My paternal grandmother, Clara Livingston Abbott, started a family tradition that so appealed to my mother that she brought it over to the Barker side of the family. When each of her children turned 40, Grandma Abbott put together an extraordinary photo album scrapbook that included all the ephemera a mother saves - newspaper clippings and report cards and war ration books and the like - along with pictures, letters, cartoons and stories celebrating the first four decades of that person's life. Mom decided to do the same thing for Gran when she turned 75 in 1986, and wrote to all of her family, friends and acquaintances asking them to contribute memories and photographs in letters addressed to my grandmother which Mom compiled in an album. There was such a response that the final product required two volumes.
This glorious "This Is Your Life" archive now resides at Windrock and is a boon for the family historian as well as all of us now reminiscing about our Grandmother's passing last week on November 29th. There are letters there from three of Gran's siblings, and a particularly wonderful one from her sister Margie, the genealogist, whose papers I now care for and add to as successor to her archive. Margie had access to photographs from Gran's earliest years and memories to go with them. I cannot improve upon what she so lovingly offered, but consider this post Volume II.
Athalia Stearns Ogden was born in 1911 in Elizabeth, New Jersey on a Friday, the 13th of January. She was the fourth of five children in the Ogden household at 414 Westminster Avenue. Her father Archibald Gracie Ogden (1869 -1931) was a cashier at Brown Brother's Investment Bank and descended from one of the original founders of Elizabeth in the 1660s. Her mother Margaret Stearns Olmsted (1874 -1952) came from a family of railroad superintendents and merchants in the China Trade with deep New England and Pennsylvania roots. The picture at the beginning of this post was taken in February when she was just one month old.
The scrapbook tradition ran very deep with her mother Margaret, who dutifully began compiling a baby book for Gran that begins with clippings from her own wedding in 1904, to which President Teddy Roosevelt, a cousin by marriage, sent a bouquet of "American Beauty" roses from the White House conservancy. There are many treasures in this book, including letters addressed in my grandmother's young hand to "Mr. Santa Claus, North Pole, Arctic Circle, Alaska", one of which includes the following postscripts:
P.S. Come down the chimney of the south east corner room. Our stockings will be there. A.A.
P.P.S. Don't forget to go to 518. We have moved. A.A.
Elizabeth, New Jersey was the first English settlement in the state, and Gran was the ninth generation in her family to live there. It was undergoing significant changes during her girlhood, with plenty to remind it's "first families" of their distinguished past but with an industrial, urban character that would lead them to abandon the city to an ethnically diverse and much more impoverished population in the coming decades.
The baby book also contains a page entitled: "A Record of Our Baby's Health", which records some all too common childhood diseases and two very close calls with death before she was eight years old;
"Nearly died of Colitis, Sept 10, 1911 / Whooping Cough March 15, 1913 / Chicken Pox Feb 6, 1915 / Measles March 2, 1916 / Influenza Oct 1918 / Tonsils and adenoids out 1919"
Gran told me that she remembered being sick during the Great Influenza of 1918 and that the family moved her bed onto a screened porch to try and alleviate her burning fever. A relative, Edith Temple Gracie Adams, died of complications from Influenza contracted while caring for wounded veterans of WWI.
There are so many photographs available from Athalia Ogden's girlhood, for this was a family that celebrated childhood and recorded each summer by the sea and dance recital as if it were the most uniquely wonderful event. The collection of cowboys and Indians at left was taken in 1913 and includes four Ogden children as well as a pair of additional friends and relations. Gran is the little Indian playing with the hoop, while her sister Margie is standing at the far left and her other siblings Esther and Archie at the far right.
The next photograph marks the end of Summer, 1917, as the family gathers at the Point Pleasant railway station to return to Elizabeth. Dressed to the nines, Athalia Ogden stands at left, with her little brother Dayton out in front.
She attended Vail-Deane school in Elizabeth from 1917 until she graduated from High School in 1928. Here is her 8th grade report card, showing that she was a diligent honors student. Her love for history and of reading were two of the many ways in which she and I connected. Gran's library remains a trove of great adventure stories, American history volumes, marvelous books with faded maps and spotted pages to just waiting to be rediscovered on those dusty shelves.
There is one particular photograph, familiar to the extended family from a reproduction that was sent to us for Christmas from Aunt Margie's ancestral files. It was taken in 1929, on the 25th anniversary of the marriage of Archibald and Margaret Ogden. The family have gathered in their most formal attire and their mother wears her wedding dress (unfastened in the back to accommodate her middle-aged form). The youngest, Dayton, was at Hotchkiss in boarding school, while Esther and Athalia were at Smith College and Archie at Williams. Margie had already graduated from Smith; sometimes I think there ought to be a Smith weather vane over the house at Windrock, with so many Alumnae in our clan, my mother and her sisters and my cousin Leila included!
Athalia Ogden graduated from Smith in 1932 and went on to teach 2nd grade at Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA. One of her students wrote her a letter for the 75th Birthday scrapbook. In 1934 she met Robert H Barker, a young Doctor from Ohio who was beginning his residency in Boston. In a very short time they knew they were meant for each other, and considered themselves betrothed well before this was formally announced in December, 1936. They were married on February 6th, 1937, and appear in this photograph while embarking on their Bermuda honeymoon.
Those of us alive today remember Athalia Ogden Barker after her marriage, but revisiting her early years reveals much of the extraordinary person she would be for so many throughout her long life.