Thursday, October 29, 2015

Digging Around: More on the Sabines

I keep coming up with questions about the Sabine family —  and sometimes I find answers. I'm routinely amazed by what I can find about them online. Considering that they lived rather quietly a century ago, it's incredible what I can dig up. And I haven't even visited the Harvard archives yet.

On Tuesday, I wrote my post about Ruth and then I decided to add a few more details to last Friday's post about Janet. As I looked at her wedding announcement from a newspaper in September 1929, I read again that it had been a "quiet celebration" owing to an illness in the bride's family. When I found that months ago, I didn't know much about her family's timeline. Now I know that Janet had lost her father, sister, and her grandparents by 1929, leaving only her mother, an aunt and uncle who lived in the Midwest, and an uncle in California who may have been somewhat of a recluse.

So, I wondered: had her mother Jane, the busy doctor, been ill at the time of the wedding? I went to bed that night thinking about it. Jane was about 65 in 1929. Before her husband Wallace died at age 50, he had seriously overworked himself, neglected his health, and suffered life-threatening illnesses. His biography mentions a few times across the years when he fainted on the street from pain or exhaustion. On more than one occasion, Jane had to race to his side to save his life. But Jane seemed quite the opposite; I'd never read about her being anything but strong. Physical education for girls was one of her research interests, and she seemed to be in robust health herself. She gave birth to her daughters at 40 and 43, and managed her household, medical practice, and various other obligations very smoothly, without fuss. She did this at a time when it was rare for a Back Bay (and Mayflower) matron to work at all, let alone have a demanding professional career.

Yesterday morning I did a little Googling as soon as I got up, and almost immediately found the answer — in Smith College's alumnae news. Jane was a member of the class of 1888:

I really didn't expect to have it spelled out for me so factually, so quickly.

Poor Janet; family illness and death had a way of coinciding with what should have been her joyful milestones. I hope she didn't have her heart set on a big society wedding. I doubt she minded her tiny one since she must have been terribly worried about her mother. Without her father to walk her down the aisle or her sister to be her maid of honor, it was bound to be a bittersweet occasion anyway.

Her mother was true to form in going abroad to recover. The newspaper and customs archives are full of records of the Sabine family's transatlantic crossings. After Ruth died in 1922, Jane and Janet boarded the White Star Line's Arabic less than six weeks later, headed for Gibralter, the Azores, Naples, and Genoa.

It's said the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. I know which I'd choose.

Next I began wondering what illness Jane had... and when she retired from her career. Her obituary says that she continued to practice at Children's Hospital and New England hospitals until about 1932, so that is part of the answer.

But I also found a curious letter Jane wrote in 1931, which is in the Harvard online archives for the Blackwell family. And now I have even more questions, mainly about this house, where Jane was living at the time... or was she?

More to come.


  1. it is wonderful that all of this information is available at the end of a few clicks.. before the internet this would have taken weeks if not months to gather.

  2. What fun to be an investigator. I wish I had the time to do this for my own family! I know some, but not much. Thanks for sharing this ongoing research with us. I love it

  3. Please tell us you are writing a book on this! So interesting...


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