I am happy to present the following article written by Monica Bessette and image provided by doll maker Elaine Sarnoff. This article is a small sampling of all the information Monica has gathered about Izannh, her friends and the city they lived in. I hope she will put everything in her head in a book for all of us Izannah-philes. Thank you to Monica and Elaine for collaborating and sharing this article and pictures on the Izannah Walker Chronicles! ~ Dixie Redmond
Something to Bragg About
by Monica Bessette
One of the wonderful things about the Izannah Walker Chronicles is meeting new friends that share a common interest; or, in my case, an obsession. One such friend is Elaine Sarnoff, way far off on the opposite coast of California, but close at heart in her love for her special Izannah Walker doll she named Patience.
Elaine is a cloth doll maker herself and has made wonderful reproductions of the Walker doll, never dreaming she would someday have one of her own. One fateful day a dealer friend offered to sell her a doll from a collection she was dispersing. Even though she had always wanted a girl, and this doll spent the last 40 years dressed as a boy, Elaine took a fateful chance that led her to become an historical detective setting out to explore the doll’s past. I’m sure you’ll agree that Patience makes a lovely lady and a doting mother to the twins made previously by Elaine.
Elaine’s doll posed an intriguing question, and together she and I found the answer that makes Patience even more significant. Inscribed on the back of the doll in brown Victorian ink is: I.F. Walker. 60 George Street. Elaine sent me an email with this info. I recognized the address but needed to dig into my early notes. What was the significance? Whose address was this? A few days later I replied, “I know who lived at 60 George Street, and it is someone very close to Izannah. I’ll call you.” I can only imagine her excitement and the torturous wait for me to call. 60 George Street was the Providence, Rhode Island home of Mary C. Bragg, a best friend of Izannah Walker, and the person she purchased her first home with in Central Falls in 1853.
Our original contact through the Chronicles got me back into my research, and a good thing it did. I was in the process of selling my house and preparing to move 400 miles south from Cranston, Rhode Island to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (my husband’s dream). I needed to find critical information in primary records and take location photos before it was too late.
The house at 60 George Street was owned by Mary’s parents who had both died by 1847, leaving Mary to settle the estate. The Providence City Directories list her there from 1850 to 1852. She moved across town in 1853 before she and Izannah bought their large house together on Jenks Street in the village of Central Falls, RI. The house at 60 George Street, on the fashionable East Side of Providence, held too many bad memories for Mary, and she sold it in 1854 for $4,010.
Thanks to Elaine, I was prompted to find this deed and discovered that Mary C. Bragg’s parents, Wheaton & Diana, are not the parents listed on every other document concerning Mary C. Bragg, such as her death record that lists her parents as John & Mary. I also found Mary’s gravesite which confirms the identity of her parents. This was a huge breakthrough. For years I had researched the wrong Braggs!
How did Izannah and Mary know each other? When did they meet? Those questions have kept my research going for many years. One thing is certain, however, Izannah F. Walker and Mary C. Bragg knew each other in the early 1850’s. Elaine’s doll must date from 1853 or before, since Mary left 60 George Street by that time. Patience is an early example of Izannah’s artistry. With a center part, worn 90% of the time by girls in the mid-19th century, and curls like that, I would say she is definitely a girl. This particular doll came from an early collection of Maurine Popp, the premier collector of Walker dolls. Elaine was told that Maurine referred to the doll as George, and now we know why.
Popp collection, note that “George is top center;
source: A Treasury of Beautiful Dolls, by John Noble, p. 40)
The house that Mary and Izannah bought in Central Falls may have been a two family. The deed reads in part, “I Solomon Higgins of Smithfield in the County of Providence and for the sum of $1,250 paid by Mary C. Bragg and Izannah F. Walker of Providence in said Providence County, a certain lot of land with the dwelling house, barn, and all other buildings and improvements thereon situate lying in Central Falls in the town of Smithfield, Providence County, State of Rhode Island."
The 1857-58 Central Falls street directory lists Mary Bragg at 11 Jenks Street and Isanna Walker on Jenks near the Railroad. There is also a boarder listed at 11 Jenks Street; a carpenter named Samuel Dearborn. The 1860 Rhode Island Census lists the two friends living in this same house: Mary C. Bragg with $4,000 in real estate: Izannah F. Walker with $500 in real estate—a pretty good return on their investment.
The original house has been gone for many years, so it’s impossible to know how the buildings were situated. The barn may have been used as Izannah’s workshop to initially paint and dry the dolls. Sometime after 1871, when Central Falls became a city, the house number changed from #11 to #20. In 1871, however, Izannah had already moved across the tracks out of the mill area into a residential plat of single family homes—she had arrived!
Mary and Izannah were close friends for many years until Izannah’s death in 1888, but the story would not be complete without mention of another very close friend of Izannah’s, Emeline B. Whipple. I’m not sure how or where they met, either, but I do know that Izannah moved out of the house on Jenks Street between 1865 and 1870. According to the 1870 Rhode Island Census, she and Emeline are living in an apartment together in Providence, RI. In 1871, Izannah purchased the property on Illinois Street. This was the first home she owned on her own, and she lived there with Emeline until she died.
One of the most exciting discoveries I’ve found to date concerns these three friends and their involvement with the Methodist church. By the mid-1800s Methodists were the largest Protestant denomination and intimately associated with the Women’s Temperance Movement. Methodist/Episcopal was the American version meant to improve the Church of England. It believed in freedom of the will and stressed free cooperation in salvation, not pre-destination. It was a self-confidence movement that swept the nation with the Second Awakening in the 1850s. It seems a natural for these three independent single women.
The Temperance Movement was big in Rhode Island. Many of Izannah and Mary’s neighbors and friends were very involved. The 1860 RI Census lists Emeline Whipple living in Providence with Marcy Gorham, who I’ve found was President of the Ladies City Temperance Society and the widow of Jabez Gorham, founder of Gorham Silver. I believe this may be a key as to how these three women met and became friends on the East Side of Providence.
Mary C. Bragg was one of the original founders of the Embury Methodist Episcopal Church in Central Falls. The first meeting was held in their home on April 10, 1868. Both Izannah and Emeline joined the church on May 16, 1869 “by letter from Somerset (MA).”
However, things went sour years later when a new Pastor was assigned. Izannah was “Expelled Feb. 18, 1882, for willful neglect of all means of grace and violation of church covenant.” Means of grace included public worship of God, family & private Prayer, searching the Scriptures, attending class meetings & prayer meetings. This prompted Mary and other key members to leave the church. Emeline had already withdrawn in December of 1874 for reasons unknown. A testament to the friendship between these women is what they bequeath to each other in their wills:
Izannah F. walker LAST WILL & TESTAMENT August 8, 1876
I give and bequeath to my friend Mary C. Bragg my Gold Watch and Chain as a token of my unchanging love requesting her when she is done with it to give the same to Emeline B. Whipple; and it is my will and devise that she the said Mary C. Bragg may select any of my Books and any articles of Household Furniture and wearing apparel that she may choose for her own use. (Perhaps this is the watch mentioned in Izannah’s 1850 letter to her sister.)
I give and devise to my friend Emeline B. Whipple my homestead estate situate on Illinois Street in the village of Central Falls in said town of Lincoln for and during her natural life.
I give, devise and bequeath unto my friend Emeline B. Whipple all the rest and residue of my estate of every kind and nature both real and personal and wheresoever situate of which I shall die possessed to her, her heirs and assigns forever.
Mary Carpenter Bragg LAST WILL & TESTAMENT July 13, 1886
I give devise and bequeath to my friend Izannah F. Walker of Central Falls RI any one article of my furniture or household which she may choose.
The remainder of my property and estate both real and personal, after paying all my just debts and funeral charges, I give devise and bequeath the interest of it to my friend Izannah F. Walker, during the term of her natural life.
Mary C. Bragg Codicil to Will March 15, 1897
I hereby promise, give and bequeath the following Household articles to my friends as follows: My toilet table and small shelves, the handiwork of I.F. Walker, to Miss Jane H. Walker of Somerset, Mass.
Izannah Walker and Emeline Whipple are buried together in beautifully-landscaped Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI. According to the cemetery, Izannah purchased the two graves, one for each of them, on November 11, 1887, just months before she died on February 15, 1888. On the record, Izannah’s middle name is “Franklin,” but by birth she was Frankford. I haven’t been able to find where Frankford came from, but maybe she adopted this middle name since “having designed a parlor heater ‘that Beat Ben Franklin’s’.”
The story of Izannah Walker, her family, and friends is very complex. There were hundreds of Walkers in the US during Izannah’s lifetime, all descendants of the Widow Walker and her two sons, who came to America in 1653 and settled Seekonk, MA (now Rumford, RI). Her and Mary’s Central Falls neighborhood included many Walker relatives that were thread manufacturers, prominent architects, Masons, Civil War officers, merchants, hair workers, etc. Her lifetime, from 1817 to 1888, encompassed so much history and cultural change. Central Falls was ideally situated between Boston, MA and Providence, RI, and although it was not a booming metropolis, it was a very active, modern town filled with business owners and artisans. My determination to tell her fascinating life story has been sidetracked and put on the back burner more than once due to situations beyond my control, but the search goes on. Please stay posted.