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Before women’s standing improved, newspaper served as matchmaker

By Linda Emley

Last week I was helping someone look up
an obituary in the Richmond Missourian
from 1917 and I found some interesting
articles that made me realize how much things
have changed in the last 95 years.
There was an article titled, “The Boys Now
in Army and Navy” in the paper on Aug. 2,
1917: “A careful investigation had been made
to ascertain the names of the Ray County young
men who have been serving Uncle Sam for
years in the army and navy. We are aware of the
fact that the list is not complete,
but it will be before we get through
with it. Commander James Proctor
Morton enlisted in the navy in
1891. His sister, Mrs. Jesse Child,
has just received a letter from him
saying that we will be put in command
of a battleship in a few days.
A brother of the commander, Dr.
Harry T. Morton, is First Lieutenant
in the medical reserve corps at
Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana;
and will leave shortly for France.
Ensign Proctor Morton, named
in honor of Commander Morton,
is on the U.S. Ship, Minneapolis.
H.R. Scott, 27th Infantry, is in the
Philippines and every few months writes an
interesting letter to the Missourian. We have
been unable to fi nd out more about him. But he
is doing his duty, alright. In his last letter to the
Missourian, he quoted, ‘Let our object be our
country, our whole country and nothing but our
country.’ ”
The above article doesn’t sound that different
from our modern world but some of the
things on the home front were different. Women
weren’t serving in the military and from several
articles you can tell that their main duty was to
fi nd a good husband.
I found this story in the same newspaper
under the headline “Valuable Birthday Present”:
“The young man was 21 a day or two ago and
Mr. James William Russell is proud of the present
that his father, Mr. W. F. Russell gave him
that day, a fi ne pair of sorrel mules who have
had three birthdays and they are as pretty and
game as Missouri mules get to be. He looked
mighty good as he sat on the high spring seat
of the new wagon that was also a present, and
we looked at him in admiration in front of the
Missourian offi ce, wishing that we were one of
Mr. Russell’s boys and 21 years of age. All Jim
needs now is a wife, and we promised to help
him to fi nd one, so young ladies, call, phone or
write the Missourian. First to come will get the
prize, a fi ne young man who has the bird cage
ready for the songster.”
My fi rst thought was, poor Jim, does he
know that the Missourian is trying to marry him
off? Then I wondered if anyone responded to
the story and truly wanted to be Jim’s songster
in his bird cage.
The Missourian made up for it when I turned
to the next page: “Five Attractive Sisters. Misses
Eileen, Bess, Dorothy and Winifred Smith
and Mrs. Noma Alspach, all sisters, daughters
of the late Miles Smith, were in Richmond,
Monday and favored the Missourian offi ce with
a call. They live in a beautiful home about 3
miles south of Lawson and their mother is one
of the best women in Ray County. They are
indeed an attractive group of young ladies and
know how to talk entertainingly on any subject
of importance. As a whole, they constitute a
picture of health and happiness seldom seen
in one family. Two of them are
experienced in handling automobiles
and Miss Eileen was
gracefully guiding one which
weighs 3,200 pounds.”
I think the Missourian knew
better than to run an ad for
the Smith girls because it sounded like they
could snag a man anytime and I
don’t think these “modern” girls
would be happy riding in Jim’s
mule-drawn wagon after wheeling
around in their automobile.
And fi nally as I was getting my
hopes up for the guys at the Missourian,
the tie-breaking vote was
cast when I found one more article
that shows how they really felt
about a woman’s place in society.
“Sheriff Coombs W. Higdon asked
the writer in very hasty accents
to accompany him to Orrick on
Saturday afternoon. We went there
and back in one hour and twenty
minutes, and when you consider all
the short crooks and turns in the road between
the county seat and the town in the middle of the
Irish potato region of Ray, we claim that was
going some. We felt perfectly safe – any good
women on earth could trust herself to him down
the path of life; but up to now, I am informed
from headquarters, there have been no volunteers.
He does not like the drafting business,
but how on earth can he help himself? Ladies
do your duty, volunteer.”
So now we know in 1917, a lady couldn’t
be drafted in the army but they were welcome
to volunteer for hazardous duty as the local
sheriff’s wife. Maybe one of the Smith sisters
would have been thrilled to fl y down the road
with the sheriff but it would have been a good
idea to fi nd out where he was headed in the
fi rst place.
So did Jim Russell and Sheriff Higdon ever
get a wife? And what about those fi ve attractive
Smith sisters from Lawson? Jim Russell and
Sheriff Higdon eventually found wives. As for
the Smith sisters, Bess married and moved to
Texas. Noma and Eileen married, but Dorothy
and Winifred never did. All sisters except for
Bess are buried in the Lawson Cemetery.
I guess we shouldn’t be so hard on the
matchmaking skills of the Richmond Missourian
because it was just trying to help friends
fi nd a good wife. I bet they would be amused
if they read the “singles seeking singles” want
ads in today’s newspapers. But who knows for
sure because they might just say, “Why didn’t
we think of that?”
You can contact Linda at raycohistory@aol.
com or see her in person at Ray County Museum
during business hours Wednesday through
Saturday.

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