She Bore The Burdens


I purchased this tintype on eBay.  The label on the reverse names the young women (counterclockwise) as “Sadie Sildrael, Julie Catlin, and Mattie Catlin,” and it notes that Mattie had a “crippled hand.”  The names are also written directly on the tintype but that writing was impossible to capture in photos and scans.  In this original notation, Sadie’s surname was spelled Sidrell.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to identify Sadie.

Martha A. “Mattie” Catlin and her older sister, Julia, were born and raised in the Evans area of New York, which is about twenty miles southwest of Buffalo. The girls were eleven and twelve years of age in 1863 when their father, Philander Burritt Catlin, a farmer, died, leaving their mother the single parent of seven children, the youngest, Jennie, being just one year old.

I think the girls look to be in their late teens or very early twenties in this photo.  Mattie and Julia are missing from the family home on the 1870 census which leads me to wonder if they ventured to nearby Buffalo to live and work or to attend school.  Maybe that’s when they sat for this photograph.

Courtesy of Find A Grave

I’m curious about Mattie’s gravestone inscription “She Bore The Burdens.”  I don’t suppose it’s solely in reference to her impaired hand.  I suspect she faced more hardships than that for someone to etch such a message on her eternal resting place.

Mattie was a school teacher, an occupation she began in her early twenties.  In 1888, aged 36, she was teaching at Grand Island, New York.  She never married, had no children, and it appears that, for the most part, she resided with her mother, Harriet (nee Bassett), until her mother’s death in 1904.  Census data paints the picture of a family home with an open door policy, recording quite a number of people moving in and out over the years, including Mattie’s younger sister Effie and her two children; her sister Clara’s teenage daughter, Mary Oakes; and later Clara herself.

Possibly the burdens Mattie bore were those of caring for her family and others at the expense of caring for herself.  In 1880, she contracted Diptheria while caring for the children of a neighbor, Godfrey Glosser, one of whom did not survive.

Quite the scandal at the time, I’m sure, Julia Catlin had a daughter, Emma, out of wedlock in 1882.  Julia would have faced immense pressure to marry, even if it meant to someone other than the father of her child.  To have a child outside of marriage meant a ruined reputation, so often girls would secret away to a home for unwed mothers where once the baby was born they would be put up for adoption.  The girl could then return home from her “visit with relatives” with her dignity intact. Julia, however, was no young girl.  She was a 31-year-old woman.  I can’t help but wonder who the father of her child was and how she got through it all.

Based on census records, both federal and New York state, it would seem that Julia didn’t raise her daughter.  Growing up, Emma lived in the home of her Grandmother and Aunt Mattie, as well as in the home of her Aunt Jennie.  It wasn’t until 1910 that I found mother and daughter living together in the home of Marshall Ingersoll where Julia worked as a housekeeper and Emma, 28, as a bookkeeper at a bicycle factory.

It’s important to remember that the census gives us only a minuscule glimpse into the lives people led.  I’ll admit that I’m guilty, at times, of letting those records speak louder than they should.   In this instance, they lead me to believe that Julia was an absent parent.  However, that might not have been the case.  It’s possible that Julia, as she was doing in 1910, was working as a live-in housekeeper for private families, but was spending all of her free time with her daughter.  There’s no way to know for sure what type of relationship the two had.

Julia died in 1918, aged 67, and is buried in Jerusalem Corners, New York near Emma who passed in 1931.

In her later years, Mattie earned money renting rooms to boarders.  At the age of 78, she worked as a live-in housekeeper.  Let that sink in…age 78 and still taking care of others!  I suppose it depends on how you look at it, but fortunately, or unfortunately, she outlived all of her siblings and even her niece Emma.  Mattie died, aged 83, and is also buried in Jerusalem Corners.

blCATLIN back


Census records
Find A Grave
Unwed and Pregnant in 1893, by Julie Rimer





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