This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Dr. & Mrs. Halstead on Election Day 1920

01 November 2012

Recently on a visit back to my parent's home, I was shown a vintage photo postcard that had come from an old photo album, acquired from my father's family. The photographer at Moren's Studio entitled it:

Dr. J. S. Halstead, age 102
Mrs. Halstead, age 91
at the Polls November  2nd. '20

and below is written:

Breckenridge, MO.

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
As the youngest elected Speaker of the House, Henry Clay achieved one of the longest tenures in that position (1811–1814, 1815–1820, and 1823–1825). In 1799 he married Lucretia Hart, and together they made their home in Lexington, KY raising eleven children. The estate was named Ashland and is preserved today as a National Historic Landmark.

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 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.


Kat Mortensen said...

It would be nice if our countries had even an ounce of the dedication that Halstead and his wife had to get out and vote!

First and last, but counted!

Peter said...

As usual I really enjoyed reading this piece of history. All I can say is that you are a mighty good whistler!

Howard said...

Amazing to think this man and woman in the photo lived most of their lives in the 19th century. I wonder who Dr and Mrs Halstead would vote for in the forthcoming election? I would guess the party that isn't trying to stifle womens' rights...

Wendy said...

I second Kat's comment. What an enjoyable story - well, storIES - of the good doctor and his connection to both the famous and not-so famous. Timely too!

Anonymous said...

I've read your story from A to Z. How wonderful to discover all these interesting details about your ancestors.

Postcardy said...

Great story. It didn't occur to me when I was reading that 1920 would have had to be her first election.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Oh, my gosh ... to not only have lived to 107, but to have been able to vote that many times, when his wife was not allowed to vote until age 91. What a contrast.

I like the part about him being a peaceful man. I wonder if that is one reason why he lived for so long?

Another awesome post, Mike. Thanks!

Kathy M.

Wibbo said...

And I thought it was bad enough having to wait until age 21 to vote! Great research and well done Mrs. Halstead.

Little Nell said...

Hurrah for Mrs Halstead for setting such a good example in so many ways. Trotting out to the polling station for her first vote at 91 when she could just as easily have stayed at home by the fire was wonderful. She also seems to have been an exemplary wife. A very enjoyable post.

Kathy said...

Every word and image tells a great story. I, too, did not make the connection that 1920 would have been Mrs. Halstead's first time to vote.

Unknown said...

What a fabulous post! Good for the Halsteads -- I know people today who could learn a lesson from these two...the Mrs. H. must have been especially proud!

Bob Scotney said...

What a fine example the Halsteads make for today's voters many of whom would not bother to vote unless they are transported to and from the polls.
Another history lesson for me. Well done, Mike.

Unknown said...

This is absolutely excellent. At first sight of the photo I thought about their ages and before I had read the full post I was thinking, "hmm wasn't that right around the time women got the right to vote?" They certainly do look very fit for their ages. I was fascinated and thinking that perhaps you had turned up a distant relative in these two. Imagine how she might have felt at 91, casting her first ballot. Lots to ponder here.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

So very interesting. It's hard to imagine a time when women didn't have the vote and to cast your first at her age. I love the kind of post which leaves the reader panting for more. And this one certainly does.

21 Wits said...

She's so much tougher than she appears,(and so wise too!) and she will love him, take care of him and guide him down the right path! This is so timely for us right now! Awesome post- thanks!

Warm Regards . . . said...

What a wonderful photo of Dr. and Mrs. Halstead! Great story too! I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog :)

Rob From Amersfoort said...

Great story, so the cane is famous, and it's fascinating that your great-grandfathers lived next to the doctor. I love his sideburns!

Tattered and Lost said...

Absolutely fascinating. And I can't help but think about how truly old the people look in the photos. I compare them to people I know now in their 90s. 100 years from now I'm trying to imagine how today's elderly will appear from those way off in the future. Will they look equally as old as the dear doctor and wife?

Teresa Wilson Rogers said...

Mike, I was enthralled from the beginning to the end of this story. First of all it was amazing that they even lived that long, that they were married that long and that they did not fight (not sure I really believe that part)! The fact that he was linked to Henry Clay was an interesting tidbit as well as the story of the cane.

I wondered where you were going with this story and the fact that they were neighbors of your ancestors was an important fact. But this is indeed a very timely story and the fact that he voted in so many elections and it was her first makes it a very special story. Thanks to you their story has now been told - thanks for sharing!

PS - I loved what Halstead said about someone being a good whistler! If only people today were as restrained in their comments.

Bruno Laliberté said...

Which seems only fair, women's right to vote, that is. The opposite would seem appalling nowadays...


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