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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Three Girls from the Lucy Orme Morgan Home


A photo of a group of girls living at the Lucy Orme Morgan Home appeared in the Pantagraph August 5, 1929. (I've posted about that photo in the past.) The name of each girl appeared in the caption. This is the story of just two of those young girls -- Dixie Bee and Virginia Waller.

Dixie Bee and Virginia Waller were the daughters of of Thomas and Grace Prior Waller, who in 1910 lived in Hardenville, Crawford County, Illinois. Thomas was an engraver at a jewelry store there. In 1918, Thomas died of the Spanish Flu, leaving his family without an adequate means of support. Grace was a mother and homemaker, and unsuited for earning a wage that would support four children in the age before social welfare acts. Her children were all born between 1910 and 1918, leaving Grace Waller with a large and very young family.

Nine years later, on October 3, 1927 a newspaper item hinted at what had been happening to the Wallers since 1918. Mrs. Grace Waller, the Superintendent of Nurses at Mennonite Sanitorium was departing for Chicago, where she would begin a course in Anesthesia. On September 2, 1928, the Pantagraph printed a piece regarding a visit Grace Waller paid to her daughters in Bloomington. She had just completed a four month course: "The Art of Anesthesia" at Washington Park Hospital in Chicago. She was the first nurse from Bloomington to complete and receive a certificate in such a course. She had received a position in Elgin, Illinois and would return there after spending the weekend with her daughters.

According to her obituary in 1976, Grace was a graduate of the Mennonite School of Nursing in 1924 and continued her training in anesthesiology in 1927. She served in an Iowa hospital during the war. She was very proud of the fact that two of her daughters also followed a nursing career. Grace died in Boulder, Colorado, where where she had moved to live near her sister. She had never remarried and despite the fact that she was a highly trained nurse, it does not seem that she was ever able to support her children as a result of that training. What happened to Grace's children while she created a career for herself that would make her self reliant?

Two years after the death of her father in 1920, three year old Dixie Bee Waller (1917 - 1992) lived in Oklahoma with her maternal grandparents, and her sister, Virginia (age 5), lived in California with an uncle. In July, 1929 Dixie Bee (left) and Virginia appeared in the group photo of the girls and young women who lived at the Lucy Orme Morgan Home on State Street in Bloomington, IL. Most likely their mother moved them to the Home so she could be closer to her daughters while working as a nurse in Bloomington. Once again, tragically, even though Grace was gainfully employed, she could not support her children in a home of her own, either because of a lack of child care support services or the inadequacy of her wages. Dixie's photo appeared in the 1936 Danville High yearbook. (Dixie's oldest sister, Esther, was married and living in Danville.) Dixie Bee married Owen Pfister in 1939 in Lewis County, Missouri.

The 1940 census reflects that Dixie was a student nurse at Danville's St. Joseph Hospital in 1940, living there under her maiden name. Perhaps Dixie found it necessary to tell a little lie out of fear of facing the same fate as her mother in the event of her husband's death. Happily she did not lose her husband at a young age and lived what appears to be a full and rewarding life. Dixie wrote for the El Paso Advertiser newspaper and did radio work for WJBC. She and Owen had two sons and a daughter. Dixie worked as a nurse for fifty years and her husband and she had two sons and a daughter.

In 1920, Virginia Waller (1915 - 1969) lived in Kern County, California with her Uncle George Waller. Her brother also lived with George Waller and the brother remained in California until his death. By 1929, Virginia was living at the Industrial Home in Bloomington, and she was also attending Bloomington High School, graduating in 1932.

On July 1, 1929, Virginia was walking back to the Home from Centennial Church (where all the girls attended church) when she was struck by an automobile at Grove and State Streets. She was treated at Brokaw and released the next day. She married William Howard McBride in 1941 in Hannibal, Missouri and had one son and two daughters. Virginia lived in Leroy and Bloomington during her adult life. She worked ​at State Farm for 22 years. She died in 1969 in Bloomington and was buried in Leroy.

Although Esther Waller (1912 - 2007) did not appear in the photo in July of 1929, a short clipping from the Pantagraph indicates that Esther lived at the Industrial Home in 1927. In 1920 she was living with her paternal grandparents in Ohio. While at Bloomington High, she was a member of the Alchemist's Club and took part in a science fair where she demonstrated her knowledge of chemistry. In 1930 an Esther Waller appears in the census as a student nurse at St. Lukes Hospital in Chicago. Esther was living in Glenview at the time of her death.

Reuniting her daughters in Illinois must have taken a great effort from Grace Prior Waller, even if she did have to place them in the Industrial Home. On October 15, 1927, which would have been Dixie's tenth birthday, the girls with October birthdays at the Industrial Home were treated to birthday cake at the home of Mrs. E.R. Morgan, the president of the board of managers. Present at the October birthday party were: Esther Waller, Minnie Belle Trimble, Edna Carter, Loretta Schewm, Lena Baker, Dorothy Broadwater, Mary Jane Joesting, Helen Schwartzen and Jane Bowen. I can't help but wonder when any of those young girls were last given a birthday cake by their own mothers and if they were able to celebrate their birthdays in a home of their own later in life. The Waller sisters and their mother were at least reunited in later life and in the chosen careers of Dixie Bee and Esther (pictured above with their mother, center). It is not entirely surprising that they would choose nursing, given the extremely limited choices available to women in the 1920s and 1930s, but they were perhaps satisfied and fulfilled in their choice.

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