Aunt Maude contained a universe of contradictions. By turns, I saw her as irritating, fascinating or admirable. My great-Aunt Mary Emeline Stout (Bartlett), known as Maude Bartlett (1875-1963), is the sister of Grandmother Vera and her brother Will (William Morgan) Stout.
This is a rather rare photo from my collection, since it is a hand-painted tintype. I really don’t think that Will and Maude’s hair was blonde, and I suspect the dog may have been added by the photographer. But I just love Maude’s dress and high button shoes, and her sour apple expression. And I can’t help wonder, since their mother was in labor–in the house they lived in–who got them all dressed up like that and took them to the photographer? Their grandmother, Mary Bassett Platt Morgan (1810-1890) would have still been around. I’d like to think it was her.
I try to avoid drawing too many conclusions from photographs that have been sitting in a drawer for 100 years or so. Were all our ancestors sour pusses? No, they had to stay very still because camera exposures were long. Were they fashion plates who never let their hair down? No, getting your photograph taken was a BIG DEAL and you got dressed up for it. Nobody was snapping pictures of partying at the bar with friends–not that respectable women would be at a bar anyhow–and what was the point? There wasn’t a Facebook or Instagram where you could share your every moment.
But now I confess that I am straying from my resolve in psychoanalyzing this picture of ancestors.
Here we have my great-grandfather Dr. William C. Stout, my grandmother, Vera Stout (Anderson), my great-uncle William Morgan Stout, my great-aunt Maude Stout (Bartlett) and my great-grandmother Harriette Morgan Stout sitting in the yet-unpaved street in front of their family home in Killbuck, Ohio toward the end of the 19th century. Perhaps an itinerant photographer came to town and set up those wooded chairs and told them how to stand and sit. Perhaps there were other versions that didn’t turn out well, and so we’ll only see this arrangement.
And yet…it is so right to have my grandmother standing close to–touching, even–her father, while her sister, Maude is packed tightly up against their mother. And brother Will is abandoned out there all alone. My mother always said that “Grandma Stout” favored “Aunt Maude”.
And no wonder, Aunt Maude was the perfect daughter for her time. Intelligent, dedicated to domestic arts, neat and proper. She played the piano, read poetry and loved the finer things in life. Vera Stout Anderson, on the other hand, was very smart but not a bookworm. She was of a practical turn of mind and had what we would call “street smarts.”
Her marriage took place at 23 years old to Carlos Edwin Bartlett. He is listed in the census as a “traveling salesman” when they married and lived in Killbuck. By 1904, Carlos and Maude lived at 346 Fargo Avenue, Buffalo New York–if the Google map image is the same house, which it very well could be–it looks like an apartment house.
By 1910, they had purchased a house at 15 Robie Avenue (now Robie Street) in Buffalo. Carlos had become a Travel Passenger Agent with the NYC and St. Louis Railroad. There she gardened, joined literary societies and entertained.
I have a set of journals of a Shakespeare society she belonged to, and she was always a great reader until her eyesight failed her in old age. As a teenager, I was called upon to read books to her, a task I found excruciatingly boring. How I wish I had taken advantage of the time with the somewhat stiff old lady to ask her about some of her exciting days in Buffalo. My mother told me that one of Aunt Maude Bartlett’s proudest moments was when she hosted a tea to entertain the Queen of the Netherlands who was visiting Buffalo. She apparently enjoyed not only entertaining, but decorating and dressing up. Here’s a rather fuzzy picture of a tea party to celebrate George Washington’s Birthday.
This photo, with Maude’s mother Harriette Morgan Stout on the far left (my great-grandmother), includes three people I cannot identify, despite the first names. I’m assuming they are Carlos Bartlett’s relatives. And I do not know Carlos’ father’s name. I notice that the women in this picture are dressed very conservatively in full-length dresses although hemlines were rising above ankles by 1915. This was taken at their home at 16 Robie Avenue. She dated the picture July 4, 1915, and underlined “our Dodge”–obviously a proud new possession.
Maude and Carlos’ home was (and is) near the Delaware Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The neighborhood is still well-kept and the homes have changed very little. You can see a street view by going to Google Maps and looking for 16 Robie Street, Buffalo NY.
It came as quite a shock to me to check dates in the family Bible and learn that “dear Carlos” as she always referred to him, died 15 days after this picture was taken, at the age of 42. They had been married just 17 years and had no children. She stayed in Buffalo alone for several years, probably living off a decent pension from the railroad. But railroads fell on hard times, and her stock became worthless. Maude went back to Killbuck, Ohio at the end of the 1940’s, first living in an apartment in the old family home that had become my Grandmother’s house, and later buying a house on the other side of Killbuck.
One of the things I can’t help noticing in this photograph is how much the grand old Victorian House has changed in its first 60 or so years. (Compare to the family portrait nearer the top of this page). All the Victorian scroll work and fanciness is gone, a utilitarian closed porch with storm windows substitutes for the open porch you see earlier, and the paint is a utilitarian all white instead of having colorful trim.
Aunt Maude looks quite sweet in this picture, belying some of the favorite family stories about her. She and grandmother Vera fought like cats and dogs. They never agreed on anything, and it probably was a good thing that they had lived nearly 20 years two states apart. But after Aunt Maude moved to the other end of town, she and Grandma called each other at least once a day to check up on the other one.
Aunt Maude had lovely old antique furniture, including glass cases displaying delicate china and other treasurers. But when I visited as a teen and young adult, I was only impressed (negatively) by her rigid sense of propriety. She cared deeply about every one of her possessions, and wanted to assure that they would be well taken care of when she was gone. She spent the last twenty years of her life labeling every piece of china and every stick of china with notes like “This sofa is to go to Harriette [my mother]. Feet have never touched it.” or “This is for Paula [my sister]”
When Aunt Maude passed away in 1963, I received, among other things, this silver holloware coffee service, what was left of a set of delicate, translucent, porcelain teacups, and a set of heavy linen napkins with a “B” for Bartlett (and for Badertscher). For those who care about such things: The porcelain is a German Eglantine by Hermann Ohme manufactured between 1882 and 1928, and the silver coffee pot set is by Reed and Barton, pattern Sierra, manufactured between 1905-1930 .
Look again at the picture of Aunt Maude in her Colonial costume above. In the background, you can see the silhouette of the silver coffee pot. And by the way, the tea and coffee sets are sitting on a Queen Anne table in my living room that belonged to my great-grandmother Stout. Just think, if I invite you to tea, I may be serving you from the very same set that served the Queen of the Netherlands.
In retrospect, I realize how reduced Maude’s life when she had to leave the cultural stimulation of her life in Buffalo, and how lonely and out of her element she must have felt. Since I do not intend to give a formal tea party for the Queen of anything, I remember her even more for her driving intellectual curiosity. How, when she was over eighty, she said to me one day out of the blue, “I just realized that I can only name five of the Supreme Court Justices. That is terrible. I must look them up.” (Note: Aunt Maud did not have Google.)
Have you served tea lately? And how many Supreme Court Justices can you name?