Saturday, November 14, 2009

Notable Women Ancestors: Mary Meeneghan

I was fascinated by an area I found on years ago called "Notable Women Ancestors." In genealogy, the men are often easier to profile because they were more likely to hold offices and buy and sell land. Women can be "lost" to research when they change their names through marriage or re-marriage and the trail runs cold. There are many strong women in my family tree. My grandmother's sister, whom I knew as a child, is one of them.

Mary Meeneghan
was born 10 October 1887 in Springfield, NY. She was the first child born to Irish immigrants Dominick and Ellen Broderick Meeneghan who had married in Wheeling, WV on January 4th of that year. Ellen was 19 and Dominick was 30 when their first child was born. Ellen and Dominick both came from western County Mayo on the Mullet peninsula. Ellen may have immigrated to the Wheeling area to follow her older sister, Margaret. It is not yet known how or why they moved north, just that Mary’s birth is registered in Springfield. Another Meeneghan family lived in Cherry Valley and later settled in East Springfield. This William Meeneghan may be Dominick’s brother.

Mary was baptized at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cooperstown on 23 October 1887. Her godparents were James Reilly and Mary Donoghue. No familial relationship with these individuals has been discerned. If Dominick and Ellen came to Springfield because of relatives in town, they might have been expected to select them as godparents.

Mary was a popular name, with obvious religious significance. Statistically, it was the most popular U.S. girl’s name for the first half of the 20th century, based on Social Security records, and remained in the top ten through 1970. It is believed that both Dominick and Ellen’s mothers were named Mary, as well as their sisters.

In the following years Mary’s siblings followed in sequence, barely 2 years apart: Sara, born about 22 June 1889; Ellen, born 22 May 1891; William, born 5 August 1892; twins Anne and Katherine, born 20 February 1895; Margaret, born 26 March 1897; and John, born 7 October 1898. By the time she was 11 Mary was the eldest of eight children. Her mother was only 30 years old and her child-bearing years were over. Several of the children also had family names; Dominick had a sister named Sarah, Ellen is believed to have had a sister Margaret, and William is believed to be Dominick’s father’s name. William and John were also among the most popular boys names in the early 20th century.

In 1892 the family purchased a home on 1½ acres on the Lake Road (Route 80 at Route 53), south of Springfield Center. Mary and her brothers and sisters grew up here, and Mary always called it home.

In 1906 Mary was her aunt’s attendant at her wedding, as Ellen Broderick’s sister Mariah married John McDonough. The newlyweds lived with the Meeneghans for a time, according to a newspaper account.

Mary attended local schools. The “Roll of Honor” of the Springfield Union school for November 1903 included Mary Meeneghan (16), as well as Ellen (12) in the Academic Department, William (11) in the Intermediate Department, and Katie (8) in the Primary Department. In February 1906 it was reported that she passed regents exams in Elementary U.S. History, Commercial Geography, Advanced English Composition and Algebra. She spoke on “The Victory Spirit” in the medal competition in the Guild Hall (date uncertain). In June of 1907 Mary received her diploma with four others in Springfield. She received the Brigham Essay Medal, according to the newspaper. We have a gold cross inlaid with Connemara marble inscribed MLM ’07. It must have been a proud day when the first Meeneghan child graduated from high school.

In early 1909 Mary entered the nurses’ training program at the Thanksgiving Hospital in Cooperstown along with another Springfield girl, Blanche Willsey. They also attended the “alumni ball” together in Springfield in June of 1909. In January of 1910, she suffered an appendicitis, then returned to her training after a rest at home in Springfield. In June of 1910 she attended a course in the treatment of children’s diseases at the Hospital of the Good Shepherd in Syracuse. Her diploma was issued on 25 October 1910 and signed by M. Imogene Bassett, among others.

The social notes of the Richfield Mercury newspaper provide many of these everyday details. In January of 1912 Mary accompanied Mrs. Charles VanHorne and her newborn son home from the Thanksgiving hospital. During 1912 she spent several months nursing at the “ward” connected with the County Farm before returning home. In February of 1913 she cared for Mrs. Ingalls in East Springfield. Then in March she cared for Mrs. Dell Mallory who had pneumonia. In July it was noted that she cared for Mrs. Frank Smith and son at the Thanksgiving Hospital.

In November of 1913 Mary spent the month on vacation in Canada. No other details are known and companions were not listed in the newspaper item. Upon her return she cared for Mrs. Kate Cary. In August of 1914 she was working again at the County Farm. In May of 1918 it was noted that Mary came from New York to visit her family. But in September she was filling in for the superintendent at the Thanksgiving hospital during a two week vacation.

The nurses from the Thanksgiving Hospital formed an alumnae association, electing Mary Vice President in December of 1916 and President in September of 1917.

As the Great War came close to home, Mary and her friends were busy making supplies for the soldiers through the Red Cross. She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and took her oath of office on 16 September 1918. The newspaper reported that she was “called” with two nurses from Thanksgiving Hospital. She left for Camp McPherson, Atlanta, GA on 24 September 1918. She was 31 and had been nursing for 10 years by that time. In January of 1920 she was reassigned to Fox Hills, Staten Island, NY and then to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC until 29 April 1921. She received a Victory Button and gained the rank of Second Lieutenant Reserve Nurse. The history of Mary’s service has been recorded in the database at the Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC. Along with the 32 men listed on Springfield’s “Roll of Honor” was one other nurse: Rosina White who was a graduate of Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

Mary was employed as resident nurse at the Knox School for Girls in Cooperstown for 33 years, beginning soon after her return from military service. In 1949 her name was included in the Otsego Farmer’s list of 39 well qualified faculty to teach the 180 girls in residence. She was often known as “Meenie” and was later described as “confidante, comforter and friend” to student and staff alike. The yearbook was dedicated to her in 1949. It read:

In remembrance of your infinite patience with us, your serenity in the midst of chaos, and your sound advice to the perplexed, we shall remember your white-starched efficiency, always accompanied by a smile and a blithe greeting for all but we shall chiefly prize the memory of your warm friendship. We are happy to have this opportunity to thank you, Meenie, and thus we dedicate the 1949 Rose Leaves to you with gratitude and affection.

There were family marriages to celebrate: Ellen in 1919; Sara in 1923, and John.
Ever a bridesmaid, never a bride, when brother Bill married Mary Eaton in West Winfield in June of 1924, Mary was the attendant. The newspaper says: The bridesmaid wore orchid crepe de chine with silver trimming, with hat to match. Throughout her life Mary acquired a “dowry” including monogrammed silverware and linens, but she never married.

In September 1927 Mary crossed the Atlantic to France on the TSS Caledonia with nurses of the American Legion. She wrote to her sisters at a Cooperstown address:

Dear girls,
This is my last letter on board. We anchor tonight at ten and leave Cherbourg at 9 tomorrow—Paris at 3 p.m. It has been a fast and furious trip. 4 a.m. I dragged to bed this morning and I slept until12. I have a few minutes, must go down and pack so I won’t be as rushed as I was last time leaving N.Y. It has been the shortest ten days I’ve ever known. Saw the coast of Ireland this a.m. I can’t imagine what land will seem like again, a week from today I’ll be steaming back again. I am being taken to Jennie Walkers dinner in Paris on Tuesday. This gang wants to do so much and I want to do so much; wonder if there will be time. Of course Phelan will dash from place to place sight seeing, but I’ll try and plan for a few evening parties in Paris. Tonight they have their final party on board. Guess they have brought up all the champagne and scotch on board. They stand in with every one from the Captain down. I didn’t get the radio off, but you’ll know everything is ok. I am picturing Ellen and Mamma real busy. I’ll call you up when I get in New York. I often think, Gee, I’d like to telephone home and find out what’s what, how you made out about Peg, etc. I wanted a few words with the Judge but didn’t have the chance. I hope Caroline won’t be in New York because it interferes too much with other things I want to do. I’d like to see Peg again before I go upstate. I had planned to make a list and whatnot on the boat and here I haven’t done a darn thing. Will mail this in France and see you in a couple of weeks. Love to everyone, Mary
Saturday p.m.

In 1930 Mary’s younger sister Margaret Meeneghan died at 33 at home in Springfield. She had been ill with tuberculosis for some time. Niece Betty Simmons remembers playing on Aunt Peg’s bed and had positive TB antibody tests throughout her life.

Mary’s next loss was her father on 20 March 1935 at 77. He had suffered from dementia for some time, as described in a newspaper report in the winter of 1929 when he “eluded the vigilance of his family and was out in the storm about two hours. He was clad only for the house, having no outer wraps and wearing bedroom slippers.”

In June of 1932, Mary was one of a long list of petitioners published in the “Otsego Farmer” who believed that the Eighteenth Amendment (Prohibition) should be repealed. Reasons listed were:
1. It is unenforceable.
2. It has increased lawlessness and corruption.
3. It has diverted millions of dollars each year from the hands of legalized business into the hands of racketeers.
4. The situation has so reduced federal revenue that, in order to balance the National Budget, increased taxation is necessary.
5. It retards the cause of true temperance.

Mary’s papers include certificates that are option warrants for 3½ shares of common stock of Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation dated 1940. RKO was a prominent movie production company. The options were not exercised. We could speculate that they were a gift from a California girl at Knox. Mary was tall and pretty, but as far as we know she never appeared in a film. That would be a good story!

Her mother, Ellen Broderick Meeneghan, died 7 October 1949. Her obituary states that she was well cared for by her daughters, and it was Mary who sent a telegram to her sister Sara with the news of their mother’s passing.

When the Knox school was moved to Long Island about 1954 Mary would have been in her mid-60s. She returned to the family home and lived with her twin sisters Anne and Kate. The Meeneghan home in Springfield continued to be a family gathering place. Mary was an active member of the Clark F. Simmons Post 579 of the American Legion in Cooperstown.

Mary was 79 when she died on 12 July 1967 at home. She had lived with her younger sisters Anne and Kate in the family home since her retirement. As the older sister, she was the “queen bee” of the family. They continued to host family dinners, memorably Christmas dinner for the extended family. Her nearly 80 years were filled with family and friends, including two nieces and four nephews, and 16 great-nieces and nephews. She is buried in the Springfield Center cemetery on Route 20.

The longevity in the Meeneghan family is somewhat remarkable. Mary’s parents, born in Ireland, lived to be 77 and 81, respectively. Sara and Ellen both died at 80; Bill was 79 and John was 74; and the twins Anne and Kate lived to be 87 and 93! The U.S. Dept. of Commerce average life expectancy of Americans born in 1890 was in the 40s. Only Peg threw off the average with her early death.

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