1900-1920: Frank Owen’s Baltimore family

Sepia Saturday 410: Third in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md., is the first in which I have found my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family — and by then he had been in the country more than 12 years and was married with children.

Baltimore street scene showing the Lubins Building and business district (circa 1910). Horse-drawn carts, streetcars and hats worn by all the men  — these provided sources of work for my great-grandfather Frank Owen, some of his children and his Dempsey in-laws. Source: Library of Congress

At the time, Baltimore City had a population of roughly 500,000 and was the sixth largest city in the U.S. — a bustling cauldron of opportunity and challenge for a Welsh working-class immigrant with a relatively young family.

The Owen family’s 1900 federal census enumeration is excerpted in the table below. My great-grandparents likely wed in 1888, since they had been married 12 years. Highlighted is the entry of their first-born child — my grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau.

1900 U.S. Census Enumeration of Frank and Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen – 428 Govane Ave., Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md. Source: FamilySearch.org
No. Name Reln. DOB Age Married Job
27 Frank C. Owen Head Dec. 1856 43 M 12 yrs. Clerk, Straw Hat Factory
28 Elizabeth Wife Feb. 1875 35 M 12 yrs. Mother of 6 children
29 Mary Dau. March 1889 11 S At school
30 Arthur Son Feb. 1891 9 S At school
31 Charlotte Dau Jan. 1893 7 S At school
32 Catherine Dau March 1895 5 S
33 Frank Son Feb. 1897 3 S
34 Evan T. Son Jan. 1899 1 S

The next two decades

By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, Frank and Elizabeth were married 22 years and had relocated their family to 1518 Henry St. Frank was a Shipping Clerk at the straw hat factory.

There were also four more children in the Owen household: Dorothy S. and William L. (both born in 1901, apparently twins), Joseph C. (born in 1904) and John, the baby, (born in 1908). Ten children altogether!

During the 1920 U.S. census the Owen family lived at 424 Stricker St., and my great-grandfather Frank, 65, was working as a railroad watchman — perhaps a less taxing job for an older worker nearing retirement.

Elizabeth C. was 52, and only four children — Arthur T., 28, (a street car conductor), Katherine G., 23,  (a men’s hat trimmer), Joseph T., 16, (a grocery clerk) and John W., 12 — were still at home. They also had two boarders, possibly for supplemental income.

In intriguing job

My great grandfather was a clerk for most of his working life — and I have long been intrigued by his job at the “straw hat factory.”

Frank even listed himself as a “hatter” in several Baltimore name-and-address city directories — and the work must have paid enough to support the large Owen household.

Yet his job somehow never sounded like an impressive calling — at least not until I started researching for this blog post.

It turns out that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore City for quite a number of years — and my great grandfather Frank Owen was right in there during the hey-day of Baltimore’s straw hat boom.

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

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8 thoughts on “1900-1920: Frank Owen’s Baltimore family”

  1. Thanks so much to everyone for your comments. I cannot imagine having 10 children, so the Owen-Dempsey household must have been quite something. Also appreciate the Baltimore details, as I am unfamiliar with the city except from afar, as well as the view from Britain. And for those of you as intrigued by the straw hats as I was, you will thoroughly enjoy the next post.

  2. I am trying (and failing) not to make some dreadful pun about Frank wanting to get a head…..……It sounds like he successfully got many!
    Looking from Britain, Frank embodies our idea of the American Dream
    I continue to follow his journey with interest.

  3. I have my granddaddy’s straw hat. Straw hats must have been a big deal everywhere. I have a photo of him wearing it in 1925. The fact that he kept it the rest of his life must mean something.

  4. Straw hats were big business back then. There were different styles, of course, but one of the most popular was the ‘boater’. And not only for men, but for women as well. Very sporty hats and good protection any time one was out in the sunshine for long periods of time – such as going boating, or playing sports and the like.

  5. My mother’s mother’s family came from the western shore of Maryland and straw hats were definitely a men’s style in rural communities. I even have one that may have belonged to my great great grandfather. Your photo of Baltimore’s “business district” is more accurately the theatre district as the Lubins building was a vaudeville theater. Its gone now but the Gayety across the street is still operated as a kind of burlesque bar.

  6. That’s great that your great grandfather was involved in a booming business, at whatever level! And goodness, his wife, Elizabeth had 10 children! She surely was a busy woman at home!

    1. So, Elizabeth was 44 or so when John was born. That must have
      been unusual. Not so much now though. One of my youngest cousins had her first child at 41 and her second at 43. All of her girlfriends from high school seem to be on the same time schedule, marrying in their late 30’s and bearing children in their 40’s. I cannot imagine the amount of work, without our modern conveniences, it would entail to raise 10 kids. The cooking, cleaning, laundry.

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