July 7, 1892 – July 6, 1926
My great-aunt Dottie was the third child of six. Her oldest sibling, sister Ethel, died in 1901 of diptheria, four years before her youngest sibling (my grandfather) was born.
One of my favorite random facts about Dottie is that she is listed twice in the 1910 census, once at home and once at the boarding house where she worked as a servant. I wouldn’t put it past her to have schemed to be counted twice.
Dottie doted on my grandfather and was allowed by my great-grandmother to take charge of him. She indulged him, dressed him in fancy clothes, and when he got in trouble at school for a prank, she blamed the school and told him he never had to go back which he didn’t (so he had about an eighth-grade education).
As I was learning this info from my mother’s recollections of family stories, I remember just blurting out, “Mom, she was his real mother!”
Dottie would have only been thirteen at the time of my grandfather’s birth, but though that is a truly terrible thought, it isn’t impossible. Supporting data in the form of her “delinquency” came just three years later when she and her cousin Leota were sentenced to the Julia Work School in Plymouth, Indiana, as a punishment for staying out late and running around with respected men of the town. Another girl was involved in this scandal, and she was only fourteen years old.
Dottie’s father (my great-grandfather) tried to file affidavits against some of the men named by his daughter but was apparently not allowed to. Dottie and her cousin had named names during their testimony in juvenile court and were convicted on the basis of what they said to the work school. This was all written up in the local paper so that was back before the identities of underage offenders were protected!
But anyway, good for you, Great-Grandpa for attempting to get justice for Dottie. You were a real one.
So I have had this theory that Dottie was actually my great-grandmother (making her parents my great-greats and moving the whole genealogical chart up a notch) for a long time. No way to prove it that I know of, but even before I learned the family stories that led me to this suspicion of a closer tie to her than great-aunt, I found Dottie fascinating.
She was full of life, a true wild child. The family was volatile from the start, her parents’ marriage the result of the daughter of a “fine family” falling for someone considered rather low class by most, though by all accounts I have access to, Great-Grandpa was a kind, hardworking man. The family legend is that they “had to” get married, but unless the date on their oldest daughter’s birth certificate is falsified (definitely possible), she was a honeymoon baby.
Still, there was a lot of drama at home. Dottie’s parents fought a lot, apparently quite loudly, leading to the neighbors complaining and the authorities stopping by. Drama at home does not lead automatically to “delinquency,” but what’s clear is that Dottie (along with her cousin Leota who appears more than once in the papers, getting in trouble for acts of rebellion such as running away from home and getting a job), chafed against the restrictions she was expected to live within as a young woman in pre-World War I America.
She served her time at the work school (and I do wish I knew more about that epoch of her life), and then, presumably reformed, worked as a servant at a boarding house while still living at home in 1910.
In 1912, at the age of 20, she married Jules Vandenhende, the handsome son of French immigrants, older than her by six and a half years, and already once divorced. From the few pictures we have of them, they seem to have been a fun, adventurous, and glamorous couple.
Jules’ family were glass craftsmen and had come to the US to work in the trade. He was born in Kent, Ohio, but he and his family lived near Muncie, Indiana (where my family is from and where there was a glass factory) in the early 1900s where he met Dottie.
They married back in Ohio near Youngstown and eventually moved to Pennsylvania where Jules continued to work in the glass trade. Pennsylvania is where they were still living when Jules registered for the draft for WWI in or around 1918, though there is no record he served. At 30 years old, married, and a worker at a glass factory, he was unlikely to get called up. They were still in Pennsylvania for the 1920 census, too.
There is no record that they ever had children, and between Dottie’s suspicious death certificate, full of aliases and falsehoods, and reading between the lines of Dottie’s obituaries, it’s pretty clear she died of a back alley abortion.
There’s no way to know why she chose to have an abortion as a married lady. She could have had an affair; they could have been wanting to get divorced; she could have (see my theory above) gone through childbirth before and never wanted to do it ever again; she could have just not wanted to have children; she could have been told her life was in danger if she had a child but the doctor couldn’t take care of her himself. Jules could have just not wanted to have children (it doesn’t appear from the records that he ever did).
But it’s heartbreaking and infuriating and so, so sad. My grandfather felt her loss for the rest of his life and that loss has resonated throughout the generations to me. I miss her. Even though in that branch of my family, all but one of the siblings passed away either before I was born or when I was too young to remember them so it isn’t likely I would have known her even had she lived into old age, but I still miss her. Her personality bursts from every picture; her spirit is undeniable.
RIP Great Aunt Dottie. Your little brother worshipped you.
(Though the picture of Dottie with the small boy on the runner of an automobile was labeled as Dottie with my grandfather, he would have been a teenager at this point. This is most likely her brother [my great-uncle] Ace’s son who would have been the right age in the early 1920s when this picture was taken.)
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