When I was young,
a hand-colored portrait of this woman
hung at the top of the stairs
at my paternal grandparents' house.
She looked so stern she always scared the peewadden out of me.
That might not be a word, but you get the idea.
Her name was Mary Jane Bliss, nee Mary Jane Butt.
She was the daughter of Leonard Butt and Maria Weedman.
She was born in 1845 married Sylvester Lyman Bliss
in Perry County, Indiana on August 14, 1861.
Mary Jane managed to bear two children in short succession,
my great-grandmother Eliza Jane and her brother John,
before Sylvester answered the call of the bugle in September 1864.
Sylvester mustered out in June 1865 and died in December 1865,
presumably of something war-related.
Mary Jane became a very young widow.
And unlike most periods during American history
in which young widows swiftly remarried,
the Civil War snuffed out huge numbers of potential suitors.
She got a small widow's pension
(and I think the ribbon bow on her bodice
evidences her status as a war widow),
but she mostly lived with relatives for the rest of her life.
In 1870, she was living with a cousin. his family,
and miscellaneous kin.
In 1880, she and the children lived with her maternal uncle.
The 1890 Census was destroyed, so I don't know where she lived
then, but by 1910 she's in Snohomish County, Washington
with her daughter and son-in-law Eliza and Benjamin Rosencrans.
She later moved with them to Hillsboro, Oregon
where she died on April 12, 1923.
She actually outlived her daughter Eliza by about 14 months.
One of Eliza and Benjamin's grandchildren, Don McLaren
lived for a time with his grandparents when his great-grandmother
Mary Jane Butt Bliss was still alive.
He recounted that she was a pint-sized woman
with a foul mouth and a penchant for smoking a corn-cob pipe.
He said she didn't want the little ones to know she smoked,
so if they came into the room, she'd stuff the lit pipe
in the pocket of her apron.
But they always knew that great-granny was at it again,
because they could see smoke wafting from the apron pocket.
Wouldn't it be fun to talk to her
and hear the story of her life?
I'd like to be able to ask her about her father's people
and what her parents and grandparents were like.
For more Sepia Saturday fun,