Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five Feet Tall and Five Feet Wide – Eleanor Mabel Hewes

B. 6 Jul 1880 in Boston, Massachusetts
M. 18 Feb 1898 in Los Angeles, California
Husband: James William Elwood
D. 21 Nov 1942 in Los Angeles, California

Eleanor Mabel Hewes had her beginnings in Boston. She was born there to George Hewes and Nancy French on July 6, 1880. Her birth certificate incorrectly gives her name as “Helena Mabel Hewes.” She often went by her middle name Mabel. The Hewes family had four more children after Eleanor, When she was about 3, the family moved to Le Mars, Iowa. In June 1885, a tornado struck their house, knocking it five feet off the foundation. A couple years later, in November 1889, the family boarded a train and moved to Los Angeles.

Eleanor came of age just south of downtown Los Angeles, where her father worked part time as a minister of his own church. The Church of the Neighborhood was a settlement house "for all races and religions." Eleanor attended the Ninth Street School and at age 15, a story she wrote was published in the L.A. Times. The title of it was, "An Old Time Thanksgiving," and was written from the viewpoint of a girl named Prudence. "Thanksgiving morning as I lay in bed I could hear my mother and sisters at work below. I climbed out of the high old fashioned bedstead, which I occupied with my sister, Patience, onto the warm fox skin rug...."

Eleanor helped out as a secretary for her father. She also did clerical work for the Kingsley Club, a socialist group her father was involved in. It was at the church that seventeen year-old Eleanor came into contact with a man named James Elwood, whom her father had recruited to his settlement house. Reportedly, she found herself attracted to him when he sang to her with his banjo. She became pregnant and married James on February 18, 1898. Her father administered the service. Eleanor and James settled in a small house, probably with financial help from her family. Her baby, Mabelle, known as May, was born in September.

Eleanor in about 1900

By the time Eleanor was 21, she had three small children, and had two more by age 25. One child, a boy called Eddie, died young, but the others thrived. Her marriage ended not long after the birth of her youngest child Maude; in 1906, James moved out on his own, and she relocated to an area of Los Angeles called Edendale, near Silverlake. They were never formally divorced.

Eleanor’s parents and siblings moved to Berkeley in 1906, and she struggled to support her children with little help. She did laundry for neighbors to bring in some money. She listed herself as “widowed” in the city directory, even though James lived nearby, bringing food to her every week. The house she lived in was little more than a wooden shack. Eleanor sometimes sent the children out to dig in the trash behind restaurants, ordering them to bring her the best of what they found.

When Eleanor was in her thirties, she began to put on some pounds. By the time she was 45, she a severe problem with her weight; it was said she was “five feet tall and five feet wide.” This heaviness led to diabetes and hypertension, which plagued her in middle-age.

In 1916, her father became widowed and moved back to Los Angeles into her home. He would eventually settle in an town north of Los Angeles called Tujunga, and Eleanor looked after him. When her father died in 1923, she had to convince her siblings into letting her take ownership of his small house there. Sister Gertrude stubbornly refused to the arrangement and caused a cloudy property title that was never cleared up.

Eleanor with her oldest grandson Tom Mitchell, taken in Tujunga in 1923

The Tujunga house, called “the cabin,” became her home. Other family memebers lived in houses on the same block, including daughters Maude and Hazel, and elderly Aunt Bessie. Eventually Eleanor moved to Glendale, living there during the week. On the weekends, she would return to the cabin and it became a lively gathering place for the family. She had a player piano, and Maude played the violin while daughter Hazel sang. Her son George painted pictures which hung on her walls. Eleanor herself had a banjo that she played. The tiny place was crammed with heirlooms, stray cats, and after her husband died, James’ ashes, which were displayed in an urn kept on the mantle of her large stone fireplace.

Eleanor died November 21, 1942 of congestive heart failure at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, and was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Children:
1. Sophia Mabelle Elwood – B. 6 Sep 1898, Los Angeles, California; D. 3 Jun 1987, San Leandro, California; M. Walter Geraldson Griffiths (1897-1970), 30 Dec 1921, Calcutta, India

2. George Henry Elwood – B. 13 Dec 1899, Los Angeles, California; D. 1 Feb 1977, Los Angeles, California; M. Eileen Edythe Kelterer (1899-1989), 1 Apr 1934, Los Angeles, California

3. Hazel Laura Elwood – B. 10 Apr 1901, Los Angeles, California; D. 11 Jul 1964, Encino, California; M. (1) Thomas Michael Mitchell (1893-1980), 11 Feb 1921, Los Angeles, California; (2) Juan Marte (1901-1973), 19 Aug 1943, Lordsburg, New Mexico

4. John Edward Elwood – B. 22 Nov 1902, Los Angeles, California; D. 17 Apr 1904, Los Angeles, California

5. Maude Louise Elwood – B. 15 Jul 1905, Los Angeles, California; D. Nov 1983, Douglas, Alaska; M. Samuel Robert Graham (1903-1968), 31 Jan 1925

Sources:
Birth certificate of Eleanor Mabel Hewes
Family Bible of George and Nancy Hewes
"The Wind's Work," The Evening Sentinel, Le Mars, Iowa, 16 Jun 1885
"An Old Time Thanksgiving," Mabel Hewes, Los Angeles Times, 8 Dec 1895
Marriage certificate of James Elwood and Eleanor Hewes, Los Angeles, 18 Feb 1898
1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses in Los Angeles, California
City directories of Los Angeles, 1907-1932
Death certificate of Eleanor Elwood, Los Angeles, 21 Nov 1942
Interviews of Thomas Milton Mitchell, Maude Elwood and Nancy Elwood, 1976-1997
California Death Records, 1940-1997
Birth Certificate of Hazel Laura Elwood, 10 Apr 1901
Death Certificate of Thomas Michael Mitchell, 14 Mar 1980
Marriage record of Hazel Mitchell and Juan Marte, 19 Aug 1943
California County Marriages, 1850-1952
Family Bible of Maude L. Graham

No comments:

Post a Comment