Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Papa" – Sarah's Father, Robert James Howe (1855-1910)

Sarah Eva Howe was a daddy's girl. That's my sense, based on what I see in her early scrapbooks. There are many loving mentions of her mother, Alice Ada Cost, but many more mentions of her father, Robert James Howe, and much more detail about the things he did and the ideas he expressed. Today, we get better acquainted with "Papa" – or Rob, as he was known to his friends.

We already know a little about Robert Howe the businessman. I've found a few other items that offer more insight. One is what Sarah called "Papa's little book." It is only 2 1/2 inches wide and 5 inches long. Apparently, he had many of them over time, but so far I've come across only one in the scrapbooks. As Sarah wrote:
"Papa filled endless little books like this with lovely cramped writing mostly of special orders to be looked for on his trips to the cities." 

Look how much writing he wrote on each tiny page! The example below shows a numbered list of expenses for October, November, and December 1894. Among the highlights (as best I can make out the tiny script):
seltzer 25 cents
meat 30 cents; figs 35 cents; grapes 50 cents
3 chickens 60 cents
Book Concern 35 cents
Renewal of St. Nicholas magazine subscription (for Sarah) $3.10
2 lecture tickets 50 cents
Overshoes 85 cents
2 concert tickets 70 cents
Christmas gifts $1.80
These and other entries in the list reveal or confirm things about Robert. His purchase of lecture and concert tickets indicate that he enjoyed culture and the arts and likely was a life-long learner. His renewal of his daughter's favorite magazine tells us that we encouraged Sarah to read. His habit of keeping these bits of information in such a detailed and consistent way makes me think he was a highly organized and meticulous man. Those characteristics fit with what we have already learned about his approach to business.

Robert's contribution to Book Concern, the first publishing house of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, hints at his connection to that denomination. The scrapbooks confirm that he followed in his parents' footsteps as an active member and leader of Carrollton Methodist Episcopal Church (now Carrollton First United Methodist). Robert was also a leader in church programs on a state and regional level. In the next photo, he sits front and center (to viewer's right of the woman wearing leg-of-mutton sleeves) at a convention of the Epworth League, an association established in 1889 for young adults in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Robert would have been 41 that year, so he and others at the convention were likely the organizers within the organization. His place in the photo tells me he may have had a leadership role.

In her scrapbooks, Sarah pasted many items about her father's involvement with his church – too many to include in one post. She also wrote about his popularity as a Sunday school teacher and his commitment to Bible study at home.
A portion of Sarah's writing about Bible lessons.
"Papa was a joyous teacher of the Bible — that is, he could make it so interesting for us. Before Leonora, Mama and I on Sunday afternoon were his companions in many contests, to see who could first recognize the descriptions he age of Bible events. He called them Word Pictures, and always began 'I see a ____.' Sometimes we took the letters of the alphabet and gave all the men’s names of each letter, or all the women’s names or all the places. I remember how Papa astounded us all by finding the only one for F (it must have been in the Old Testament 'Fair Haven,' in Acts, about one of Paul’s journeys). Of course, there were Felix and Festus for men’s names."

Considering Robert's strong faith and his leadership in the church, we can't be surprised to find this in the scrapbooks:

The Murphy temperance movement, launched in 1870 by Irish immigrants, had 65,000 card-carrying abstainers by 1876. The Epworth Herald (Volume 13; January 24, 1903), a publication of the Methodist Church's Epworth League, promoted a pledge-signing crusade, so Robert may have signed this card as part of his church's participation in that crusade. Robert's daughter Sarah (our scrapbooker) became a life-long member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Lest I paint him as always serious, here's an image of Sarah's Papa at a summer camp in Chicago. Robert (the man on the right) is not smiling, but I think this camp must have been for fun. (The scrapbooks do not indicate what kind of camp this was; maybe it had something to do with the Methodist church or a literary or social organization.) Obviously, he and Harry Given are posing, and the scrapbook has similar photos of other people at the same event. 

Based on letters and postcards from Robert and Sarah's written comments about her Papa, I know that the meticulous businessman also had a soft side. He cared deeply about his family – especially Sarah, if I dare speculate on that. He doted on her and encouraged her (and maybe, to some degree, spoiled her). He was her champion in education, and he taught her about the world. He included her in conversations about the news of the day.

Robert doted on his wife. When he traveled, he wrote her almost every day – and some days twice. His letters were often brief, but they told of his daily activities and asked about hers. Unfailingly, he signed with "all my love" or "your devoted husband" or other endearments.

He participated in a number of civic groups and literary societies; he attended concerts and plays.

All in all, I surmise that Robert was a learned, sophisticated, yet friendly man who was loved and respected at work, at church, at home, and about town.
I'm waiting a bit to post details about Robert's later years and his passing, because there will be more about him in future posts. For now, in case you might recognize some faces, I'm closing with a group photo taken at the summer camp in Chicago. Robert and his friend Harry are standing on the left. If you know any of the others, I'd like to hear from you.

Our Church, A History of The United Methodist Church of Carrollton, Kentucky 1790-2014, is available for purchase from CreateSpace and Amazon, with proceeds supporting the church's window fund.

The Epworth League later became Methodist Youth Fellowship, known as MYF. A history of the organization is online at


ScotSue said...

A lovely kindly profile of Sarah's father and it was amazing what a rounded portrait emerged from your study of his activities and writings. It was good, too, to see images of the actual documents.

Frances Nelson Salyers said...

Hello, Sue, and thanks for your feedback. I've started a similar post about Sarah's mother, but I have much less material on her -- at least, so far. I may need to wait until I can go through more scrapbooks.