Saturday, January 23, 2010


Daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, grandmother, heroine.

Elizabeth is the little lady wearing the sunbonnet in the photo above. She had cancer of the face and I suspect she's wearing the bonnet to protect it from the sun. She fills the role of great-grandmother and heroine in my life. I've not yet met her but I hold her in high esteem. I'll share with you what I know about her.

Elizabeth was born on August 24, 1852, in England, probably in Bradford, Yorkshire. Her father was Abel Armitage, her mother is not yet certainly known (at least to me). She had one sister, Ann, who was two years older than her. Abel worked as a coal miner before they left England and after they settled in Jefferson County, Ohio.

Elizabeth came to the U.S. in 1864 when she was 12 years old. Wherever their destination may have been, the family ended their journey in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio. I know nothing about Elizabeth’s childhood and youth. I believe she lived with a stepmother, which may have been a difficult experience - or not. She did not learn to read or write during that time, so she probably did not attend school. Perhaps her help was needed at home.

At the age of 17, on April 24, 1870, Elizabeth married Henry C. Meinzen. Henry was 32 at the time of their marriage. With such a wide difference in their ages, I can’t help but wonder how they met and chose to marry. Did they live near each other? Did Henry do some carpentry work for Elizabeth’s father? However they met, Elizabeth began bearing children soon after her marriage. Henry, her first son, was born later in 1870.

In October 1871, Elizabeth became a naturalized citizen when her husband completed the naturalization process. I wonder if there was great joy and jubilation at this event. Did they have a huge celebration or was it a smaller event with just family and friends? Or did it pass so quietly that it was just another day? Did newspapers of the time period list newly naturalized citizens? I’ve never seen them in the papers I’ve searched.

Elizabeth’s second son, William, was born in 1872. On April 29, 1873, Henry bought property on Eighth Street in Steubenville. They must have moved into their new home soon afterward. It would have been there that 11 of Elizabeth’s 15 children were born, including one stillborn infant as well as my grandfather, William Carl Robert, who was born on February 8, 1892. It was also there that she lost her second son, William, to typhoid fever.

I often wonder what those year were like for Elizabeth. I can’t imagine bearing 11 children, one approximately every two years. With a 9-month pregnancy and about 9 months nursing, she was either pregnant or nursing more time than not! How did she manage with little ones at every turn, filling every corner of the house; with continual diapers to wash by hand; with feeding many little mouths? Did she have morning sickness? And what about the cooking? Probably at least some of those years she cooked at a fireplace. I know all of this was common practice for women of that time period but I still think it must have required great fortitude.

I wonder if Elizabeth was a patient mother. Did she have a sense of humor? Wouldn’t you have to have a sense of humor to keep your sanity with so many little ones in your home?! And how did she manage the teenage years with her sons and daughters?! I have so many questions to ask her....

On February 20, 1892, the year that Elizabeth turned 40, she and Henry sold the property on Eighth Street less than two weeks after Elizabeth gave birth to my grandfather. I hope she had help with the packing and moving. I believe they moved south to the New Alexandria area and rented a farm in or near New Alexandria. Elizabeth birthed 4 more children while living on the farm, lost one of them, and saw her oldest son married. Then, on August 8, 1902, Elizabeth bought property at 306 and 308 South Third Street at the corner of South Street, in Steubenville. I think perhaps this was a duplex. City directories of the time indicate that they lived at 306 and had Henry’s confectionery shop at 308 (though sometimes the confectionery is listed at 306 and their home at 308).

By 1906, six of Elizabeth’s children, ranging in age from 6 to 26, were still living at home. Children had started to marry, but by 1911, there were still 5 at home.

What I think of as the sad and troubling years began in 1907. During an 11-year period, accident and illness claimed all but six of Elizabeth’s adult children. She lost Walter, 24, in 1907; Hannah, 35, in 1910; Edward, 31, in 1911; Jacob, 23, in 1917; and Bertha, 29, in 1918. Two sons were killed in grizzly accidents in a mill; one son was lost to suicide; and two daughters were claimed by disease. If all of that wasn't enough, in 1917, the year that she turned 65, Elizabeth learned that she had cancer of the face.

What challenging years those must have been. To mourn the loss of one child would be beyond my understanding, but to lose 5 would seem almost impossible to bear. After losing her second adult child, did she begin to look over her shoulder wondering if death would return and claim more of her family? To know that cancer would eventually claim her appearance and then her life would be a sad reality.

Some of my impressions about Elizabeth based on what I’ve learned are that she was a strong woman, both emotionally and physically. To bear 15 children, raise 12 of them, and lose 9 of them would require both physical strength and emotional fortitude. I think perhaps she was a humble woman, without vanity: she allowed herself to be photographed after the cancer had begun to disfigure her face. I know she was illiterate, but I believe she was intelligent and savvy. She (probably with Henry) managed money well enough to be able to purchase property, one of the purchases in her name. She made a will. She sent her children to school and they all learned to read and write. I think she was much loved. Henry used the endearment Lizzie on one birth record, and at least 3 grandchildren were named Elizabeth (I assume after her).

Maybe I’ve put my great-grandmother Elizabeth on a pedestal - birthing and raising so many children, living with what we consider “primitive” living conditions, and enduring the deaths of 9 of her children. If so, so be it. I’m amazed by her!

There are many things I’d like to learn about my great-grandmother. Here are just a few. I want to know--
--what her favorite color and flower were.
--what she considered the biggest challenge in her life.
--whether she spun, wove, knit, and/or sewed her own and her family’s clothes, and whether she quilted.
--about the voyage from England --packing, land travel, water travel, all of it!
--how she met Henry and how they came to marry.
--whether she liked to sing and if so, whether she had a favorite song.
--what she thinks is the most important thing she learned in life.

I look forward to a time in the future when I’ll be able to sit and visit with my grandmother Elizabeth and ask her some of these questions. I believe I will learn a lot from her.

The year Elizabeth died, she and Henry lived at 1540 Oregon Avenue. Her 11-year-old granddaughter, Edna Hendricks, Hannah’s daughter, was living with them. On the day Elizabeth died, she was living at 1829 Market Street.

Elizabeth passed away on June 26, 1920, in Steubenville, Ohio, at the age of 67 years. She is buried in Union Cemetery, Section Q, Lot 203.

I'm looking forward to meeting the lady I call heroine. I want to thank her.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In the photo above, Henry is the older man holding the pipe. I don't know who the tall lady on the left is. On the other side of Elizabeth is her daughter Isabelle. The three children may be Isabelle's, and the man on the right may be her husband, Benjamin Hashman. In the back from left to right are Lula and Charlie Sticker and George Harris, Mina's husband. Perhaps Mina is taking the photograph.

Elizabeth's obituary was published in "The Steubenville Herald-Star," Monday, June 28, 1920, p. 10.

Jefferson County marriage record for Henry and Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen
1851, 1861 England Census
1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920 U.S. Census
Belmont and Jefferson County Probate Court naturalization records of Henry C. Meinzen
Jefferson County, Ohio, property records
Jefferson County, Ohio, birth records
Steubenville city directories, 1906, 1911, 1913
Ohio death certificate for Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen
Union Cemetery interment records
Last will and testament of Elizabeth Meinzen
Obituary of Elizabeth Meinzen

If you want specific sources for any of this information, please ask.

Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Messier.


  1. A very nice tribute to Elizabeth! I can't imagine losing a child let alone 9. And cancer treatment, if she received any, would have been unpleasant at best.

  2. Apple, thanks for your kind comment. I hadn't even thought of cancer treatment in the 1920s! I'll have to do some research on that and see what I find.

  3. A wonderful tribute - I'd like to meet her, too! It's hard to imagine how strong she would have had to have been to bear so much.

  4. Nancy, you do lovely work! I am proud to be your latest follower. Thank you for the nice comments on my blog.

  5. Nancy, you are such a wonderful blogging friend! I appreciate all of your support and comments. I have awarded you the "Blogger's Best Friend" award. You can pick it up at:


  6. Nancy,
    What a wonderful post about Elizabeth, I would like to meet her also, she must have been something else!
    I was an oncology nurse for almost 25 years the first chemo drug wasn't developed until 1945. They were doing some radiation therapy in the early 1900.
    Your blog name is the reverse of mine, how funny.

  7. It's so great that you wrote all you thought about Elizabeth. I'm pretty good at facts but I need to learn to put in my thoughts as well. You are an inspiration for that!

  8. Thank you all, Greta, Deci, Mary, and Kathy, for your kind comments about this post. Sometimes I'd like to jump back to the time period of an ancestor and live with him/her for a time just to see what life was really like. Since I can't, I read about the time period and then I just "wonder" and imagine the questions I'll ask later. I appreciate the support from all of you. Thank you.

  9. Nancy - you made me feel like she's a part of my family as brought her to life! You are a wonderful storyteller!

  10. Nancy, what a superb portrait! You have a gift for moving past the vital records and reflecting on the life lived. I suspect your Elizabeth would be a bit startled to be considered a heroine, but I agree. She was.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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