Bettie and Her Family: A Researcher's Dream

Category: Heritage

Lisa Edelmann McLaughlin

Beta Rho, Duke

What a thrill, and a privilege, it was last weekend to work with Noraleen Young on the absolute treasure-trove of Locke-Hamilton-Hartley-Cones-Bradfield family artifacts recently donated to the Theta Archive from the Estate of the late Carole Cones Bradfield, great-granddaughter of Bettie Locke Hamilton, by Carole's husband, Landis Bradfield, and her first cousins, Mark and Dane Hartley (great-grandsons of Bettie Locke Hamilton). These kinds of intact and unknown private collections are rare, and we are appreciative beyond measure that Carole and her late mother, Genevieve Hartley, both Alpha/DePauw Thetas, consistently expressed their intention over the years to family members that all of the collection should eventually come "home" to Theta.

L-R: A small purse that belonged to Bettie, a picture of Bettie from the 1930s, a valentine to Edna, and a hand-beaded bag.

I focused on the contents of an old wooden box tightly packed, below its top lift-out tray, with three plus layers of long-saved family letters, bundled with string or ribbon or with that bane of archivists - disintegrated rubber bands melded into the paper. Carefully unpacking the layers and grouping the letters by years 1887 to 1951 based on postmarks, it became clear the box contained letters written to, saved by or written and copied before mailing by Edna Locke Hamilton, the eldest daughter of Bettie Locke Hamilton, including many letters from Bettie, from about the time Edna was 9 years old.

My impressions from my first reading and summarizing of a sample of the letters are that in the coming months these letters will reveal:

  • specific nuggets of fraternity history (both Edna and her sister Eulalia were, like their mother, Alpha Chapter Thetas at Indiana Asbury which became DePauw);
  • how letter writing to loved ones and friends, posted by train, was a daily mode of communication even after telephones came into use;
  • how the Locke-Hamilton-Hartley-Cones family valued and strongly encouraged higher education for its daughters;
  • the values (like no drinking and no dancing) of a staunchly Methodist family who counted several prominent clergymen among their members, who still greatly enjoyed various kinds of "sociables";
  • how poor health was a constant concern (at one point Bettie and her young daughters appear to have left home hastily for a several week visit with distant family members due to a smallpox scare in their local community);
  • Bettie's love of birds, dogs, cats and flowers;
  • Bettie's time and attention spent stitching;
  • Bettie's, Edna's and Eulalia's participation in other women's groups; and
  • the life choices for even educated women that were essentially only either to marry, have children and be dependent upon husbands and other male relatives for financial security (Bettie's and Eulalia's path) or to remain unmarried, childless and engage in paid work outside the home (Edna's path as a professional nurse who became prominent in Midwestern health reform organizations).

Historians and archivists often speak of "research rapture" - the joy of taking a sustained deep dive into primary source materials and following intellectually wherever those materials lead. I have experienced that rapture myself in Indianapolis, losing myself in hearing Bettie's, Edna's, Eulalia's and their family members' voices as their words speak to us across the years. Noraleen, the heritage committee and I will be so excited as we share with all of you in future blogs what we are learning from this new collection.

Selected items from this recent acquisition will be on display in a special exhibit “Bettie and Her Family: Four Generations of Thetas” at Fraternity headquarters from January 23 – April 30, 2017. We encourage you to contact us to make an appointment to see this glimpse into the lives of Bettie and her family.