MRS. HELEN L. BOOTH'S YOUNGER DAYS IN OHIO AND CALDWELL COUNTY
Narrator: Mrs. Helen L. Booth, 80, of Hamilton, Missouri
Mrs. Booth was born July 30 1854 in McArthur Ohio, the child of Ellis B. Pugh and Cassandra Selfridge. Pugh, a birth right Quaker, was a cabinet maker and wagon maker and had passed through the three steps of apprentice, journeyman and master workman in his trade. He opened a shop in Moorfield Ohio and later in McArthur. His name was on most of the wagons and buggies used in Vinton County from 1850-1880. As a cabinet maker, he made chests, bureaus, beds, tables and chairs in a period when little furniture was brought on to sell in the small town store. He also made small articles like paddles, potato mashers, rolling pins, apple butter stirrers. She still has left some of these articles which he made over sixty years ago to help his children begin their kitchen outfits.
Her Mother was an early milliner in McArthur and knew all the tricks of the millinery trade when one must reshape straws on blocks, sew braid, bleach straws, make wire and buckram frames, cover them with satin or velvet and sew on flowers and plumes to nod exactly right. She always kept one or two apprentices who helped with the house work to pay for their "tuition" in learning the trade. There was usually at the back door a pile of plaster-paris hat blocks; for new blocks must be bought every summer and the old shapes discarded.
The bleaching of hats demanded special knowledge. A wooden box was built waist high with a pole across the top under the lid. From this hung the hats to be cleaned. At the bottom was a dish of brimstone, mixed in exactly right proportion with acids. These recipes were part of the instruction and were handed on to the apprentice. The mixture was lighted and the bleaching began. The time depended on the condition of the hat. When the peep-windows were opened, the white vapor almost suffocated one. Most women made their straws last two years with a bleaching the second year. So this was an important part of the business.
Mrs. Booth was her mother's trimmer and began by getting 5 cents a hat, which was not so bad then for a fifteen year old girl.
She was a small girl during the Civil War and recalls the horror of seeing soldiers brought home dead. She, when ten years old, sang a popular war song "Good bye Mother, You will never press me to your heart again" at the funeral of a sixteen year old boy killed in battle. Even at that time she had a very unusual soprano voice. She recalls the dread of Morgan's raiders who came very near McArthur. The women buried their silver and jewelry and baked up pies, cakes and ham but Morgan did not come.
Those were the days when dignified society ladies met in teas and chewed snuff out of beautiful snuff boxes just as today women smoke cigarettes. Mrs. Booth saw it but was too young to rub snuff.
Her childhood games were much like those of her daughters some years later: Blackman, hide and seek, drop the handkerchief, hopscotch, button, button (for an out door game) Needles eye when a string of players ran under a couple with hands clasped high; "Needles eye that doth supply the thread that runs so smoothly; many a fair one we shall pass before we catch Miss Julia. At the end of the last word, the arms suddenly came down on "Miss Julia" and she had to stand in the mushpot (the center of the ring). Then there was "King William." One stood in the middle and a circle of players leaped around and sang -
King William was King George's son
And from the royal race he sprung
Upon his breast he wore a star
Pointing the way to his Kingdom's far"
and the last word, King Wm. in the mush pot suddenly pointed out her successor and the game went on.
At eighteen she married Dan Booth and they soon left Vinton County to come to a farm west of Hamilton in the Lovely Ridge district in Caldwell County. Her people pitied her because she was coming to poor old Missouri.
She stayed at the Broadway Hotel (Later Harry House) kept by the Van Volkenburg family on site of present Davis Motor Company. The next day they went out to the new farm which had been bought from Altman, it is now the Gregory farm. There she went through many new experiences for a town girl - like taking care of milk (but her husband never had her go out after the cattle as many neighbor women did) raising chickens and making butter to sell. She sold it to the hucksters and to the Goodman Hotel in town. She learned to cook harvest dinners for thirty to thirty five men without the aid of a girl, things which scared her to death when her motherly neighbor Mrs. Jack Edminister told her about them as necessary duties of a farm wife.
Her worst experiences out there were - grasshoppers which came to the farm when Mr. Booth was on a cattle buying trip to Nebraska; the hog cholera which killed every hog for miles, the James Boys who lived not far away and rode by the farm once or twice. When word came of their approach her husband would turn his horses loose from the barn. The worst scare came one night when a terrible wind storm was upon them. They dragged the furniture against the doors to keep out a current which might lift up the house from the ground. That night they both determined to sell out and go back to Ohio. This same wind was a cyclone north of town.
One of the things they had on the farm is still in the family - a hutch table. In those days, the kitchen also served as a dining room. A bench was built against the kitchen wall to serve as seats at the table. The average family then had six chairs and a family was quite unusual if that did not have to move chairs from one room to another.
When the Booths left the farm 1881 after seven years to come to Hamilton to live they came in such a snow drift that they drove a sled through the fields, over a few fences, since it was shorter and equally easy on the horses.
Interviewed April 1934.
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