I mentioned in an earlier post the nearly legendary status in my mother’s family of Wilma Wallace. She was my mother’s aunt; my maternal grandmother’s youngest sister.
Born in 1900, family lore has it that Wilma ran away from home with the circus at age 13. She married a succession of increasing wealthy men, 5 in all, and died in 1933. At least, that is how I remember the stories I heard as a child. Of course, all the people who knew her are long since dead.
As I’ve continued to review old family photos, and do a little exploring on Ancestry.com, I have begun to fill in a few details.
I located her death certificate and obituary which show that she died, not in 1933, but in 1937. In either case she was far too young to have passed away.
Her death certificate indicates the cause of death was endocarditis. I’d always heard she died of an illness of a kind people don’t describe to children and young women of quality would never encounter. As I got older, I assumed this was syphilis though I am sure neither my mother nor grandmother ever used that word. That is not necessarily inconsistent. Endocarditis can be caused by bacterial infection. Interestingly, her published obituary stated she died “… after a year’s illness” and that she had moved back to the family’s hometown about a year before from Tucson AZ. Seeing Tucson, my first thought was tuberculosis as it was common in those days for people to go to the desert for treatment of TB. I think there was a stigma to tuberculosis at the time as well so perhaps that is the illness at which they hinted. My imagined scenario is racier however so I am sticking with it until proven otherwise.
So far I’ve found information about three husbands. She married George A. Smith on September 9, 1922, She would have been 21 at the time. Her 1937 obituary indicates she was survived by, among others, her spouse Edward Fisher III. In between those two there is an indication of her being listed as “Mrs. McPherson”. If the family lore is to be believed there are a couple more spouses out there to be found. Of course it is also possible that the other two men may not have been “husbands” in the legal sense. There is precedent for that kind of ‘little white lie’ in my family. If the story about her running away from home at 13 is true, I assume at least one of the other husbands would be prior to her 1922 marriage. Hopefully I’ll learn more about this.
The obituary indicates she was a member of the Eastern Star Lodge. I have heard of this organization but know little about it. My understanding is that it is a variation of Freemasonry but with membership open to both men and women.
In addition to being survived by her husband, she was also survived by her two sisters, her mother and one grandmother. The news item notes her father (my great-grandfather) had died 6 months earlier. I wonder if part of the reason for her return to Southern Illinois was her father’s declining health.