Friday, March 1, 2013

Fearless Females Blog Post: March 1 ~ Favorite Female Ancestor

Pauline Lovell (1880-1958)

It only stands to reason that my favorite female ancestor would be one whom I have written about before. I have referred to my great grand aunt Pauline Lovell in earlier posts, but have now picked her out of the line as my favorite female ancestor to celebrate Women’s History Month 2013 (a daily blog prompt launched by Lisa Alzo, the Accidental Genealogist).

I am drawn to Great Aunt Polly because of her impact on my father in his youth, and by the fact that, as a single woman living around the turn of the century, she seems to have been indispensible to so many family members in their hour of need.

She, along with my great grandmother Alice, was born in Lewiston,  Maine, on April 3, 1880, the eldest daughter of Wallace Lovell and Louisa Brackley. By 20, however, she was a maid for the Herbert Harmons of Noyes Street in Portland, and domestic work seems to have been her lot in life.

By 1910, she was still in Portland, but an important event had occurred in those intervening 10 years. A child had been born to her sister Alice, and this child was my grandmother Mattie. The reason this is significant is that Pauline would play a major role in Mattie’s life, almost from birth, and this influence was evident to me even in my own childhood.

You see, Alice and their cousin Mark Leighton were Mattie’s parents, and because of that circumstance, Mattie was practically abandoned by her mother. It was Pauline, or Polly as she was known, who, for all intents and purposes, raised Mattie to adulthood and beyond, with the attention being returned in kind to her in her later years. The proof lies in the census record for 1910, showing Polly living with her own grandmother and little Mattie, age 4, on Olympia Street, in East Deering, in Portland.

Although I have few records of where she lived and/or worked for the following 20 years, I have to assume that she was assisting greatly in the upbringing of my grandmother. Her own mother, Louisa Washburn, widowed from her third husband, was living in Portland in the 1920 census, and would die later that year. But Pauline was not living with her at this point. I am told she worked as a housekeeper for several doctors' families in Portland. I believe she made frequent trips to New York City, where her mother lived for a time. Some signers in an old autograph book of hers that I found attest to friends she had there. There is no evidence that she ever married.

Thanks to the digitized 1924 Portland Tax Records, I did find that she owned a residence in 1924, in East Deering at 36 Olympia Street, and I believe this is the house my grandmother called home. My grandmother reminisced quite often about swimming in the nearby water off East Deering as a child, and she instilled a love of swimming in my dad, my aunt, and us grandchildren.

Pauline Lovell's
36 Olympia St.
Portland, Maine

These may have been difficult “mothering” years, since family lore says Mattie was sent to St. Joseph’s Convent in Portland at one point. This move wasn't permanent, however, because, by 1930, Mattie had met and married Howard Seavey, and my father was born in November of that year.

I have always heard that Mattie’s 50-year-old Aunt Polly came with the marriage, moving in and living with Mattie, Howard, and their two children for the rest of her active life. By the 1940 census, they were all living at 81 Pine St., in South Portland. My dad remembered her living with them at an earlier (1936-37) address at 77 Deake St. in Portland,

I can only assume that this was “pay back” on my grandmother’s part. My father remembered Aunt Polly chewing tobacco, which I think is wonderful. What a household it must have been to grow up in.  She was also diabetic apparently, and this left a deep impression on my dad. In his later life, when he acquired this disease, memories of his aunt’s suffering haunted him.

Pauline Lovell, 77 years old, sunk into a diabetic coma at Maine General Hospital and passed away on February 23, 1958, just shy of my 3rd birthday. I am sorry I have no personal memories of this strong, determined woman who played such a crucial role in the lives of my grandmother and my dad.

Mattie Leighton Seavey with her Aunt Polly
circa 1930


  1. Sounds like a great woman. I also have some strong aunts in my family and I count them among my favorites as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a fantastic tribute along with wonderful period pictures. I can't wait to see what you do the rest of the month.

  3. Nice tribute. I see you write about Maine. One ancestor lived near Portsmouth NH and owned ships built on Badger Island between the states.

  4. What a strong and independent woman! Great post!