Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fourteen Women, Two Photos, and a Small White Ribbon


Clara Amy Smith Bird was born in 1841 in frontier Illinois. Her parents were Joel and Amy Bartholomew Smith, early pioneers of DuPage County, Illinois. This photo of her is dated 1891. I had the photo for quite a few years before I noticed the small white ribbon pinned to her dress. It didn't look like a piece of jewelry or other embellishment. Why was she wearing a white ribbon?

While scanning old family photos in Chicago a couple of years ago, I came across this picture of a group of fourteen women. There was no explanation of the grouping on the back of the photo, and I took it to be some kind of family gathering.



I'd looked at that image quite a few times before I noticed the photo that one woman near the front is holding. When I enlarged it enough to take a good look at the small photo in the woman's hand, I was amazed to realize that I had seen that face before! It was the same 1891 photo I had of my great-great-grandmother, Clara Smith Bird. Only then did I realize that ALL fourteen women in the photo were also wearing small white ribbons.

So what did the ribbons represent?

A quick Wikipedia search for "White Ribbon" lead me to information about the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874 in Ohio. Frances Willard, a prominent Chicago suffragist, was elected national president of the WCTU in 1879. Clara and her husband Edwin R. Bird had many Chicago relatives, and likely traveled there on many occasions. E.R. Bird's parents had come to early Chicago from Chautauqua County, New York, birthplace of the US women's suffrage movement, and site of a WCTU pre-organizational meeting in 1874.

An undated newspaper obituary for Clara that I found in my great-grandfather F.J. Bird's album connects the two photos:

"During the twenty-seven years that she has resided in this city, she was identified with every work that had for its object the purity of society and the salvation of men. She was an active member and a staunch supporter of the W.C.T.U work. The cause of temperance was near to her heart, and by prayer and influence she sought to advance it in our city.... The obsequies held in Woodstock were in keeping with the occasion. The local union of the W.C.T.U. attended in a body."

Any good "find" generally leads to more questions, and this one is no exception. Now I'd like to identify all the women in the photo, and confirm that it really is the Woodstock union of the WCTU. I would love to know if my g-g-grandmother's Chicago and Chautauqua connections meant that she actually knew some of the leaders and reformers.

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Tags : E.R. Bird , Clara A. Smith , Warrenville , Illinois , WCTU , White Ribbon , Woodstock , Temperance

1 comment:

Hummer said...

Thanks for the link. Beautiful post.
Fran