Friday, July 8, 2011

The Talented Women of 314 N. Graham Avenue

For over fifty years, the talented Kern-Hanger and Stewart women dwelled at 314 N. Graham Avenue. As early as 1907, 71-year old Angelina Allegre Kern and her extended family lived in the house. The 1910 census reveals that the 34-year old widow, Lela K. (sometimes spelled Lila) Hanger as the head of the house. She worked as a "pay officer" and clerk for a local business. Her mother, Angelina or "Anna" still lived in the house. Lela's six-year old daughter Mary Elizabeth shared the house with her 39-year old aunt, Katherine Seldombridge and her cousin 16-year old Beatrice Seldomridge. Much of what we know about the early years of the house comes from a published diary by the grown-up Mary Elizabeth (Ramier) titled My Diary 1916-1922, (Triangle Press, Indianapolis, 1991). Mrs. Ramier was 87 years old at the time of the publication. Her diary is available at the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. Her journal is much of what you would expect from a teenage girl living in Irvington. She laments about her relationship with her grandmother, the boys she liked, and her life at school. She gives some wonderful morsels about life in the neighborhood. On January 1, 1919, she wrote:

So we were walking along Layman Avenue when bells rang, whistles blew, and a cornet blew something. Thus we ushered in 1919.

On September 7, 1911, her mother Lela married Frank J. Richmann. It was a second marriage for both of them and they eventually moved to 26 South Arlington. The elder Angelina Kern lived well into her 90s and recalled her early life in an Indianapolis News (March 13, 1926) article as having grown up in a log cabin fifty miles from Cincinnati. Mary Elizabeth would later go on to Butler, the University of Illinois, and the John Marshall Law School (Chicago).

The next group of women to live in the cottage came when the Stewart ladies arrived in 1912. A brief legal notice on April 12, 1912, in the Indianapolis Star revealed that Alta M. Stewart purchased 314 N. Graham for $2,250. She was a widow and 45 years old at the time of the purchase. The other Stewart women who moved into the home included 23-year old Marie, 16-year old Hester S., and 11-year old Marian P. By 1920, all three girls served as teachers for the Indianapolis Public Schools. Marie, a talented artist, worked at a variety of schools including at Shortridge High School. As a high school student in 1906, she won a competition to design a commemorative plaque honoring Abraham Lincoln. Although it has been moved several times, you can now (2011) see it on display at the Indiana Government Center in downtown Indianapolis. You may read more about the sculpture in Remembrance, Faith, and Fancy by Glory June Greiff. (Indianapolis, 2005)

By 1930, only Alta and Marie remained in the house. In June of 1922, Marian married Edward Huger Carpenter of Charleston, South Carolina. It is unclear at this point as to what became of Hester. Marie remained active in the art world. She was a member of the Sketching Club and she frequently hosted events at her Graham Avenue home. In November of 1913, she and fellow member Roda E. Selleck gave a talk on "Colonial Architecture." At the same meeting, Edith Newbacher presented "The Dutch Farmhouse in New Jersey." The club met off and on at the Stewart cottage throughout the 1910s and 20s. She frequently entered and won art competitions at the Indiana State Fair. The Stewarts would live in the house for 42 years.

The historic photo shows Angelina Allegre Kern standing with her granddaughter Mary Elizabeth Hanger (1903-1994) in front of 314 North Graham Avenue in 1907. The contemporary photo reveals the house in 2011. I am indebted to Jeff Jernigan for the images and research for this story.

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