Following up on last week’s “things left behind” post, here’s another item that contained bonus artifacts.
This beaded purse belonged to Sarah Austin Walter (1858-1932) of Kensington. It was saved by her daughter Julia Walter Linthicum (1904-2000), and donated in 2006 by Mrs. Linthicum’s friend Mary Hertel. Several things were inside the bag upon donation: a handkerchief, a thimble, a rosary, a Sacred Heart badge, and a note that read, “Dated back to 1908, these were Mother’s.”
Sarah “Sally” Deborah Austin grew up in Barnesville, one of the younger children of John and Jerusha Ann Rabbitt Austin. In 1882 she married Robert Bruce Walter of Frederick, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Barnesville; by 1900 the Walters had moved to Kensington, where Robert worked as a carpenter. (Fun fact: Sarah and Robert were the parents of Malcolm Walter, a local photographer who’s responsible for many fabulous 1920s-30s images of Montgomery County people and places; his photograph collection now resides at Peerless Rockville.)
Unfortunately, Mrs. Linthicum’s note doesn’t explain the specific date of 1908, though it’s a reasonable one for this style of handbag. The frame is marked “G. Silver,” or German (nickel) silver, and features both floral and geometric designs; the bag exterior, and the handle, are made of a red knit decorated with dark blue Bohemian beads. Though not necessarily an everyday handbag, it seems to have gotten a fair amount of use; the heavy beading is pulling away from the frame, and the lining, a dark pink silk faille, is a replacement.
The silver thimble, and the simple wood-and-metal rosary (marked only “FRANCE”), are difficult to date, though they could also be from the 1908 era. The two-sided paper-and-felt badge measures 2″ tall and reads in part, “The Apostleship of Prayer in League with the Sacred Heart.” The printed copyright date is very faint, but looks like 1915. Sacred Heart badges are similar to scapulars – both are sacramentals worn by some members of the Roman Catholic faith. The presence of both the rosary and the badge make me wonder if this was Mrs. Walter’s going-to-Mass handbag.
The linen handkerchief is likely much earlier than the other items here. It shows considerable wear from both age and use, and has Mrs. Walter’s maiden name cross-stitched in the corner. Almost certainly, it was made by or for Sally before her 1882 marriage, but evidently she continued to use it (or at least carry it) for many years afterward.
One of my favorite questions, as a ‘stuff person,’ is “Why was this saved?” What meanings did these pieces hold for the Walter family? Are the pieces tied together by an event or a memory? Did Sally deliberately place these pieces in the handbag, or did her daughter Julia select them later as reminders of her mother’s life? It can be easy to overthink a little collection like this one, however; perhaps the purse was a just convenient vehicle for storing a few treasures, or the pieces were simply left inside the last time Sally used the bag. What do you think? What stories can you take away from a fancy beaded bag, a youthful handkerchief, a silver thimble, two well-worn religious pieces, and a daughter’s note?