The Joys of Being Hattie Isabella Lindsay White

As I look back over the various  women whom I have interpreted for audiences at historical venues, each in the form of an original dramatic monologue with period clothing, music, dancing, storytelling, games, and much, much more, I find myself wondering which person I especially enjoyed bringing  to life and why.

            Historical individuals whom I have portrayed include my great aunt, Martha Kennedy Rosborough Van Ness, whose first husband, Barr Rosborough (also her first cousin), died during the War between the States; Catherine Stratton Ladd, a school teacher who taught in several historic towns and met the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited Richmond, Virginia, in October of 1824 (she probably also knew Edgar Allan Poe and his sister, Rosalie, for Catherine was born in 1808, Edgar in 1809, and Rosalie in 1810); Rosalie MacKenzie Poe, who was a poet, musician, and teacher; and Hattie Isabella Lindsay White from Yorkville, South Carolina, a music teacher and the daughter of a doctor and a mother whose ancestors sailed on The Mayflower.

            Now, that’s a tall order I’ve given myself. What do you think? All of these women lived in the nineteenth century in the South and suffered during the War between the States, some more so than others. Except for my great aunt, they were all teachers. They were all in the arts, either as painters, musicians, or poets, and all had children, except for Rosalie Poe.

            Portraying my great aunt, Martha Kennedy Rosborough Van Ness, delighted me because from my father’s stories, I felt as if I knew her. Her first husband died during…or shortly…after the war. She and their son lived with her mother, my great, great grandmother, at the old home-place in Fairfield County, South Carolina, victims of Sherman’s Army. As a child, she and my great grandmother, Mary Rosborough, attended Catherine Ladd’s Academy in Winnsboro, South Carolina. I owned a theorem painting which my aunt had done while she was a student at the school (I gave the painting to the museum in Winnsboro). Unlike my great grandmother, Martha remarried after the war. She became the wife of J.H. Van Ness, a prominent photographer and artist. They had several children and owned a dog which my father, as a child who would later become an ophthalmologist who saved the eyesight of Dori Sanders, decided needed his bangs trimmed. Certain the little dog could not see, Daddy, at the age of five, cut his bangs.

            Probably more engaging than interpreting my great aunt, however, was portraying Catherine Stratton Ladd, a native of Richmond, Virginia, who would become one of South Carolina’s most beloved teachers. She and her husband, an artist, taught at Brattonsville, in Chesterville, at Feasterville, and in Winnsboro. In fact, when you’re on Congress Street in Winnsboro, go to the Fairfield County Museum. This was originally her school where she cared about the needs of each student. A poet, playwright, newspaper journalist, teacher, and mother, she was always busy and engaged. Her schools, like many for young ladies across the South, included lessons in grammar, spelling, arithmetic, perhaps geometry, music, penmanship, embroidery, astronomy, and dancing. Her husband gave painting lessons. During her final years, Mrs. Ladd suffered from neuralgia which left her blind. Despite that, she continued to be interested in former students. I interpreted Catherine Stratton Ladd at Historic Brattonsville and at the Fairfield County Museum and translated one of her plays into more modern language which we produced on the back lawn one bright October morning in 2007.

            Portraying Rosalie Poe in Richmond, Virginia, however, was one of the highlights of my life. I have been a college English instructor for 52 years, but I’ve had a passion for drama since my twin and I produced plays in our basement. I enjoy bringing people from a page in a book to life through dramatic monologues. Rosalie Poe’s story spoke to me.

            Although I was not an orphan, as she was, I was extremely shy as a child. I imagine Rosalie was as well. Even though her mother died when Rosalie was a year old, the little girl certainly, like her two brothers, came to know about her talented mother who sang and acted in major cities on the East Coast. Some historians have dared to suggest that Rosalie was dull of comprehension. That infuriates me. Rosalie was very talented. She taught piano and penmanship; she wrote poetry and painted on handkerchiefs. She adored her brother and suffered terribly after his death. Mrs. Clemm, his mother-in-law, saw to it that Rosalie did not inherit any of her brother’s money, however small the amount, and during the War when Richmond was burned, Rosalie, like so many others, was destitute and impoverished. She died at the Epiphany Episcopal Church Home for the Poor in Washington, D.C. when she was 64 years old. I recently interpreted her at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, a marvelous historical venue in Richmond.

            Creating an original dramatic monologue and making her personality come to life was thrilling. Because she was a teacher, poet, pianist, and much more, I identified with her. Because my great grandfather was a surgeon in Lee’s Army and was with him at the surrender at Appomattox Court House and lived for many years following the war at the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Richmond and because my father had told me so many stories about the war, stories he’d heard growing up, I imagined myself in Richmond during those years.

            Now, I asked myself if Hattie Isabella Lindsay’s mother who came to Yorkville, South Carolina, from the North, to teach at the Yorkville Academy might have known Catherine Ladd. I do not know, but it is possible. When her mother arrived in the mid 1840’s, Catherine Ladd was no longer at Brattonsville. That does not mean their paths didn’t cross. I don’t believe that every activity was documented. Sometimes, intuiting as we look at the lives of people in history seems appropriate. We must ask, “Might she have done such and such?” Where was she? What were her interests?

            Did Hattie come by train or coach from Yorkville to teach music at Ann Hutchison White’s Pine Grove Academy in Rock Hill? The story goes that Ann’s second son, Andrew, saw Hattie and fell in love with her. He proposed, and they were married. A lovely romance, n’est-ce pas? I have enjoyed interpreting “Miss Hattie” for a number of reasons. Like her, I am the daughter of a doctor. I imagine that she may have kept her father company on a buggy ride to see patients in the country. Like “Miss Hattie,” I enjoy giving parties. One of her descendants told me that during the years following her husband’s death, she entertained the neighborhood children in the wing (completed in 1870) of the mansion. Visitors would have enjoyed refreshments, games, music, and stories.  She probably shared myths from the Classics, family sagas, events in history, and stories Bible stories. She had grown up in the First Presbyterian Church in Yorkville, and she was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill. Her descendant also related that she liked to share her knowledge of astronomy and that one night when she was looking at the moon, she was sure someone had crept into her room and crawled under her bed. Hearing a noise, she jumped up and ran to the porch, called into the night, and returned to bed, hoping the person had vanished. She began barring the door.

            Was someone really under the bed? Who was it? Could it have been a ghost? We’ll never know.

            Dr. Lindsay, served in the Civil War with Dr. Rufus Bratton (descendant of the historic Bratton family) who lived with his family in a gorgeous brick home on Congress Street (I remember this lovely mansion from childhood; unfortunately, it was torn down “in the name of progress,” as so many houses were in York and in Rock Hill as well). “Miss Hattie” was a musician, and I am a musician. There are so many similarities, and I am blessed to see these connections. In addition, descendants of the Bratton family lived next door for years. My twin sister and I grew up playing softball and riding bicycles with Dr. Rufus Bratton who today is a physician in Florence, South Carolina.

            Because she lived so long (she died around 1931), Hattie Isabella may have worn clothing from the different periods. Wearing period clothing has always appealed to me. It’s just fun. As an aside, I do wonder, were she to come to life, what she would say about Goat-Yoga and Car Displays on the grassy lawn surrounding the White Home. Are there not other ways to make raise money?

            I enjoy interpreting Catherine Stratton Ladd, Rosalie Poe, and Hattie Isabella Lindsay White for a number of reasons. They were teachers, musicians, poets, and much, much more. Our lives have been enriched by their presence, and I hope, my dear readers, that this memoir reveals that.

            Before I perform one of my dramatic monologues, I ask the audience to put away their cell phones and try to find one teacher whom they may resonate with. As a college instructor and tutor, I have learned something from each of these ladies in history, and I am grateful.

This article was originally submitted by Dr. Martha Benn Macdonald for Issue 7 of Rock Hill Reader the Magazine. Read it here.

Se more information at Roost and Recall here.

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