(click to enlarge photos)
Alice Ellis, the pillar of this feature, stands far right in her apron. Clara Wood, her mother, sits beside her on a bike at the front steps of Alice’s Green Lake neighborhood home, then still a work-in-progress at 2130 N. 62nd Street. Both the children are Alice’s. The standing toddler with the bonnet is Myrtle, and the laughing baby on the grass is Marie. About fourteen years later the mother and two daughters posed for a studio portrait that is on the cover of the paperback book, Seattle Pioneer Midwife, Alice Ada Wood Ellis, Midwife, Nurse & Mother to All. It is, in part, a biography of Alice, written by Susan E. Fleming, the laughing baby’s granddaughter and so also Alice Ellis’ great-granddaughter.
In Jean Sherrard’s repeat, Susan Fleming stands far left holding Marie’s baby dress, while her cousin Carol Solle holds the baby’s bonnet. Early this summer Carol showed Jean and me this more than century-old snapshot. It is one of four photographs taken that happy afternoon, and it was hard to choose just one. Another includes a peek at Green Lake, which is out of frame to the left.
We speculate that this front lawn snapshot (and two that follow the featured photo at the top) was taken in the spring or early summer of 1901, less than a year after this quartet took a winter train ride from Milwaukee to Seattle aboard a chilly coach of the Great Northern Flyer. The relocation was to join the rest of the family: grandpa Pierson Wood and Beulah and Eddie, Alice’s older sister and brother, who had come to Seattle a half-year earlier to prepare the way. Susan Fleming’s guess that grandpa Pierson Wood was holding the camera seems at least possible. Fresh to Seattle, the fit senior was hired by the city to drive a street cleaner, a day-labor job he started at the age of sixty-nine and kept into his eighties.
Fleming recounts Alice’s brief married life with her shortly-divorced husband Gideon Ellis, including their time together in Deadwood, South Dakota. It was in that infamously wild frontier town that Alice first both donated and marketed her skills in nursing and delivering babies for pregnant prostitutes. Fleming’s book is also replete with evocative birthing stories, some from her great-grandmother’s tending to the pregnant prostitutes of Seattle and from the Yukon and Alaska in their Green Lake home. Fleming’s authority in enriching these stories with midwifery practices, lore and testimonies comes not only through her family but also her research in birthing and over thirty years as a registered nurse. This descendant of a pioneer midwife received her PhD in 2011 and is presently an Assistant Professor at Seattle University College of Nursing. Her book can be found in bookstores.
Additions, lads? Yup Jean, Ron and I have harvest from the field of past features a sample of relevance. Some of these will be the “same old story.” Click to open each. There are within, we think, certain delights.
NEARBY NEIGHBOR – First Appeared in PACIFIC, Oct. 7, 2001
THE PATH FROM FREMONT – First Appeared in PACIFIC JAN. 27, 1991
WHERE MYRTLE & MARIE WENT TO SCHOOL – First Appears in PACIFIC, AUG. 7, 1994
THE EAST SHORE
THE LOST BAY