The Cast of Characters in a Family Conflict
William Morgan Stout (1873-1944) intrigues me. He seemed to attract family conflict.
I don’t believe I ever saw Will Stout. If I did meet him on one of his brief visits to Killbuck Ohio, I was too young to remember. My great-uncle, older brother of my grandmother Vera Stout Anderson, lived in New York City during the Gilded Age.
Recently I found a letter that he wrote to my grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson in 1937. This one letter to my grandmother is the only thing that I have in his own handwriting. It nicely fills in the personality of my elusive great-uncle Will.
Will Stout’s Life
Very little factual information about Will Stout survives. For instance, it took me years to discover that he died in Palm Beach Florida rather than New York or New Jersey. I expected to find him still near his relatives in New Jersey in the 1940s. I only recently was able to uncover Will and Jean’s marriage record. There I learned her last name and that she was a widow rather than a divorcee.
He did not quite have the distinguished career that my mother described as “a railroad attorney”. Nevertheless Will lived in magical Manhattan. Actually, he was one of many lawyers who worked for the New York street car company, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.
Will left Killbuck Ohio for school in upstate New York, and then law school in New York City after his father Dr. William Stout nearly disowned him for what Doc Stout saw as dissolute living. This may have been the first of his involvement in family conflict. His life turned far away from small town Mid Western living and values. He married a widow several years older than he was. She had a daughter who he reportedly adopted, but the couple never had children of their own.
When he wrote the letter in 1937, Will still struggled through the Great Depression. His company had some serious problems, which probably kept their army of attorneys quite busy.
Maude Stout Bartlett’s Life
No one every used my great-aunt Maude’s real name, Mary Emeline Stout (1875-1963). From family letters and the family picture, I suspect that Hattie Stout favored Maude above her other children. This made perfect sense because Maude was studious, well-behaved, musical–all the things that my rambunctious grandmother and rebellious great-uncle were not. In this picture you see Maude standing at Hattie’s shoulder and Vera beside her father, while Will sits alone.
Maude married at the age of 23 to Carlos Bartlett, and not long after their marriage, the couple moved to Buffalo, New York. She lived a social life their, filled with books and music and entertaining.
Sadly, Carlos died in 1915 at the age of 42. For the rest of her life, Maude mourned her “dear Carlos.” She remained in Buffalo, took in a boarder and taught piano lessons, until in the 1950s she moved back to Killbuck, Ohio. She and my grandmother Vera had a prickly relationship, (more family conflict). Though as my mother said, they still cared for each other. They lived at opposite ends of the small town, about 1/2 mile apart. In their later years, they called each other on the phone on days they could not visit.
When Will wrote the letter to Vera in 1937, Maude was still living in Buffalo with an Englishman boarding in her upstairs to supplement Carlos’ Railroad Stocks income.
Vera Stout Anderson
I have written extensively about my namesake grandmother. In 1937 when she received Will’s letter, she and my grandfather Guy were running a restaurant in their home (see the picture at the head of this blog). A short time before, they had been running a boarding house. Guy may have already been showing signs of the heart trouble that forced them to close the restaurant in the early 1940s. Her youngest son Herbert had married ten years earlier when he was 19, and he already had four children. Her oldest child, William J. Anderson had one child. her daughter, Harriette was dating a man she did not entirely approve of. In other words she had troubles of her own.
Harriette (Hattie) Morgan Stout
I have written about Hattie Stout (1842-1928) who was a school teacher during the Civil War. She was a woman who was widely read and curious about everything. She explored life to the fullest. My mother said that she even smoked a cigarette in the teens when women were expressing new-found freedoms, just to see what it was like. Her desire was to live long enough to vote, and she did indeed live to see Woman’s Suffrage.
Hattie served as her husband Doc Stout’s assistant, keeping the house and his instruments spotless. She even took care of patients who had to stay in the Stout home in Killbuck for a brief time while they recovered from some illness. The couple loved to travel, and Hattie accompanied her husband to medical conventions, went to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and visited her son in Manhattan and rode on a double-decker bus.
When Doc Stout died in 1910, Hattie had Vera’s husband take over managing the farms she inherited. She moved into a small house so that they could occupy the large house Doc Stout had built in the center of town.
Hattie visited Maude in Buffalo after Carlos died. By 1920, her health failing at age 78, she had moved to Buffalo to live with Maude. She died in Maude’s home in 1928 at the age of 85.
The family story ran that Hattie had turned away from the medicine practiced by her late husband Dr. William Stout and her belief in some alternative treatment contributed to her death. When her son Will Stout wrote a letter to her daughter Vera in 1937, Hattie had been dead ten years, but he was still angry.
I was curious about her cause of death. Because she was in New York State, I had to pay $18 and then wait about 9 months before I received the copy of the death certificate. I have more to say about the cause of death, shown above, in a little bit.
The 1937 Letter from Will Stout to His Sister Vera
Here’s an image of the first page of the four-page letter that Will sent to his sister on April 22, 1937, revealing another family conflict involving Will. As you can see, it is not the easiest handwriting to transcribe, but I have transcribed pertinent parts of the letter below. Here you can see the name of the company he worked for.
…she is impossible it seems to me, & the six weeks or so that I indured (sic) during Mother’s Illness, was sufficient for a lifetime.
What Happened in 1928?
Particularly, what happened in Buffalo during that “six weeks or so” that Will refers to? Of course we will never know for sure. But thanks to the doctor who signed the death certificate on January 24, 1928, we know that Hattie died of Diabetes Mellitus (commonly called just diabetes). According to the certificate, she had suffered from Diabetes for twelve years. That was not a particular surprise, as diabetes crops up in several generations in my family. My grandmother (Hattie’s daughter), my sister and one of my sons all have been diagnosed and treated for diabetes.
The most common modern treatment for diabetes, insulin, began to be used in the early 1920s, so would have been available to Hattie. Read History of treatment of diabetes here. Did she feel that insulin injections were unnatural? Did she prefer to use some alternative treatment, like the treatment with high fat diet, which had some supporters at that time? Was she afraid of needles? Or did she, as my family suspected, join a religion that forbade medical treatment?
When I saw on this death certificate “Contributory” [cause of death] as gangrene of the foot I thought of another possibility. The most common recommendation to deal with the gangrene would be amputation of the foot. She might, understandably, be reluctant to lose her foot, and refused treatment. So perhaps it was the infection that killed her.
The Death Certificate
A minor point: her birth date is given as August 4, 1842 on the death certificate, and date of death is January 24, 1928. The calculation that she was 85 year, 4 months and 20 days old therefore is slightly off.
One more mystery popped up when I read the death certificate. I mentioned earlier that Hattie had been living with Maude in 1920. However, he death certificate says that she has only lived at that address for four months. Either she had changed her address back and forth from Buffalo to Killbuck, or the census had caught her just visiting in 1920. In that case, she didn’t actually live with Maude until later. So why would she go to Buffalo in October of 1927?
Presumably Hattie was quite ill by that time. Travel away from home would be difficult, even though she was fleeing to be with her favorite daughter. The only logical reason I can think of for the trip would be to receive some kind of alternative treatment not available in Ohio.
Whatever reason she had, it is clear from Will Stout’s letter that he was present in Buffalo when his mother died. He argued with Maude (and presumably his mother) about Hattie’s treatment. I can picture the New York attorney descending upon the two ladies at 16 Robie Avenue, ready to take charge. He was, after all, an attorney–used to arguing. However, from what I know of Maude, she could be very determined. She may have decided to go along with their mother’s decision about her illness. If so, she would dig her heels in and her older brother would hold no sway. And as we can clearly see, Will lost the argument. His mother lost her life. However, William M. Stout signed the death certificate, listing his address as 537 West 149th Street, NY City.
I am glad to have this glimpse into the personality of William Morgan Stout. However, I am sorry that it is a letter that reveals a family conflict. Despite his wife’s gentle admonitions, Will did not seem to be one to easily forgive. On the other hand, judging from her refusing to invite him into her house, neither was his sister Maude.