More from Jessie Hermans Watson (1876-1946), Ancestor Nos. 18 AND 27

I had four great-grandmothers – never knew any of them. But I probably know more about my dad’s Granny, Jessie Hermans Watson (1876-1946), than I do about the other three.

In today’s post, I’m going to let her do the talking. (Mostly.)  She’s been featured here before – but I wanted to wait for an opportune moment to create this specific post. So as a refresher: Jessie was from Cohoes, New York, a school teacher, ran a girls’ school in Chile, raised four children as a professor’s and/or minister’s wife, was an active participant in the Temperance cause. And so on.


Granny sat down in her home, the parsonage in Plainfield, Iowa, on the morning of Monday, April 13, 1931, and wrote at least two letters: one to her son Howard, and one to Irene, who had become her daughter-in-law in Minneapolis a couple days prior. The letter to Irene is remarkable in its honesty. (Particularly given the women had met only once!) For one thing, the letter opens with a statement about the general feeling among the family that Howard could be difficult to get along with. I guess she’d know, but still!

But the letter to Howard, excerpted below – this is the one that really showed me what Jessie was made of.

You are young to be taking the burdens of matrimony on your shoulders – dad was twenty-six – but from all you have said of Irene I judge you could not have found a finer helpmate.

Now you are the head of a family. Don’t forget to take an interest in community doings. Don’t be interested exclusively in your own affairs. You very well know that your father has always been highly esteemed wherever we have lived for the interest he has taken in all community projects.

I am enclosing a Birth Control pamphlet. Hope you have authentic information about some sex and family matters that every couple should know about. I sent one to Kenneth, after Ruth had read it. They want a family, when they are ready for it, but want to furnish a house and have a nest egg first. They have three splendid books which I shall ask her to send you if you would be interested.

I am greatly in favor of birth control. Rather have two desired and planned for children in this day and age than ten accidental ones that I wasn’t able to feed and educate. I have given this pamphlet to several mothers of large families who frantically didn’t want any more. Couldn’t take care of them. By the way, spreading birth control information is a state’s prison offense! Dad does not know I have these pamphlets. (Emphasis added.)

Now you will have a regular stocking darner, won’t you? And I can assure her she never will be out of a job. Just think what a risk a girl runs to take her future and deliver it into the hands of some young man. Wonder if Irene will have to trail after you as far and into as many different places as I have dad? Hope not.

If in her you have found the one girl that you can get along with thru thick and thin, her value to you is infinitely above rubies and diamonds. Cherish her well – she will grow closer to you than hands or feet. “They twain shall be one flesh.”

I hope you will be very happy together. Remember the two bears that should be part of your household – “bear and forbear”.


  1. She sounds like an admirable woman! Forward thinking, practical, and brave. What a delight to find someone like that in your family tree. I’m so glad someone saved the letters and that you shared them !

    By the way, I work about ten minutes from Cohoes, NY. If there is anything that you would like a photo of that might be still standing, say so and I’ll try to take one and email it to an address of your choosing.

    • Hi Jo – Thanks for the nice note. I think the world of that lady! I made one trip to the area around Cohoes in 2006. That area (say, Nassau to Greenwich to Gloversville to Amsterdam) is my genealogical Ground Zero. I hit a lot of the hot spots at that time, but have learned a lot in the years since. I will definitely keep your kind offer in mind! Many, many thanks!!! -Brad

      • You ‘re welcome. By the way, I also live 5-10 minutes from Nassau , so add that into the offer. The others named I can get to but don’t really know. But exploration is fun, so I’m willing but can’t guarantee I’ll find whatever is wanted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s