Mattie Diona (Knox) Latimer – Seeing The Fullness Of Her Life Through Newspapers

To some, she was Granny; to others, she was Mom; to all, she was known as Mattie.

Mattie Diona (Knox) Latimer

Mattie Diona (Knox) Latimer

Mattie’s grandchildren knew that she was from California but as she didn’t talk very much about herself not much was known about her early life. Newspapers, the social media of 100 years ago, filled in the blanks, painting the picture of an outgoing, independent and spirited young woman, one who lived within the acceptable social boundaries of her times but who wasn’t afraid to push those boundaries.

Mattie was born in 1884, the first child of Thomas ‘Tom’ Elliott Knox and his wife of two years Amy Jane Squires. Both Tom and Amy were immigrants to California. Tom hailed from the village of Seaforth, in southwest Ontario, Canada and Amy had moved as a child with her family to California from her native England.

Mattie lived with her parents in Livermore, California where her father provided a comfortable lifestyle through his work as a plasterer, mason, and eventually contractor. She had no Knox relatives nearby but her mother’s family, the Squires lived in Berkeley, California.

Mattie first appears in the newspapers at the age of five, listed as guest, along with her parents, at the wedding of her aunt Emily Squires to Charles Wiggin on August 20, 1890. The wedding took place in the home of her maternal grandparents in Berkeley.

The newspapers report that Mattie visited her Squires grandparents at least annually, with references to such visits appearing in 1897 and 1898. In August of 1898, Mattie was in Berkeley again but to attend the 10th birthday party for her cousin Hazel Foy, the daughter of Amy’s sister Emma. A number of Mattie’s aunts supervised the picnic party that was highlighted by each child receiving a flag button, something considered to be a big deal at the time.

On March 11, 1901, the Oakland Tribune reported that Mattie and her friend Annie Wagoner were the only two graduating students to make the elementary school honour roll. It is not yet known what role academics may have played in Mattie’s high school experience but it is known that she made the high school girl’s basketball team as a starter along with elementary school friend Annie Wagoner. Mattie’s best friend Albertine Bernal made the team as a substitute.

Mattie’s family was doing well through this time. On February 11, 1903, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt nominated Mattie’s father as Postmaster for Livermore. The appointment became official on February 16, 1903. Thomas Knox would later be elected as Mayor of Livermore and subsequently he served as a Supervisor for Alameda County.

According to published reports, Mattie continued her visits to Berkeley through trips in July 1903, March 1904 when uncle Harry Squires was ill, and July 1904. Mattie also is reported to have won the prize for the “most original design of decoration” in the annual Livermore 4th of July parade. Mattie’s design involved “a gigantic California poppy with a lady seated in the center.”

As Mattie entered her twenties, she was experiencing a world beginning to rumble with change, especially for women. The suffragette movement was taking hold and fashions for women were changing. While Mattie continued to visit her Squires relatives in Berkeley, a shift can be seen in her activities. She was entertaining her friends at her parental home in Livermore and not just travelling to visit relatives.

In June 1905, on the same page that Oakland Tribune reports Mattie entertaining her friend Lillian Symmes, the newspaper also reports the U.S. government ordering the destruction of hundreds of pictures of President Theodore Roosevelt taken while the President was on a hunting trip in Colorado because of the objectionable dress of a correspondent who was present in the photos named Gertrude Dunn. Miss Dunn’s objectionable attire, specifically was “where the skirt should have been was a pair of very pretty ankles.”

June of 1905 also saw Mattie venturing further away from home and travelling with a friend to Canada. It is not reported but it is likely that Mattie ventured into Ontario, possibly to visit with members of her father’s Knox family.

No sooner had Mattie returned from her trip to Canada then she was off again, this time travelling to Berkeley with her school days friend Annie Wagoner but now doing the approximately 40 mile trip on horseback through the mountainous terrain.

The year 1906 was pivotal for Mattie. She continued her civic activities through attending meetings of the Native Daughters of the Golden West and she continued to travel to Berkeley to visit her relatives. On June 9, 1906 Mattie went camping for a few days with friends, including best friend Albertine Bernal, a trip highlighted by an earthquake. Also, during the summer of 1906, Mattie’s engagement to Edward Arthur Latimer was announced.

In September 1906 a surprise linen bridal shower was held “when a large number of friends assembled at the residence of Miss Emma Smith and went in a body to the home of the bride-to-be and literally showered her with gifts.” According to the newspaper report, Mattie “soon recovered her equanimity and entertained her friends royally.”

On November 9, 1906, the Oakland Tribune reported that a marriage license had been issued for Edward A. Latimer, 28, of Orillia (Ontario, Canada) and Martha D. Knox, 21, of Livermore. The same newspaper provided a report of the wedding in its November 18, 1906 edition:

Mattie Diona (Knox) Latimer as pictured in the Oakland Tribune alongside the report of her wedding to Edward Latimer

Mattie Diona (Knox) Latimer as pictured in the Oakland Tribune alongside the report of her wedding to Edward Latimer in 1906

“On Saturday evening, November 10, Edwin [Edward] Arthur Latimer and Mattie Diona Knox were united in marriage at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Knox on L street in the pretty town of Livermore, by the Rev. Mr. J. B. Stone, of the Presbyterian church.”

As Miss Dollie McKown played Lohengrin’s wedding march, Mattie entered her parent’s living room wearing a white messaline gown trimmed in lace and carrying a bouquet of roses. Mattie was accompanied by her long-time best friend and maid of honour Albertine Bernal. About fifty guests, including all of Mattie’s Squires grandparents, aunts and uncles traveled from Berkeley to Livermore to attend the wedding.

While she may not have been perceived as a young, attractive, outgoing socialite in her twilight years, the newspapers tell the story of a Granny Mattie that she never told.

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