Tuesday, June 29, 2021

52 Ancestors - CONFLICT: Jolly and Jeanne

My grandaunt Violetta Davis Ryan often mentioned that my mother and her second cousin Andrew Jollette “Jolly” Steppe were great friends. I was puzzled by that. They lived so far from one another that a close friendship did not seem likely. After reading many of the letters found in my grandparents’ attic, I now see the connection.

"Jolly" with his parents 
Vessie and Gilbert Steppe
photo courtesy Gil Steppe

Jolly enlisted in the Navy in 1944 after high school. He was discharged two years later, the same year Momma graduated from Cradock High School. In the fall of 1946, the two enrolled at Shenandoah College and Conservatory in Dayton, Rockingham County, Virginia.

Coincidence? Probably not. Jolly’s mother Vessie Jollette Steppe and Momma’s father Orvin Davis were cousins as well as cousins of some of the most influential leaders of the college: their cousin Leota Sullivan Racy was the college treasurer and husband Forrest Racy was the college business manager before becoming president in 1956. Likely Jolly and Mary Eleanor (aka “Duny”) were strongly encouraged by family to apply.

Jeanne Eleanor Bailey
Shenandoah was a junior college, so in 1948, everyone either returned home or moved on to a four-year school. Duny made a lot of friends at Shenandoah. One faithful “pen pal” was Jeanne Eleanor Bailey of Orange, New Haven, Connecticut.
Eleven letters dated between June 1948 and April 1949 reveal not only their friendship but also the romance between Jeanne and Jolly from almost the beginning to definitely the end.


DISCLOSURE: I checked with Jolly’s children – my third cousins – to make sure they would be OK with my sharing this story.

These are snips from Jeanne’s letters to her pal, my mother.



8 June 1948

What do you hear from George? When is he coming down to see you? Maybe I could hitch a ride with him as far as Jolly’s or wouldn’t he go through Washington? Of course I’d have to take a few days off from work to do that but I’m not going to start working in earnest until fall. I wish the four of us could have a little party sometime this summer.


28 June 1948

Jolly is coming up the fourth to stay a week. I’m looking forward to his visit. He says he has lost [15 pounds.] 

– I couldn’t see scanning the page for those 2 words.



14 July 1948

Your kissin’ cousin was up over the fourth and stayed for a week. I took time off from work and we really had a wonderful time together. Jolly wants me to go to the Jollette reunion the Sunday before Labor Day. Are you going?

Jolly drove up this time but if he comes up again I guess he’ll travel by train as he would make better time.

Just to clarify, Jolly lived in Dahlgren, Virginia. Even on today’s efficient interstate highways, the trip would be nearly 6 hours by car not counting the potential for traffic jams in Washington DC and Baltimore. 

28 July 1948

Jolly was up over the week-end. I guess I won’t see him again until Labor Day. It was his birthday today. I sent him a wallet. I hope he likes it.


22 October 1948

I hope Jolly can get up here early Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. A gang of kids want us to go to a dance with them. It would be a lot of fun and I’d like Jolly to meet them. What are your plans for Thanksgiving?

4 January 1949

[I] suppose you know what your kissin’ cousin gave me -- a lovely watch.



10 January 1949

If Jolly looked beat it wasn’t from being in Connecticut – unless too much sleep disagrees with him, because he did more sleeping than anything else while he was here. I worked every day and so I had to get to bed at a half way decent hour and then he slept late every morning while I slaved at work.

26 January 1949

Jolly wants to see me some week-end soon to talk over things between us so I’ll probably be in Washington (Dahlgren) for a week-end soon. I’m not going down to school then though. Things are too confused between Jolly and me for it to be any fun.

He is probably dating too. I was a little surprised to learn Jolly dated occasionally but I guess all men are alike. (tears)

14 February 1949

Have you seen Jolly lately? I’ve been wondering whether to write him. I guess he would rather just break off completely though.



17 March 1949

No, I haven’t heard a word from Jolly. Just as well I guess altho I would like to hear from him now and then.

21 April 1949

Dear Duny,

I’ve been thinking ever since I wrote you to take a room for me for May Day if maybe it wouldn’t be better to postpone my visit until school is over. Maybe we could have a week at Va beach or such. I haven’t heard from Nancy as to whether she is planning to go and I can always visit her some week-end and you say Peg will be tied up with her Mother and of course there is Jolly whom I think it would be better all around if I didn’t see.

June Carolyn Ashton


The old saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” just did not hold true for Jolly and Jeanne. Maybe it was “Out of sight – out of mind.” At any rate, it seems Jolly was not ready to get serious. He might have broken many more hearts before settling down with June Ashton, a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

As for Jeanne, her death certificate indicates that she became a hair dresser, a career she began during summer breaks while in college.

I like the Jeanne that showed through in those letters. She was funny. I can see why she and Momma got along. I met June, too, so lovely, so kind, so attentive to Jolly’s mother. Jolly made a good choice.


Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

On This Day - Jack Sprott

Jack Sprott and sons
Billy and Berry

Otto James “Jack” Sprott, my grandaunt Margaret Killeen Sprott’s husband, died on this day, 29 June 1965.

Findagrave Mem #80398750


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sentimental Sunday: Wedding Bells

My mother’s second cousin Andrew Jollette Steppe and June Carolyn Ashton were married 27 June 1953.



Harrisonburg Daily News Record
18 July 1953





© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Sepia Saturday: Where in the World?

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

The street view in this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt brought to mind a couple photos of my grandaunt Lillie Killeen. Whatever the story was behind the photos is lost to time. I was just going to share the photos and move on.

Lillie Killeen 
place and date unknown

Then I noticed a log tower. That’s interesting!

Lillie Killeen with her niece Ebbie
(revised: UNKNOWN)

I googled “log tower” images but found nothing that looks like this one. I will guess it is in Florida, only because her niece Ebbie lived in Florida.

So, Folks, what do you think? Where were Lillie and Ebbie (revised: NOT EBBIE) on that fine day? 

Hit the Sepia Saturday streets for more old photos and stories.

UPDATE: Lillie’s shoes and glasses are the same as in another photo that she dated 1944. With that in mind, the other woman is not likely to be her niece Ebbie who would have been only about 25. And now that means the log tower could have been anywhere.

UPDATE #2: Thanks to a comment by Mr. Mike, I now know that Lillie and her friend were at the outdoor theater of the Lost Colony, an outdoor drama located in Manteo, North Carolina. Big tourist attraction! Here are some photos I found online. The log towers house the sound system and other theatrical controls like lights. They have since been covered in some kind of clapboard.

an old postcard

from lostcolony.org


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Photo Friday - Orvin Jr


Orvin Jr.
This photo was always 
on display at my grandparents' house.

My mother’s brother Orvin Owen Davis Jr (a.k.a. "Hambone") was born on this day, 25 June, 1925.

Here are some of my favorite photos from when he was just cute and adorable.

My grandmother and Orvin Jr 1925

Member of the school band


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

On This Day - Eliza Jane Knight Gibson

I have no photo of Eliza Jane Knight Gibson, daughter of Leanna Jollett and James Mitchell Knight, but I was so sad to find her death certificate on Ancestry.

On 23 June 1928, she died from convulsions following childbirth. Her baby boy Aubrey Willard Gibson lived only 2 months.

What caused her seizures? I had to Google. Postpartum seizures typically occur within 48 hours after delivery as result of a condition called Eclampsia or Preeclampsia. It is a multi-system disorder involving high blood pressure, large amounts of protein in the urine, and organ dysfunction, typically the liver and kidneys.

Seizures are horrific causing the body to jerk, the body to arch and straighten. If you were a fan of "Downton Abbey," you certainly couldn’t forget the scene in which Lady Sybil died from convulsions following the birth of her baby girl. That is probably what it was like for Eliza Jane.

While the symptoms were described as early as the 5th century, they were not given a classification and name until 1897 in France, and then in 1903 in the United States. Likely prevention and treatment of Preeclampsia were still being studied in 1928 when Eliza Jane’s cause of death was simply “convulsions following childbirth.”

Eliza Jane's tombstone
Evergreen Cemetery
Greene County, Virginia


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

52 Ancestors - GROUPS: Cheerleaders and Bridesmaids

1946 Cradock High School Cheerleaders

Long before human pyramids and high-flying basket tosses changed the face of cheerleading, peppy high school girls in lettered sweaters and saddle oxfords were chanting “Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, WAAAAY back!” When my mother was a cheerleader at Cradock High School in the mid-1940s, the most amazing stunt the squad performed was a jump in which the girls threw their arms over their head and their feet behind them, then arched their backs to make the letter “C” for Cradock. It required a lot of practice.

Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward,
Cookie Spencer, Marree Hogan,
Unknown girl in front

It was probably all that practice as well as all the dances and parties following the games that fostered a lifetime of friendship. After graduation, the girls went in different directions, but the box of letters found in my grandparents’ attic shows that their friendship endured despite the miles. On fancy pink or blue stationery, yellowed onion skin, and even notebook paper they shared the gossip of who was dating whom, who was on the outs, who wrecked a car, who found a job, who drank too much, and even who had a 7-month baby! GASP

Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward,
and my mother Mary E "Duny" Davis

The most interesting letters, to me at least, are about the weddings. Not surprisingly, several of the cheerleaders served as each other’s bridesmaids.


While Lucille “Cookie” Spencer was among the first in the gang to marry, Christine Westbrook had the first BIG wedding in which Momma was a bridesmaid. Momma was still away at Shenandoah College, so letters from Cookie, Betsy, and Christine were filled with news of the plans.

In those days, the parents of the bride usually paid for the bridesmaids’ gowns. Christine had a large number of attendants including family members and BFFs from both high school and college. To save money, Mrs. Westbrook purchased fabric so the girls could have dresses made.

A humorous letter from Christine (aka “Teeny-wabbit”) described the gown Momma would be wearing:

from a letter from Christine
27 Feb 1948

The Westbrooks were cutting it close with that fabric order (no pun intended). The wedding was scheduled for March 28, but just 10 days before, Christine wrote THIS letter to Momma:

from a letter from Christine
18 Mar, 1948
Duny Baby, [Momma’s nickname was Duny]

We were holding our breath – but at last the material he ordered has arrived. I was afraid it wasn’t going to get here. I just love the color. Really think it’s the prettiest of all . . . altho’ the green, pink & blue are pretty, too.

About the pattern - several changes: Allow extra fullness in waist in front. (This was done for Cook. Also makes gowns fit cuter.) Two darts at the shoulder blade make neck fit better. Notice change in Neck - . We’re sending a finished gown, too. Bring the scraps of material home. Mother will make gloves after you get here.


Cookie Muter needed that extra fullness as she was expecting her first child. A letter from Betsy described the brocade taffeta gowns with drop shoulder as “darling,” but she also had this to say about Cookie:

from a letter from Betsy
5 Mar 1948

Cook is so large that I think she’s going to look terrible in Chris’s wedding. She has just jumped out in the last couple weeks & she still has 3 more weeks to grow before the wedding. Maybe the nosegay will hide it. That’s what she says anyway.

 Now, Betsy - was that nice to say??

The Westbrook-Wisehart wedding was written up in the newspaper presenting all the big and small details that are missing in today’s wedding announcements.


While Christine’s wedding plans were winding down, Betsy’s were just gearing up. In one letter she described shopping for her engagement ring in Richmond with her fiancĂ© John Lumsden, a dental student. The ring was a full carat and cost $450. She agonized over how to pay for his wedding band costing $100.

Betsy’s vision for her bridesmaids was something different from what Christine had her attendants wear. Betsy wrote to Momma:

from a letter from Betsy
14 Jan 1948

I’m thinking about that real pretty organdy that is rather stiff. You’ll have to let me know what color you want. I’m going to the Famous and get some pointers first.


The Famous for many years was THE place to shop in Portsmouth, the only place, really, for higher quality women’s finery.

Betsy and her mother had planned an extravagant wedding until Betsy’s father lost his job unexpectedly. In one letter, she swore Momma to secrecy about the untimely job loss. As Betsy said, at her father’s age, he was not likely to find another job paying $500 a month. Wedding plans had to be scaled back:

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948

The wedding is June 12th at 4:00. The bridesmaids are: Jo, MJV [Mary Jane Via], Chris & Joanne. Mother and I are going to look at wedding dresses & attendants gowns so I don’t have any idea how yours will be made or the color. We’ll have to get some tips & then order the material for your dresses. Mother will have to make mine since we can’t afford to buy it now. The ushers are: Billy, Tommy, George, Milton, Grease & Pete is to be master of ceremonies. There might be a change in this so also keep this to yourself.

It was probably a bitter pill to swallow when the Wards asked the girls to pay $20 for their own material. To offset that expense, Mrs. Ward offered to make the girls’ hats.

Betsy also had to cut back on shopping for her honeymoon:

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948

I got a real pretty blue nightgown last Wed. It’s drop shoulder with 2 rows of white lace & lace around the bottom. It’s real cute & looks sexy as hell on. Poor Johnny! Now that Daddy has lost his job I won’t be able to get the clothes I had planned to buy so I’m not going to show my trousseau.


Apparently, that was THE THING to do – show off your trousseau, maybe at a shower or bridal tea. Does anyone even SAY “trousseau” these days?

Betsy was not lacking in bridal showers though. Her cousin hosted one in Cape Charles across the bay on the Eastern Shore.

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948
Edie is giving me a shower in Cape Charles. We haven’t decided on the date but I want you to go over with me to help me back on the ferry with my presents. We wouldn’t spend the night – okay? It will probably be better for you to have your dress made here as I know I won’t be able to find a pattern just right & we’ll have to make some changes.

Other shower invitations were sent from Mary Jane Via and Christine Westbrook Wisehart.

Betsy’s wedding appeared in the social column.

from Richmond Times Dispatch
19 Jun 1948

I have seen the requisite Ward-Lumsden bridal party photo. Unfortunately, neither my sister nor I can find it. And OF COURSE, it is one photo in which we could probably identify every person, unlike the myriad nameless faces in other photos we inherited. Oh the irony!

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.