Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Calamity Jennie

"Mamma" Jennie Cole Kint Purdy Phelps (1864-1950)
Because I wrote about Jennie yesterday, I have been thinking about her difficult life.  So, I decided to continue and tell more of her story today.  (Some of the following is supported by documents, while some has come down through family letters and stories and still needs corroborating evidence.)

As mentioned in yesterday's post, Jennie grew up without a father. Sadly, throughout her long life, she was forced to endure many more losses of the men to whom she was closest.
On January 5, 1882, Jennie married Sylvester Kint in Buchanan, Iowa and moved to Huron, South Dakota.  She quickly became pregnant with her first child, Pearl May. Heartbreakingly, the young father-to-be drank bad water while out hunting and died in 1883 before his daughter was born, making Jennie a widow at 19. Just like Jennie, Pearl was a little girl without a father. History appears to have further repeated itself when Pearl was, apparently, left behind to be raised by her paternal grandparents. Since we don't have the 1890 Federal Census, it is difficult to know for sure, but it seems that Pearl stayed in South Dakota, while her mother moved to Minnesota. Judging by what transpired later, it may have been the best place for the young Pearl.

Jennie, Courtesy Patty Wilson
Next, Jennie married Jonathan E. Purdy on May 7, 1885 in Hubbard, Minnesota. They had three children - Daniel Edward "Eddie" (b.1886) , Blanche (b.1888- my great grandmother) and Jonathan Clifford "Cliff" (b.1892). Calamity then struck again. According to a family letter, Jonathan had a cold in early January 1893. Jennie, eager to care for her husband, grabbed the tonic from the cupboard and gave it to him. Tragically, the "tonic" was actually horse liniment, which ate away the lining of his stomach from the inside. As one can imagine, he died an excruciating death a few days later on January 14, leaving Jennie alone, once again, to care for their young children.

At some point around 1895, Jennie married again to a horse trainer (hmmm...?) named William Phelps and moved to Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where her daughter Hazel was born on April 9, 1896. They must not have stayed there long because their daughter Gladys was born back in Minnesota on April 27, 1898 and the blended family was enumerated in Hubbard, Minnesota in the 1900 Federal Census. It is unclear exactly what happened next, but the family says that William was not kind to Jennie's older children and went so far as to break Eddie's arm.  Apparently, at this, Jennie ordered him out of the house and away from the family. She then took her children (except Pearl) and moved to Washington State in 1904, where she lived the rest of her life.

Unhappily, fate had two more painful blows to deal to my great great grandmother.  On May 17, 1907, her oldest son Daniel Edward Purdy dropped dead of a heart attack at only 20 years old. Then years later, shockingly, on August 18, 1935, Jennie's daughter Blanche Purdy Moore was run down by a speeding car in Seattle.

Jennie and a descendant
The years took their toll and after a very long and challenging life, Jennie died at the age of 86 on November 24, 1950. She is buried next to her daughter Gladys Phelps Roberts at the Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in Seattle, remembered with the word "Mamma" on her marker. Jennie has definitely left a legacy behind. Today, a number of her descendants are fascinated by her and her remarkable life, investing countless hours in the hope of knowing her better.

Jennie, Courtesy Patty Wilson


  1. What a life! So many challenges for just one person. I think it's amazing that you have so many photographs of her. She's very lovely but in the last two photographs she just looks tired. (I can understand that she could be tired after the life she led!)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nancy. She must have enjoyed having her picture taken because what I have is only a small fraction of what I am told was in the family at one time. I was trying to tell a story with the photos too and show the progression of how her face and demeanor changed over the years. Thanks for noticing!

  3. Very Interesting! Thanks for the comment over on my blog..it is interesting that you have family from Hubbard, Minnesota. If you would like my husband and I can poke around in some of the cemeteries over around Hubbard and see if we can come up with a photo of a marker..you never can tell! My email is in my profile over at Forgotten Old Photos..I am going to add you to my sidebar:) Connie

  4. Poor Jennie! :(
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Love the show. My husband who is adopted watches and said is that how you have been looking. New appreciation for my small efforts. His mother married at least 3 times. Older brother still not found. Maybe another child given up. His father had another child with a different woman 3 months after first born.half sister. Family lost track of him. Had no idea of all his children. My husband is nearly 80 and wants to find older brother hopefully alive 81. Who said the 60’s were about free love never knew about the 1930 and 1940’s shenanigans. DNA certainly has opened many eyes. Love your family back story