Posted by: marthabernie | May 25, 2015

Aunt Annie’s Letters – 1885

003aI am going to go in a slightly different direction today and post a letter that my great aunt, Matilda Anna Laura McMenus Forkner Tweddell saved all her life.  She apparently had quite a few suitors but married Lon Forkner, whom she eventually divorced after 32 years of marriage.  The tintype photo above shows her in 1884 at age 16.  The next year, she received the following letter from Lee Schmalhorst, who lived in the adjacent town of Conway, Laclede County, Missouri.  There was apparently something between them but he indicates he has heard something which he can’t believe and which he needs to talk to her about.  We have always wondered if she might have been attracted to Lon Forkner at this stage (they married the next year after she turned 18) and perhaps Lee Schmalhorst had heard something about the pair…  Anyway, here is a letter  from him which Aunt Annie saved.  Was it his last letter?  My mother found it down in a trunk in the late 1960’s.  Along with the letter was a photo of Lee Schmalhorst which I have subsequently returned to his family.  He looked to be about 12 years old in the photo.  Of further interest is that Aunt Annie must have contacted Mr. Schmalhorst after she divorced Lon Forkner and after Mr. Schmalhorst’s wife died.  There is a letter from him telling her that he could not possibly consider marriage to a “divorced woman”.   It was apparently quite a stigma to be divorced in 1918!

“Conway, Mo.

Dec. 30th 85

Miss Annie McMenus,

Kind friend, I guess you will be somewhat surprised to get a letter this week, but I will explain why I write you.

We have an interesting meeting at the Presbyterian Church, going on now and is a going on till after Sunday, and I think it would not look well for me to leave and go elsewhere as you know I promised you to be at Salem.

If I thought you would come to Conway Sunday, I would be pleased to come after you, but judging from the way things were the last time I was with you, it would be of no use.

We are having a good meeting.  Our old Pastor is here, Mr. Tucker.  He preached for us 10 or 12 years ago. Hope you are having a good time in your meeting at Phillipsburg.  Although the weather is very bad, but that need not keep us from praying and doing our duty as far as we know how.

I trust you will pardon me for this once and I will try and not disappoint you any more.  But you need not be disappointed.  You and Elmer can come to Conway almost as easy as to Salem and why not come up here.  I would be glad for you to come and hear our Preacher for I think he is a good one, although I may be wrong.

I would like to have a talk with you in regard to our Oyster Supper in (you know).  I heard something that I can’t believe until I hear more or see you, and if I don’t see you the first Sunday I will see you at your convenience.  If it will suit I will see you the second at about 2 or 1/2 past or if there is church, any where; we can go horse back that day (as we can go no other way)  I will go with you.  So answer.  I remain Your Sincere, Lee Schmalhurst”


  1. I have always wondered about the divorces way back then. I know my aunt was in an unhappy and abusive marriage in the 50s and the parish priest kept counseling her to stick it out. I can’t imagine what it was like in the early 1900s. Perhaps Californians were more tolerant back then too.


    • It apparently was a stigma in the midwest among the non-Catholics as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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