Edith B. Irvine, an Independent Woman of the Early 1900s

When I first began using online resources for family research, I quickly found that it was easier to pick up the trail of the men in my family than the women. Reasons for this include: men are listed as the head of household on census records; men often have military records; and, their surnames do not change with marriage. It is sometimes impossible to locate a marriage record, making the discovery of maiden names a challenge.

Women who never married are much easier to follow through census records, city directories and the usual sources through which men are traced. We can get a better picture of these women’s lives because they were often employed outside the home. Freed from the responsibilities of home and family, they also may have engaged in social activities which might be found in local newspapers. One such woman was Edith B. Irvine, daughter of Arthur T. Irvine and Amelia T. Beach.

Edith was born just after Christmas, on Dec. 28, 1881, in Otto Township, McKean County, Pennsylvania. The sketch below describes the area in which Edith grew up:

Industrial and Commercial Resources of Pennsylvania-1887

Industrial and Commercial Resources of Pennsylvania-1887

When Edith came along, her half-brother Charles was 11 years old and attending school, her sister Florence was about three years old, and her maternal grandparents were living in the home. A few years later, brothers George and then Henry would come along. Arthur was working as a machinist when Edith was born; Grandfather worked on the family farm. Both men were from Boston and veterans of the Civil War.

It’s a curious thing, but it appears that perhaps Edith and her sister, Florence, had the idea that they would not marry from an early age, for both attended school far beyond what was usual for girls at the turn of the 20th century.

In the fall of 1899, Edith paid a visit to her then 20-year-old sister in Buffalo, where she was a student. Florence was boarding at the home of the Messings with her friend, Charlotte, who was employed as a stenographer. In later census records, both Florence and Edith are shown to be working as office workers, so perhaps in 1899 Florence was in a secretarial school and Edith came to scout it out or apply? The home the Messings lived in still stands on 16th Street, though no doubt much changed in the 100+ years which have passed since Florence and Edith walked those steps to the front door.

Buffalo Express Tuesday Sept 12 1899

In the summer of 1900, Edith was living with the family in Otto Township, as was Grandmother Beach, but Grandfather has passed away. Arthur was still working as a machinist and owns his farm free and clear. Edith (18), George (16) and Henry (14) were all in school. Again, it was not customary for children to be schooled past the 8th grade, so perhaps it tells us something about the importance their parents placed on education.

For Thanksgiving that year (1900), Florence and Edith traveled to Fredonia, NY, to spend the holiday with their cousin, Isabella Irvine Sievert. Isabella, the same age as Florence, was the daughter of Arthur’s older brother, O.P. Irvine. Isabella’s husband, Frederick, a German immigrant, was a druggist and later owned a drug store in Fredonia.  The Sievert home in Fredonia still stands and is quite an elegant residence!

Dec 8 1900 The Fredonia Censor Wed Dec 8 1915 re. old files

Through old city directories, I’ve been able to track Edith’s movements around Buffalo in the early 1900s. She was always a boarder or renter and moved around fairly often. Using Google Street Views, I was able to capture images of the houses which are still in place.

In 1904, Edith lived at 24 Fargo Ave., working as a stenographer.
In 1905, Edith had moved to 228 Plymouth Ave. where she was a boarder at the home of the Tuckers, immigrants from England. Edith was still working as a stenographer, while another female boarder in the home was a teacher.
The 1909 and 1910 city directories show Edith living at 167 Richmond Ave. in the home of the Ansteths and their two daughters. I came across a charming old photograph of Richmond Avenue around the time Edith was walking that street. I can picture her treading the sidewalk heading to work each morning, and back home again after a long day in the office. She as a very petite woman, probably around 5′ tall, so would have had to take more steps than most. Richmond Avenue

By 1911, Arthur Irvine had passed away and his widow, Amelia, had moved to Buffalo to live with her daughter, Edith. For nearly ten years, from about 1911 to 1919, Edith resided at 50 19th Street. These were the years of the Great War, so it’s nice to think that during that time of anxiety and uncertainty, Edith and Amelia enjoyed a somewhat stable life. The house on 19th Street was at some point taken down, but the house next door still stands (shown right) next to the now empty lot. From the census record, it appears that the house was a two-family dwelling, with Edith & Amelia living in one part of the house and a married couple taking the other part.

During her residence on 19th Street, Edith was in her early 30s and working as a clerk for the phone company. She only lived a few blocks, perhaps a mile or so, from the Telephone Company building and probably walked the distance. I wonder which floor she worked on? Telephone Building - Buffalo - 1914
In the 1920 U.S. Census, taken in mid-January of that year, Edith and Amelia relocated to a multi-family dwelling at 342 Bryant Street. Edith was 38 years old and had advanced to a supervisory position at the telephone company.

I’ve been able to find a few mentions of Edith in the society pages, something of the “Facebook” of the times, which provide a glimpse of Edith’s personal life. She traveled to visit family and friends; she was a member and office holder of a local women’s business organization; and she enjoyed bowling! Below are a few of the articles I’ve captured.

Buffalo Courier Sunday June 4 1911

Buffalo Courier Sunday June 4 1911

Miss Vincent’s Tea Room was in the old Heneger’s Department Store. Miss Wale had been at school with Edith and was working as a stenographer. If you’ve watched Mr. Selfridge on Masterpiece Theater, you have an idea of what the scene was like!

Hengerers in 1908

Hengerers in 1908 – Note the elaborate window displays, and horse & carriage at bottom of photo!

Buffalo Evening News Saturday October 11 1913

Buffalo Evening News Saturday October 11 1913

Buffalo Evening News Friday October 17 1913

Buffalo Evening News Friday October 17 1913

Buffalo Evening News May 15 1926

Buffalo Evening News May 15 1926

Buffalo Courier Express Thursday May 31 1928

Buffalo Courier Express Thursday May 31 1928

In 1930, Edith moved again — this time to 421 Potomac Avenue. Her mother, Amelia, had passed away in 1923, but Edith (hopefully) enjoyed the company of the single woman who rented the home and one other woman who boarded there at the time. Edith still worked at the telephone company.





1940 is the most current U.S. Census available to us and in it I’ve found that Edith again had moved; this time to 58 North Grove. The census details show Edith was putting in a grueling schedule of 52 hours/week at the phone company as a supervisor. She was earning $1600/yr and there is a notation of some other source of income.

In May of 1940, Edith traveled to Olean, NY, for the funeral of her sister-in-law, Clara Snyder Irvine. A few photos were snapped at the time.

Edith B. Irvine in 1940

Written on the back of the photo is: “May 12, 1940 Aunty Edith with Nancy, Larry, and Tammy the dog. Olean”

Edith B. Irvine in 1940

Written on the back of the photo is” “Edith and Ardie, Olean, May 12, 1940”

Edith B. Irvine in 1940

Written on the back of the photo: “Olean 1940.” Edith appears to be holding Tammy. The other women in the photo are not identified.

Edith lived out the rest of her life in East Aurora. She passed away in 1955 and rests, near her mother Amelia, in the Oakwood Cemetery, East Aurora, NY.

Edith B. Irvine headstone, Oakwood Cemetery, East Aurora, NY

Edith B. Irvine headstone, Oakwood Cemetery, East Aurora, NY

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2 Responses to Edith B. Irvine, an Independent Woman of the Early 1900s

  1. Kathy Irvine Burke says:

    I have a set of beautiful rose pattern china that Aunt Edith sent to my parents as a wedding gift. Mom and Dad took the train to visit Aunt Kay (who was unable to attend the wedding) and they visited Aunt Edith. She shipped the dishes to them after their visit. I have always loved these dishes. Since I moved into the house I grew up in, I have put the dishes in our hutch. They look beautiful. Mom never knew much about Aunt Edith so I am so pleased with this information.

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