was about time to leave such a desolate country, so again they packed us all into the wagon and drove to Wichita. All father had to show for his hard work on that farm was what he drove into Wichita with, a team of mules and what could be brought with us in the wagon.

Wichita will always be a bright spot in our lives, for while we were as poor as church mice, we had a roof over our heads, enough to keep from starving, and lived where we could attend city school and Sunday School!

How we loved to go to Sunday School with mother. Father went occasionally, but he was quite deaf and did not attend as regularly as the rest of our family. He was a hard worker and kind to us children and mother, but he never seemed able to make much money, which of course made life for mother quite a burden at times, especially when there was sickness in the family.

Mother was our ideal in every way, as she always encouraged us in the things we hoped to do some day. She took an active part in church work, taught a class of girls and was beloved by all.

We lived just back of the little church, the Oak Street Church with is still there, and we spent many happy hours mingling with our playmates in Sunday School, and socials, and during the Christmas festivities all seemed a fairyland to us.

Those dear memories will never fade, for at that time we had our first taste of music, and oh my, how we all loved music! We did not realize what a sweet alto our mother possessed until we all sang in church. We girls had started to school by this time, and soon found that we had alto voices.

We shall always be grateful to Wichita for furnishing such a wonderful music teacher, who visited each room once a week and gave us class lessons. We loved that hour best of all the week in school, and learned as much as we could during the years that we attended school in Wichita. They taught us to read the notes from the first grade on, and that is where we learned most of the music that we now give out over the air!

Our teacher was Jessie Clark, and she taught in the public schools of Wichita for thirty-three years. She was still teaching when we went through Wichita, after making records for Thomas Edison in 1924, and we visited her and gave her the first record of ours that we could buy, after they were on the market, and told her that she was responsible for our success in making records. She seemed pleased to hear us say this and to receive our record. She has since passed on but our love still goes out to her.

Sometimes we wonder how our dear mother clothed and fed us, and kept the house clean and respectable. About this time our youngest brother was born, and we girls were big enough to help with the work. We must have had grand neighbors, as they helped us in times of sickness and we do not remember ever having a nurse at such times.

We had a dear neighbor, Mrs. Helena Mason, who used to come in and cheer mother when she was ill. She brought her dainty dishes, as we girls were hardly old enough to cook, but we surely learned that art at an early age.

Helena Mason is a wonderful soul. She is still living and is past eighty years old, but as active as a girl. Her sparkling brown eyes and beautiful smile will keep her young as long as she lives. She and mother were dear friends in those days, confiding in each other all their sorrows and joys.

About four years ago, we found Mrs. Mason in Long Beach, California, after many years’ separation, and we hope never to lose her again. She loves Hollywood and has a very warm spot in her heart for the memory of Rudolph Valentino—in fact, she went to a theatre one night, where one of Rudy’s pictures was showing, and with a lucky ticket, won a large pastel painting of Rudy, which she gave us and we have it in a large gold frame with a light over it, hanging in our Los Angeles home.

Mrs. Mason has told us things about her visits with mother when they were neighbors in Wichita. She said one day they took a walk and finally sat down on a large flat stone across the street from a neighbor’s home. Mother had a pencil and paper, with which she drew a picture of that little house, the vines over the doors and windows, every detail as natural as life. Mrs. Mason had kept that picture in her large family Bible all those years, and it was after we located her in Long Beach, that she wrote her son in Wichita to look through the Bible and mail the picture to her and she gave it to us. We have it framed and hanging on our wall, along with several other larger paintings, which mother made in later years, using water colors and pastels. She never had a lesson, but it seemed natural and easy for her to paint such beautiful scenery, and we are proud to show them to our friends when they come to our home.

One of our Sunday School teachers in Wichita came from a very wealthy family. Her father was a dry goods merchant, and of course they had lovely clothes. Harriet knew of our poverty, and used to come and call at our house to see mother, as they were close friends and interested together in Sunday School work.

Harriet asked mother one day if it would hurt her feelings if she would give us some of her clothes that she did not need any longer. Mother was proud, but not too proud to accept such sweet charity, and gladly accepted her offer.

The first bundle that she brought us was full of ribbons, and such a variety of bright and rich colors. We were so happy we did not know how to thank her, but our little round faces must have expressed our gratitude. After that first bundle, we girls carried many a larger one from her beautiful home to our little home back of the church.

Harriet gave one of us a doll one Christmas that she had played with as a girl. It had a china head with kid hands and feet. We still have it, and shall always love Harriet for her kindness to us, as she saved our dear mother many an hour of wondering where she would find clothes for her little girls. Mother made most of the boys’ little suits herself. We wonder where she learned to do so many things, for it seemed to us that she knew how to do everything.

We still correspond with and even meet some of our old schoolmates of Wichita. Two girls live in California now. One of them lives in Long Beach, is married and has four children; the other lives in San Francisco, has three children, with a fine looking son attending West Point. It is very interesting to see these old friends after quite a long separation.

(Edith broadcasting)

Since reading over mother’s diary and preparing a few paragraphs of it for you to read, we have felt almost too sad to write. However, it all happened before we could protect her from the rebuffs of the world. The wonder of it all is that she was such a loving mother to us, and that we were given such a perfect heritage in physical heath, mentality, morality and love for humanity.

Of the seven brothers and sisters every one grew to be healthy young men and women. Our brother Walter Douglass was the only one with dark hair and hazel eyes like mother’s, and of course we thought him very handsome and upstanding. His goal in life was to work and provide a home and many of the comforts of life for mother, and it was to this end that he worked during our stay in Wichita,

When I was thirteen my desire to play piano or organ was so intense, that mother purchased an organ by much sacrifice and maneuvering on her part. I could not afford to take lessons, so dear Mrs. Mason’s daughter, Gertrude, who was a very beautiful young lady at that time and the ideal of all the girls in the neighborhood, instructed me how to connect my knowledge of notes learned at school, with the keyboard of the organ.

That was all I needed, for I was so entranced with the playing that I could play hymns immediately. Mother never had to tell me to practice, for every moment I could find, when not busy at something else, was devoted to the dear little organ. I was simply starved for music and practicing gave me my happiest hours.

I shall always remember what beautiful hands Gertrude had, and how she put on gloves to hang up the clothes on wash day. As I was at the tom-boy age myself, and enjoyed playing whenever possible, I thought she was very wonderful to look upon.

Gertrude’s wedding, a little later on, was the very first one we attended. Mother and Mrs. Mason were such close friends, that we were invited, although only about a dozen guests had that pleasure. Mother was invited to say “grace”, and Mrs. Mason says today that her prayer was like a benediction upon the bride and groom.

Gertrude offered to help me with my playing whenever I needed assistance, as did my Sunday School teacher, Harriet. Later on I took lessons on the piano during one summer—practicing at home on our little organ.

We had been in Wichita eight years, and I was beginning to show great promise in my music. My teacher was planning to appoint me as assistant teacher, when our father and brother decided to return to Ohio. Oil had been discovered and our relatives wrote that they thought the men folks might make more money in that line. They were to go back and start, then the rest of us were to follow later.

After father and Ernest had gone, mother had dreams almost every night, warning her not to go back to Ohio. We were so happy in Wichita, and would have been contented to live there the rest of our lives, I believe. However, mother was so conscientious and felt it her duty to do whatever father thought was best. The time came for us to leave and our hearts were heavy, as we’d enjoyed our school days there, our Sunday School and all our friends and schoolmates.

We had been back in Bowling Green, Ohio, less than a year when brother Walter took a hard cold, which developed into tuberculosis, and in three months he died. He and Ernest had loved music also, and both had baritone voices. Before Walter grew too ill he would beg me to play a hymn on the organ (we had bought another one since we could not bring ours with us from Wichita), and he would join in with us in singing.

Walter was delirious much of the time toward the last and he talked about a new fur coat for mother, and a hard coal burner, and all the comforts of life that he had always longed to get for her. She would pretend that she had on a fur coat and would go into his room and walk around and show it to him, then he would go to sleep…happy.

We girls and mother joined church in Bowling Green. Grace and I sang in the choir and I played the church organ for Sunday School and in that way we kept up our music.

The following summer, after Walter’s death in March, one of the neighbors came in saying that father had been injured in an accident, not knowing how badly he was hurt. As mother was already crushed and brokenhearted over Walter’s long sickness and death, looking after the welfare of her large family and battling with poverty all her life, she simply collapsed.

Father’s accident proved to be only a broken arm, from which he soon recovered, but the damage had been done to mother, and from then on for eighteen years, she never fully recovered her health. Grace was in her second year of high school, which she gave up and remained home to help with our large family. As I was doubtful if I could make enough money teaching music among strangers, which I had planned doing in order to help with the finances of the family, I made up my mind to become a stenographer.

Ernest went back to Wichita that summer and married the girl whom he met during our stay there, and to whom he had become engaged before leaving Wichita. He brought her back to Ohio with him.

This left me to help earn the living in order that Elma, George and Allen could continue going to school and Grace stayed home with mother. Those were very trying times, and just as tragic as mother’s dreams had foretold. We felt that Walter would have lived had we stayed in Kansas; that I could have continued teaching music with my dear teacher; that father’s accident would probably not have occurred, and consequently that mother would not have broken down so early in life.

However, it was too late to change our lives, so Grace took charge of the home and cared for mother when she was unable to be up. I mustered up courage and went to Toledo to attend business college, as I had read some literature from a business college in Toledo, saying that stenographers earned as much as $10.00 a week, which sounded like a fortune to me. Therefore, I decided to learn stenography.

The president of this business college lived in Bowling Green. We were fortunate in knowing this professor, and when I explained my plan of going to Toledo and how short of funds I was, he offered to allow me to pay for my business course after I had secured a position. We all agreed that this was a magnanimous offer, and I accepted it immediately.

I talked the matter over with mother, and she was such a sympathetic counselor that she made me feel with her love and prayers back of me, I could conquer the world! As long as she lived, until 1915, she was always ready to listen to our problems, and we could sit at her feet and shed tears if we felt the need of them, and she never made us feel that it was childish. Why, if we three girls should write about our precious mother from now until doomsday, we could not picture in words her beauty of character, her luminous eyes and her loving heart and arms.

Chapter 3

Entering the Business World as Stenographers

(Edith Broadcasting)

After attending business college in Toledo less than four months, it was necessary for me to secure a position. Of course if I had gone to school long enough to receive a diploma, it would have taken several months longer.

One day I started out to look for a position. It is pathetic and still funny, when I look back on that experience, but it was almost a matter of life or death to me. The Spitzer Building was at that time the principal office building in Toledo, and not very far from the business college. I went to that building first and called on a large bond firm.

I had heard that this firm needed a stenographer, and when I stated my business, the manager invited me into his office and gave me some dictation. I trembled so much that I could scarcely read my notes…but worse and more of it…when I typed the letter, the shift-key was not adjusted and the capital letters came out in small type and the small type came out in capital letters. By the time I had typed the full page, it was a dreadful sight.

I began to realize that I should know more about the mechanical part of the typewriter, as well as to be able to type speedily. So my poor heart went down in my boots, for I was helpless and knew it. The manager, naturally, suggested that I required considerable experience before I would be capable of handling his work. Of course he was right, but I was so disappointed that I cried with chagrin. However, I determined that I WOULD get that position and later I did!

I went to a small firm on the same floor of the building. One member of the firm was a friend of ours, formerly from Bowling Green, who knew the struggle I was making in order to help my family. The firm agreed to rent a typewriter and allow me to do their work, paying me a certain amount per letter and also allow me to do extra work for surrounding offices. After three weeks of dictation and typing in this office, and doing as much for several outside offices as I could secure, I was called upon to write some circular letters for my big firm. They were so pleased with the neatness of my work that they hired me, as they had not yet found a girl to fill the position.

As soon as I was actually hired and knew that I was on their payroll at $40.00 a month, I immediately urged the rest of the family to come to Toledo so that Grace could also study shorthand and typewriting.

Elma had graduated from high school in Bowling Green, having had the honor of being class president and class poet. However, she agreed to remain home with mother temporarily, while Grace attended business college.

The folks moved to Toledo, father found work and the two youngest boys started to school. The change seemed to do mother good and she grew stronger and able to take charge of the family, with Elma’s help. Grace and helped nights and mornings, often getting up at 4:30am to put out our weekly washings and ironings before leaving home. Grace was happy to have the same opportunity to attend college that I had been given, so she lost no time in starting.

After several months Grace was ready to accept a position. I had been thinking all along how happy I would be to have her in the same office with me, and it seemed that Providence arranged things so that it was made possible.

The work increased so much that one of the younger members of the firm found he could use a regular stenographer, instead of dictating to one of us when we were not busy. I then asked if Grace might come in and try out the work.

Poor Grace was as frightened at taking dictation as I had been the first time, and after a few days, her boss came to me and said: “Edith, I am afraid Grace can’t do my work. She is apparently so frightened that she does not get her shorthand notes down properly, and that makes me nervous.”

“That is perfectly all right”, I answered. “You gave her a chance, which we both appreciate. Possibly she had better go back to school a little longer.”

That was about the middle of the week and grace was to finish out the week. After she knew she could not stay, it seemed to take her fear away, and on Saturday her boss came to me again and said: “Well, grace has done so much better the last day or two that I’m going to let her stay!”

What a joy it was to both of us to work together, and how happy I was to have her under my wing. By this time I was quite experienced in the work and could give her all the pointers she needed. There were two other girls who had been there several years, so the four of us occupied the lovely “stenographers’ room”. This was a nice large room, separate from the other offices and gave us quiet and harmony during working hours. It will always remain a pleasant memory… our years there.

After I had been with this firm a couple of years I longed for a vacation. A convention was being held in Boston that summer (1906), which made it possible to secure such low excursion rates that I felt that I could afford to go.

Grace could not get off at the same time, so I had to go alone on my very first vacation. As I remember, $45.00 covered my entire expenses on that trip. I attended the convention, enjoyed all the sights of Boston and had a delightful visit to Concord.

Went out the historical Lexington Road and enjoyed my first view of Orchard House, the home of Louisa M. Alcott, passing Emerson’s home on the way, and Hawthorne’s home was just beyond Orchard House. As “Jo” had been my ideal since childhood I received a great thrill going over the ground where her “Little Women” and “Little Men” had really existed.

In Concord where Jo’s nephew (one of the “little Men”) was still living, I went to the door and begged to be allowed to see the home, as it was the last place Mill Alcott have lived and where she died. I think my face beamed with so much love and enthusiasm that the nephew’s wife was sweet enough to invite me in.

She showed me the room where Louisa had spent her last days, the very desk and pen used by her, the paintings done by “Amy”, and the picture of Amy’s child “Lulu”, named for Louisa. Amy married Laurie in Europe and lived abroad, you know, losing her life when Lulu was born.

I shall never forget another thrilling happening during my stay in Boston. The interesting doings of the convention we were attending, were going on every day, and I attended most of them. But when it came to a formal reception and banquet I was “out” as I had no evening clothes.

All of us young folks in the crowd who could not afford hotels had been placed by a committee in lovely homes near the headquarters. Fortunately I was placed with a young married couple. The wife had marvelous clothes, and insisted on fitting me out in one of her dainty evening gowns and everything to go with it. She had been a dancer and her clothes were quite theatrical, but they seemed wonderful to me, and I do not doubt that I was the happiest person at the banquet that evening.

I saw one gorgeous looking woman with a brocaded satin that was said to be a copy of the wedding dress of Alice Roosevelt. This woman was on the reception committee and it seemed to me that she nodded and bowed constantly for hours as she greeted the guests.

As our excursion tickets permitted us return to Toledo via boat as well as rail, I enjoyed the boat trip to New York, and from New York “up the Hudson”. After ten days of vacationing with a thrill a minute, I was so exhausted that my vision of the Hudson Palisades was quite broken up with naps. I sat near an old lady who promised to waken me every time I fell asleep, so I would miss none of the scenery, but she napped herself, so I had to take the Hudson trips later.

We had visited Niagara Falls on the way to Boston, so every moment was full of thrills, and I decided that I must take one trip a year! I have averaged more than that, and Grace and I can truthfully say that most of our earnings have gone to the railroads and Pullman company. We shall tell you later how many thousand miles we have traveled since we were born!

As I arrived home from Boston, mother met me at the door with a lovely bunch of daisies in her hand, as fresh and bright as when I had gathered them in Concord. I had mailed them to her as a surprise and they had kept for a week.

I went back to work and was glad to be in the offices with Grace again. We were just as fine a team in our stenographic work as we are in radio work. However, I used to wonder how it would seem to have a rich father who could call us to him and say:

“Girls, here is a check for $1000.00. Take a trip to Atlantic City or Europe, and when you need more wire me!” It must be a grand and glorious feeling! The bond men of course sent their daughters to Europe in the summer, with every luxury during their travels, yet I wonder if those very girls had the real joy and same thrill that I received during my first vacation, spending only $45.00 for the two weeks.

In the spring of 1907, not succeeding in obtaining a raise in salary, which I thought I had earned and seeing no possibility of getting one, as they had a limit at that time of $50.00 per month, which I was then receiving, I resigned my position. Grace was to go on, but I was tired and nervous. We had so many home duties to perform before leaving for the office and after getting home in the evening, that my three years’ work was beginning to tire my nerves. If fact, it brought on nervous prostration, from which I suffered for several weeks.

As my oldest brother was living near Coffeyville, Kansas, I thought a change might help me, both in scenery and in work, and I longed for a taste of the west again, so I went to Kansas and the change did help me.

At that time Miss Rosa Bell was City Clerk of Coffeyville, and because I knew her though correspondence for the bond firm, I called on her to pay my respects. She was very cordial, and as she and her mother were living alone in a large home, invited me to room with them. This was a happy surprise and gave me a real home during my stay.

I immediately placed an ad in the local papers, asking $65.00 per month, and secured a position in a couple of days as a stenographer to manager of a large glass factory. I enjoyed the complete change from a city to a small town, where I could walk to the office, and enjoy a vacation in a way, even though working. Six weeks were spent in this little western city, when I was called home to Toledo by the serious illness of mother. I rushed back and helped nurse her until she was better.

As soon as possible, I went back to work. I saw an ad asking for a MAN stenographer who would have charge of 15 girl stenographers. I was so anxious to get busy that I took a chance on answering the ad, and it seems that my courage in asking for such an unusual thing got the position for me. I could not induce them to pay me more than $60.00 per month, however. My work was very pleasant that summer as the factory was located in one of the charming suburbs, and I got along with the 15 girls better than I had anticipated, and I believe all of the girls were my friends.

In the autumn of 1907, the doctor advised us that our mother could not live many more months unless we moved to a warmer climate, as the cold winters were very hard on her and she was quite ill.

We hardly knew what to do, as this shocking news almost broke our hearts. We could see no possible way to arrange a trip south, as we had not saved much money out of our small salaries. However, we knew that a way would be provided if it was the right thing to do, and our first miracle happened!

Where to go was the first question to be settled. As our bond firm had representatives traveling in all parts of the west, we concluded to ask their advice. It looked like a serious problem to leave our positions, but it was necessary, so Grace talked with her employer, who called one of the young men into the office and asked him a few questions about his district. They called me to come and talk over the trip.

This young man had traveled in Oklahoma, and after we listened to a glowing account of the west, and especially of Oklahoma City, we came to the conclusion that that might be a good place to live. The young man told us that it was a flourishing city for its size, and thought possibly positions would be obtained.

It was out of the question to take mother to Florida or any real winter resort, because we did not have the money, and we wanted to go to some business city where we could secure positions as soon as possible.

The family remained in Toledo, and after several consultations, we found that it would be possible to get enough money together to go to Oklahoma City. On November 4, 1907, we purchased transportation for mother, Grace and myself, and with $75.00 in our possession, said goodbye to the family remaining behind. The weather was terrible the night we left. It was raining and sleeting and as cold as mid-winter.

Naturally our hearts were heavy at leaving the others, but after forty-eight very pleasant hours on the train, we arrived in Oklahoma City. The sun was shining and it was as warm as Indian summer and the world looked bright and promising.

We visited the parks and went sight-seeing; the flowers were still blooming, and apparently winter had been halted several weeks. It made us feel hopeful that mother would soon grow stronger, as she could be out of doors every day.

We were strangers in a strange land, did not know a soul, and had no idea where we would secure positions. The first thing was to find a place to live. We tried a boarding house for about a week, but it was not very satisfactory. We scouted and found a very small furnished apartment and in a few days were settled.

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