Tag Archives: Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence

A Valentine’s Day love story: my grandmother elopes (a re-post)

Sepia Saturday 457. From the archives: Three years ago I wrote this blog about my maternal grandparents’ marriage — and it is still my most visited post. So here it is again for readers who may have missed it. 

Valentine’s Day this year brought to mind one of my favorite family love stories — how my maternal grandmother eloped during the Roaring Twenties to marry my maternal grandfather. Pieced together like an heirloom quilt from precious scraps of information, this tale begins in the early 1900s in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

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My maternal grandparents Tony and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence in 1926 with their first child — my mother Peggy, age 3 weeks, who was born about two years after they married. Scan by Molly Charboneau

My grandmother Elizabeth Christina Stoutner, born on 20 Nov. 1905, was a third generation German-American — descended from ancestors who arrived in the 1850s. They appear in census reports as machinist, brick manufacturer, milliner, railroad employee and glove workers.

Born on 2 May 1902, my grandfather Antonio W. “Tony” Laurence (his surname anglicized from Di Lorenzo) was an Italian-American whose mother was born here and whose father arrived from Italy in 1896. His family members populate the census as junk dealer, garage owner, shoe shiners and glove factory workers.

The boy next door

Growing up, Tony and Lizbeth (as he called her) lived next door to each other on Wells Street in Gloversville1— she in a house built from brick manufactured by her grandfather and he in a wood frame house just around the corner from his father’s Peter Laurence Filling Station on East Fulton St.

Sometime in the early 1920s, my tall, artistic, stylish and high strung grandmother Lizbeth fell for my grandfather Tony, the warm, handsome, solid boy next door — a skilled mechanic, craftsman and troubleshooter who was anchored in a large, lively extended family. And he fell for her.

But the road ahead was rocky because Lizbeth’s mother was “very against their marriage,” according to the daughter of one of my grandmother’s oldest friends.

I have to wonder why: Was my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner influenced by the anti-Italian sentiment then sweeping the country? Or was she just intent on running her oldest daughter’s life? Whatever the reason, her opposition spurred my strong-willed grandmother to action.

Secret meetings

My great grandmother must have told Lizbeth to stop seeing Tony, and she pretended to agree. But all the while my grandmother was carrying on a subterfuge that fooled her family — including her younger siblings, my mom’s Uncle Andy and Aunt Margaret. Years later, Margaret shared this story:

Elizabeth was working at the school [a one-room country schoolhouse on Bemis Rd. about 3 miles east of Gloversville] and we all thought she had stopped seeing Tony. She would leave in the morning and walk all that way to the school, then in the evening walk all that way back. Well, we found out later that she would actually leave the house and walk a few blocks to meet Tony, who drove her to the school. At the end of the day, he would pick her up, drive her back and drop her a few blocks away so she could walk up to our house alone.

Exactly when my grandmother’s family discovered these secret meetings I can’t say for sure. But after high school, my grandparents were separated geographically when they both went away to study — Lizbeth to teachers college in Oneonta, Otsego, N.Y., and Tony to learn automotive mechanics in Detroit, Wayne, Mich.

I’ll bet my great grandmother Celia thought distance would put an end to my grandparents’ courtship — but if so, she didn’t know her daughter very well. Sure, my grandmother Lizbeth put on a great show while she was still underage and needed permission to marry — but I think she was just biding her time, waiting to turn 18 so she could finally follow her heart.

Young love endures

How they planned it I don’t know, and my mother was never told. But after she came of age, my grandmother Lizbeth joined my grandfather Tony in Detroit, where they were married by Father J.J. Hunt, a Catholic priest, on 9 Jan. 1924 — just 50 days after her eighteenth birthday.

My grandmother had boldly embraced her future, and she clearly did not want her family coming after her. The 1924 Return of Marriages in the County of Wayne, Michigan2shows that, while my grandfather admitted that he was from New York, my grandmother said she was from Michigan.

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The treasured  souvenir of my maternal grandparents’ marriage: A tiny loving cup showing the Post Office in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan — the city where they were married in 1924. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Returning to Gloversville as a couple, my maternal grandparents Elizabeth and Tony remained married for life — confounding the nay sayers and eventually winning Celia over. And they left tangible evidence that their young love endured.

On my bookshelf sits a tiny, silver plated loving cup from the Detroit Post Office — the only souvenir from their wedding — treasured and re-silvered by my grandmother and passed down from my mom to me.

After my grandfather died at age 80, inside his wallet we found my grandmother’s pristine calling card with her maiden name embossed in gold, on which she had penned her address on Elm St., Oneonta, N.Y. — where he may have gone to fetch her for their clandestine drive to Detroit all those years ago.

May we all have love like theirs in our lives — and many Happy Valentines Days in our future!

Up next: A bewildering Blakeslee saga unfolds. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2019 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1948: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence as mother of the bride

Sepia Saturday 394: Eleventh and last in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Mother of the Bride (1948). My maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence (c.) was eye-catching as Mother of the Bride at my parents’ wedding. With her are  (l.) my dad’s brother and Best Man William Francis Charboneau (Uncle Frannie) and (r.) my maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence, the Father of the Bride. Scan by Molly Charboneau

In November 1948, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, 43, appeared at my parents’ wedding as Mother of the Bride in a dress to die for.

Liz never had a bridal gown of her own, since she and my grandfather eloped — so she seems to have compensated by pulling out all the stops for my mom Peg’s wedding with an eye-catching outfit that made her a standout in the wedding party.

My grandmother looked pretty good as a Maid of Honor at her younger sister’s wedding, but Aunt Margaret would have chosen Liz’s dress for that occasion.

This time, the choice was up to Liz — and clearly, she aimed to dazzle from head to toe. She wore a black feathered fascinator hat at a jaunty angle and sported stylish eyeglasses that could be worn today. Subdued accessories — tiny watch, small drop earrings, wedding ring and corsage — meant her dress took center stage.

Stunning in copper and black

Parents of the bride and groom at my Mom and Dad’s wedding (1948). From left: William Ray and Mary (Owen) Charboneau; Norm Charboneau and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau; Liz (Stoutner) and Tony W. Laurence. Scan by Molly Charboneau

And what a dress! Shiny copper-colored stripes alternated with black matte at a bias angle on the sleeves and skirt and horizontally across the torso — so whenever Liz moved, the dress would pick up the light.

Normally, my grandmother wore flats when out with my grandfather since she was several inches taller — but she went ahead and wore strapped heels for this special occasion, which nicely complemented her dress. Long black gloves completed her stunning look.

Not to take away from anyone else in the wedding party. Everyone looked wonderful befitting their own personal styles — and it was my parents’ special day after all. But even among family, my maternal grandmother displayed a certain unique style that was all her own.

A shimmering dream

You may wonder how I know that my grandmother’s dress was copper and black, since the photos are black and white.

The explanation is simple — I actually saw the dress hanging in an attic closet during a visit to her house when I was in my twenties.

I may have asked her about it or recalled the dress from seeing my folks’ wedding photos — but what stays with me is the beautiful iridescence of the copper and the garment’s clean, tailored lines.

Years later, when my family closed out my maternal grandparents’ house after they both passed, I checked in the closet for the dress — but it was gone.

Yet its image still lingers like a shimmering dream — a beloved reminder of my maternal grandmother Liz who set a high bar for family style and lived by it all her life.

Up next: A family holiday get together. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1920s: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence’s job at The Boston Store

Sepia Saturday 392: Ninth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Recent posts have focused on my fashionable maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence and her family’s influence on her style. However, Liz’s own retail experience in the 1920s likely also played a part.

She appears below, third from left, next to her friend Lib Handy and her other co-workers at The Boston Store in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

The Boston Store and staff (circa 1920). My grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence, third from left, likely picked up fashion ideas when she worked at this Gloversville, N.Y. department store. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Retail sales

The Boston Store — a retail shop located at once-bustling 22 South Main Street — sold quality infants wear, corsets, hosiery and undergarments, along with dry goods judging by the plaid blankets in the window.

If this photo is any indication, Gloversville was a town filled with people who liked to dress well. Or maybe these retail workers were expected to dress the part in the interest of sales.

Either way, my grandmother stands out even in this well-appointed crowd — wearing contemporary clothing with just a hint of bangs accenting her dark, sleeked-back hair. Liz was also statuesque at 5 feet 11 inches — taller than many of the men.

Liz’s wide-lapelled coat, possibly camel’s hair, shows interesting button details at the belt and cuff and reveals a satin sailor-sashed neckline on her dark dress. A slouch purse, with metal clasp and chain handle, and strapped shoes accessorize her look.

Learning on the job

Boston Store ad from the Gloversville Morning Herald (8 June 1917). Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

My grandmother Liz may have worked at The Boston Store part-time or summers in high school. She eloped with my grandfather Tony Laurence in 1924, when she was 18, so her retail work would have been prior to that — possibly summers while she was attending teachers college in Oneonta, N.Y.

Judging by the Boston Store ads in the Gloversville Morning Herald, Liz would have had loads of garments and styles to choose from at work.

The prices weren’t bad either — plus they gave trading stamps for future purchases! An ideal place for a young woman to learn what she did and didn’t like — right down to long underwear for those chilly Mohawk Valley winters.

Silk stockings

A memory of my grandmother comes to mind reading the ad’s description of fibre silk hose.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, panty-hose had just come into fashion although stockings were still around, too. Snags and runs could easily ruin either style, but my grandmother had a solution.

“Always wear gloves when you put on your hose,” my grandmother instructed during one of my visits. “That way, they won’t snag and will last longer.”

With that, she donned a pair of white gloves and demonstrated how to carefully roll a stocking up the leg — the smooth, practiced move of a true fashionista.

More photos of my maternal grandmother Liz in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1899: Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance

Sepia Saturday 391: Eighth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

When I discovered that my grandmother’s Uncle John Stoutner won a first prize for waltz at an 1895 company picnic, I assumed he was participating in a once-in-a-lifetime event — a lighthearted, informal competition among colleagues to liven up a summer gathering.

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Grand ball at the Baltimore Academy of Music for the benefit of the Nursery and Child’s Hospital, from a sketch by Walter Goater. (April 24, 1880) Source: Library of Congress

But it turns out Uncle John was serious about his dancing.

Because four years later — on Sept. 27, 1899 — the Gloverville Daily Leader announced the upcoming launch of Professor John Stoutner’s school of dance in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

Of course Uncle John was not literally a professor. However, Miriam-Webster’s dictionary says a professor can be “one that teaches or professes special knowledge of an art, sport or occupation requiring skill.”

Imparting his skill

So Uncle John, as a dance instructor, was imparting his special knowledge and skill — complete with an honorific that added a feather to his cap as professional milliner.

Gloversville,N.Y. Daily Leader (Oct. 5, 1899). Uncle John had to move his successful class to a larger hall to accommodate the dancers. He also ran short ads every week to attract students. Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

Apparently, social dancing was tremendously popular at the turn of the century, because another news article said Uncle John’s first class (held 118 years ago this month) drew 80 dance students.

In fact, turnout was so good that Uncle John had to change venues for the remainder of the season from Gloversville’s Music Hall to the larger Mills Hall — where his second class was attended by 300 dancers and their friends!

A social and masquerade  party

Invitations to a Private Masquerade Party and an E. L. Social held in February 1898 in Gloversville, N.Y. Uncle John was on the committee that organized the masquerade party and may have had a hand in the social. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Nor was this the first extravaganza Uncle John had organized. Among inherited family papers, I found a formal invitation to a Private Masquerade Party held on Monday, Feb. 14, 1898 at the Gloversville armory.

Printed at the bottom are the names of the Masquerade Party Committee: J.H. Stoutner, L.H. Rinefort and W.J. Nelson.

Tucked in with this announcement was a hand-drawn invitation inviting Miss Celia Mimm, my maternal great-grandmother, to attend another event Uncle John may have had a hand in — an E. L. Social held earlier the same month on Feb. 4, 1898.

Celia, then 21, eventually became Uncle John’s sister-in-law when she married his younger brother — my maternal great-grandfather Andrew J. “Pete” Stoutner.

Musical heritage

Although I have no pictures of him teaching or waltzing or emceeing an event, I was nevertheless thrilled to discover this social dance history of my maternal grandmother’s Uncle John.

Gloverville Daily Leader (Oct. 25, 1899). A brief story about the success of Uncle John’s second dance class. Source: Old Fulton NY Post Cards

Throughout my adult life, I have been a regular social dancer — favoring swing and Latin dance styles.

My mother — a talented pianist, singer, composer and arranger — was a career music educator before she retired.

My maternal grandmother Liz apparently danced socially — because I still see all the moves she taught me during my teens whenever someone breaks into the Charleston swing.

Now it turns out that long before all of us there was Uncle John H. Stoutner — winning waltz contests, leading dance classes, booking halls and orchestras, and contributing his dramatic dancer’s dip to our family’s musical heritage!

Up next: My maternal grandmother develops her own signature style. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1895: John Stoutner wins a waltz award

Sepia Saturday 390: Seventh in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

When I was a teenager, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence taught me to dance the Charleston. I figured she learned it from her peers during the 1920s — when she sported a short “flapper” haircut and rebelliously eloped with my grandfather.

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Passionate Waltz by artist Ferdinand Von Reznicek (circa 1900). In 1895, my maternal grandmother’s Uncle John Stoutner won a waltz contest at a company picnic — and later ran a dance school in their Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y. home town. Image: Susan Lenox/Flickr

Yet it’s possible Liz was coached years earlier by her talented, quick-stepping Uncle John H. Stoutner.

For not only was her Uncle John a milliner who operated a ladies fashion store in Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

In his late twenties, he was also an award-winning ballroom dancer!

A coveted prize

My first hint of Uncle John’s acumen on the dance floor was the Aug. 19, 1895 newspaper article below from the Gloverville Daily Leader about the Booth & Company annual picnic.

Excerpt from The Big Booth Picnic (Daily Leader, Aug. 19, 1895).  (Click to enlarge). Uncle John Stoutner won the first gentleman’s prize in the waltzing contest. Source: Old Fulton New York Postcards

The lively story describes a sudden thunderstorm that sent everyone running for cover. Then — once the clouds parted — there was a dance contest in a pavilion so crowded the judges could barely make their way around.

Despite the crush that “considerably incommoded” the dancers, Uncle John managed to make an impression because he was awarded the “first gentleman’s prize” for waltz — a set of pearl opera glasses.

The “first lady’s prize,” a gold chain, went to Miss Nellie Dodge — but the article doesn’t say whether she was Uncle John’s dance partner.

A seasoned dance enthusiast

The waltzing competition was one of the highlights of the annual Booth & Co. picnic –along with tug-of-war contests and other sporting events that were detailed in the full article.

Alas, no photo of Uncle John. But he must have been waltzing for some time if he was good enough to come in first among all the men who swept their partners around the dance floor.

I wondered whether his German heritage influenced his choice of dance style. An article by competitive ballroom dancer Patsy Holden in American Ethnography Semimonthly had this to say about the waltz:

Beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing into the early twentieth century, the Waltz enjoyed almost exclusive popularity in the ballrooms of both Europe and America. The Waltz, which is from the German word “walzen” and means “to revolve,” describes a graceful and romantic couple’s dance in ¾ time.

Regardless of how my grandmother’s Uncle John became a dance enthusiast, he clearly continued to cultivate his talent after winning the waltz prize. Because four years later a Daily Leader article, dated Sept. 27, 1899, announced that Professor John Stoutner had opened a dance school!

More on this new revelation in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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