Louisiana Woman – A Daughter’s Death

Source:  Illustrated Guide and Sketch Book to New Orleans (New York, 1884).

Caroline had four children, her oldest daughter was Laura and her next was Clara and she had two sons, David and Edwin. Her children all grew and married and were very close to her.

Laura was married in their home on Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans. She married Louis J. Bright and would have three children. Caroline and her family would spend summers alternately in Myrtle Grove and the North, or the Virginia Springs.

She writes of her insight as a mother very beautifully. She says, “It takes love and wisdom and proper environment to bring both to their best; but sometimes evil hereditary and vicious social institutions prove stronger than all of these combined forces of the home. The nation can never know the power and beauty of the mother until it evolves a true protective tenderness for the child, and encompasses it with safest conditions for its development.”

She goes on to say when her daughters won friends it was gratifying to her. She was proud when her daughter visited her on her reception day: “I should be happy to claim a half-hour of my mother’s society if she were not related to me.” Caroline was very content with her two happily married daughters settled near to her.

Tragedy would come. On September 1, 1878, while in the North for the summer, she received a telegram saying, “Laura died at 12 o’clock.” Caroline had pled with her to leave New Orleans with her for the summer. As Laura and her husband were very devoted to each other, they did not like to be apart. Unfortunately, she fell victim to the yellow fever epidemic which ravished New Orleans.

The last thing Laura wrote her mother was, “Fear not for me, dearest mother,”was on her last postal card. “My trust is in God.” Her husband Louis was frantic. He had the added pain of knowing it might have been different had she not stayed that summer. He said “I shall never grow accustomed to the hard fact that her bright and heavenly presence must be forever wanting in her own home, and shall never again grace mine. She died saying, ‘Jesus is with me!’ ” There was no one too old or too poor, or too uninteresting to receive Laura’s attention.  She was ever active in charities and a useful director of St. Ann’s Asylum (picture above) located at 1823 Prytania Street, New Orleans.  It still stands today.

There could be no greater loss of a mother than to lose a child.   It was after Laura’s death her husband encouraged her to do something for women, to help turn her grief into action.   Early in the year 1897 a State Constitutional Convention assembled in New Orleans.  The Board of Control of St. Ann’s Asylum, an institution for the relief of destitute women and children, was given $1000 by a German inmate on her deathbed.  Mrs. Elizabeth L. Saxon was going to speak as well.   Mrs. Saxon encouraged Caroline to appear and speak of the women’s grievances.  Mrs. Saxon told her, “Instead of grieving yourself to death for your daughter who is gone, rise up out of the ashes and do something for the other women who are left!’

It is through this event she began to spend her future days fighting for Women’s Suffrage.  Ultimately, her crusade continued the rest of her life.  She was president of the New Orleans, and state of Louisiana chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  In 1892, she organized the first women’s suffrage association in Louisiana and helped form a State Woman Suffrage Association with her as president.

Sources: Caroline Merrick. Old Times in Dixieland, (New York: The Grafton Press, 1901) and Samantha LaDart, Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana.

Louisiana Woman – Portrait of Caroline Merrick

Illustration

Published by The Grafton Press, New York, Copyright by Caroline Merrick, 1901

Please note above the debut picture of my subject, Caroline Merrick.
While reading through her memoirs, Ms. Merrick’s life spanned through the Civil War. There are chapters in her book which express her experiences and feelings with slavery, living through the Civil War and the oppression of women as well as slaves. It seems women did not have much more freedom then some of the slaves.

One of her chapters named War Memories: The Story of Patsy’s Garden was quite sad. She tells the story of her neighbor, Mr. Thornton and his daughter Patsy. Patsy’s one love was growing a garden of flowers which she was very good at gardening. However, during the war such trivial things as a garden did not seem important to her father. But Patsy was given fifty bulbs of lilies and other flowers and prepared the soil herself and planted the flowers. Her father would not allow one of the slaves, named Tom, to help her as he felt it was more important that he work in the cotton field.

This garden, which Patsy prepared on her own, flourished and brought forth beautiful flowers and she took pride in setting them around the house. One day her father noticed a young man watching her in the garden and thought it dangerous to her well-being, and that perhaps she would become involved with this young man. So that night her father pulled up all her flowers and destroyed the garden. Needless to say, she was devastated. Not but a few days later, her father said a certain Doctor in town wanted her hand in marriage and it was his request that she accept his proposal. However, Patsy was in love with another whom he did not approve of. Well, Patsy eloped with him in the middle of the night. Her father later was sorry. But this is a prime example of the control the Patriarch of the family had over the women.