Rummaging through my family tree, I always feel a bit sad when I come across childless women. In the context of genealogy, it seems regrettable that they lack descendants to honor them. On the other hand, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, if a woman wanted to do anything other than be a wife and mother, childlessness was probably a blessing.
For instance, my great-grandfather, B.F. Keller, Jr., had three sisters, and none of them had children. Edna and Bess taught school, and Helen worked in a bank. Bess married, but she and her husband separated, and she lived with Helen for most of her life, in their father’s house in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Pictures show Bess as a handsome young woman and, later, a confident older woman. Photos from the period of her marriage are missing. I looked her up on Ancestry.com but also found no records from her marriage years. Born in 1877, she was apparently divorced or separated by 1926, when she was listed by her married name, Elizabeth Keller Shervin, on the passenger manifest of a ship arriving in Glasgow. At the age of 49, she was heading to an address in London.
One document refers to Bess as not only a teacher but eventually principal of an elementary school. I would bet that few mothers–or even wives–became school principals in the first half of the 20th century.
City directories of the 1940s show Bess and Helen living at the Hagerstown house. Bess’s husband, Wade Shervin, was working at a local bank and living with his sister at a different address.
Edna died in 1901, at the age of 31, from “tuberculosis of the kidneys.” Helen lived into her seventies, until 1955, and Bess died in 1975 at the grand age of 98. I was still in college then, but I never met her.
I am glad to make her acquaintance now. I offer my love and respect to Bess, Helen, and Edna.