Dr. J. S. Halstead, age 102
Mrs. Halstead, age 91
at the Polls November 2nd. '20
Mrs. Halstead, age 91
at the Polls November 2nd. '20
and below is written:
Dr. Halstead and his wife are walking along a shopfront on their way to vote. Each has a cane, and Mrs. Halstead also keeps a good grip on her husband's arm.
It is the national election of 1920, with Warren Harding (R), and James Cox (D) contending for the office of President. Harding would win with an overwhelming 60% of the popular vote, but would not complete his term, as he died suddenly in San Francisco on August 2, 1923 after a brief illness while on a tour of the western states. He was succeeded by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who would later win the 1924 election also.
The man in the hat is Dr. Joseph Singer Halstead, who was born in Kentucky in 1818, but had made his home in Breckenridge, Missouri since 1860. His earlier career in Lexington, KY was as personal physician to Henry Clay (1777 – 1852) a skilled lawyer and celebrated Kentucky politician who served in both houses of Congress. Clay was still a well known historic figure in the 1920s and Dr. Halstead's connection to him was always mentioned in the many newspaper accounts I found about the good doctor.
|Senator Henry Clay and Lucretia Hart Clay|
on their wedding anniversary 1849
Clay seems to have collected walking canes, and on the occasion of his great speech advocating statehood for Missouri, a fellow Senator from Maryland gave him a cane made of olivewood that came from a tree grown at the grave of Cicero, the famous Roman orator and philosopher. Sometime later, Clay was attacked by a dog on the streets of Washington and in his defense broke the cane head. It was repaired but was now too short, so he presented it to Dr. Halstead who had since always prized the cane and is no doubt holding it on his way to the ballot box in 1920.
After attaining the age of 100, Dr. Halstead's birthdays were a regular item in newspapers around the country. He became the oldest Missourian; the oldest Mason; the man who met Lafayette, Sam Houston, Daniel Webster, et al. In one article in 1919, his marriage to Mrs. Halstead - was described as 67 years without a spat.
"We sometimes disagree a bit, but we never permit it to go to the extent of an argument or quarrel," Mrs. Halstead said. "That is one reason our love for each other is as great as it was when we were married."
Dr. Halstead was revered in part because his generosity never made a disparaging remark for anyone but offered only praise. Once when challenged to say something good about a local disagreeable character, he said, "Oh well, he is a good whistler."
Dr. Halstead lived through one more election cycle and at age 107, acclaimed as Breckenridge's most honored citizen, died on September 13, 1925. His wife, Margaret Wickliffe Halstead, preceded him by dying earlier in the same year.
An interesting small town history of a revered man, but there was still a larger question to answer.
Why was a postcard of Dr. Halstead included in this collection of family photos?
Part of the reason is that Breckenridge, Missouri was my ancestral hometown too. Both of my great great grandfathers on my father's side of the family served in the Union army in the War between the States. After the war, Charles H. Pratt and Jacob Brubaker both lived in Breckenridge and can be found on the same page of the town's 1890 Veterans Schedule. Jacob served as a private in the 9th Regiment of Ohio Cavalry and Charles was a sergeant in the 27th Infantry Regiment of Missouri. The schedule also notes that Charles suffered a finger wound and was held a prisoner of war by the Confederates for 14 weeks, 8 of those in the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.
People of Missouri had divided loyalties during the Civil War. As a result of the Missouri Compromise, which was taken through Congress in 1820 by Henry Clay, Missouri had entered the union as a slave state. Breckenridge in fact was named for John C. Breckinridge, a pro-slavery Kentucky Congressman and Senator who was Vice President under James Buchanan, but who later served as a Confederate general. And yet despite this heritage, in 1860 Missouri chose to remain in the union and did not secede with the Confederate states. This created very contentious politics in the state and tragically divided families and towns for many years. Dr. Halstead remained neutral, even though both the Union and Confederate military requested his services as a medical doctor.
The archives of Ancestry.com have very interesting maps as well as census documents, and there I found an 1876 survey map for Caldwell County, Missouri. The dark square is Breckenridge and below it is the 640 acre property of J. S. Halstead.
And just adjacent was the 80 acre farm of Jacob Brubaker. Go up three squares to the northeast and there was the 60 acre farm of Charles H. Pratt. How close is that? Perhaps only a few minutes walk or horse ride.
The 1880 US Census for Breckenridge, MO has J. S. Halstead, age 62, a farmer, (the doctor's retirement pursuit) listed with his wife, Margrett, age 50 along with five sons and one daughter. Only two names down is Jacob Bluebaker (sic), farmer, age 38 with wife Elizabeth, age 36 and daughters Rozalla and Lillian, and sons, Enoch and Harvey Brubaker, age 2, who eventually will become my father's grandfather. There is an odd feeling of affinity to discover that Jacob had the same trouble with the misspelling of his name that my father and I have endured over the years.
But was the proximity of homesteads the only reason our family has a picture of Dr. Halstead? I think there is another reason that has to do with the skills of a country doctor.
I can not believe that a Brubaker (or a Pratt for that matter) would not take advantage of Dr. Halstead when he lived so close. So I believe he was present at the birth of Harvey Brubaker. As birth certificates were uncommon in those days, it may never be proven, but who would not want to keep a photo of the doctor who brought you into the world and who lived to be 107?
I hope you have been patient to reach this last part of the story because here is the most remarkable thing about the photo of Dr. & Mrs. Halstead.
Next week is election day for 2012, and there may be some senior voters who could match Dr. Halstead's record of 21 presidential elections at age 102. But the really interesting statistic from that November day in 1920, is that for Mrs. Margaret Halstead, age 91, it was her very first visit to the polls as a registered voter!
This was the first national election after the 19th amendment to the US Constitution granted women's suffrage to American women. It had only just been ratified on August 18, 1920, and was supported by both the Republican candidate Warren Harding and the Democratic candidate James Cox. Was Mrs. Halstead a bit nervous? After all those years of listening to her husband's stories of Henry Clay and other eminent politicians, finally this day she could have a real say in the future of her country too.
This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there are games and sticks afoot this weekend.