This Little Girl Needs a Home
One Saturday in August 1917 James Henry Atwood sat in the barber shop in Sumrall, Mississippi looking at the Hattiesburg newspaper when a photograph of a baby girl caught his eye. The caption said "This Little Girl Needs a Home." He stood up and went straight to the train station, pausing just long enough to send word to his wife, Margaret Ellen "Ella" Brogan Atwood, that he would be back later with a baby. In Hattiesburg he found that other people wanted the baby, but he was very determined. He and Ella had just lost their only son to fever, and they knew there would be no other children. He wanted that little girl. He spoke to Mrs. Archie Fairley of the King's Daughters organization and Mrs. Betty Green, wife of the director of the Mississippi Children's Home Society, who took his application and sent him back to Sumrall to get his wife. He and Ella returned to Hattiesburg that same night, but were not allowed to take the child until Monday morning, possibly so that Jim Atwood could transact business at the local bank. On Monday afternoon the Atwoods completed their transactions with Mts. Green and returned to Sumrall with their new daughter. They named her Mary Louise Atwood.
Mary Louise Atwood was raised in town at Sumrall, where Jim Atwood worked at Newman Lumber Company. She knew she was a foster child and that she was sometimes called, "the child that Jim Atwood bought." Social workers from the Society visited once or twice a year, sometimes staying overnight with the Atwoods. When the J. J. Newman Lumber Company closed its Sumrall mill in about 1931, James Atwood retired and moved his family to a farm he bought near Sumrall. Nearby neighbors were John and Lizzie Rayborn and their two children, Jewel and Quin. Mary Louise Atwood married Quin Rayborn on August 14, 1932 underneath a big tree at Presley Watts Cemetery near Sumrall, Mississippi. She and Papaw went on to raise six children of their own, including my mother Jimmie Lou Rayborn. They lived at Sumrall for a while and later moved their family to Hattiesburg, where they operated a restaurant on River Avenue.
Ella Brogan Atwood died in 1950 and eventually James Henry "Papa Jim" Atwood made his home with Mary Louise and Quin. When her youngest child started school in 1962 Mary Louise decided, with the blessing of Papa Jim, that it was time to see what she could learn about her life before she went to live with the Atwoods.
Papaw retained an attorney and she applied for a social security
number. Of course she had to prove her identity and birth date,
so she wrote to the state vital statistics bureau for a copy of
her original birth certificate. She received a
letter from the executive director of the Mississippi
Children's Home Society explaining that her birth certificate
would be in her "original name" but that that the Society "may"
have had additional information for her. The Society also sent a
letter to the bureau stating her birth date according to their
records, and based upon that the bureau issued an amended birth
certificate for Mary Louise Atwood.
Who was she? Edwards? Clement? Blue?
Durant? Was she born in Forrest County or Copiah County? Was she
born in Mississippi at all? Perhaps her mother died and her
father went off to World War I; the time frame fits. Was
she an Orphan Train Child? A Miss Hill was one of the
agents who helped bring children from the east coast to the
midwest, and some of those children did come to Mississippi.
Was she stolen? Georgia Tann was employed as a field agent
for the Mississippi Children's Home Society in 1919, and perhaps
even earlier than 1919. Georgia later established an
orphanage in Memphis, Tennessee and became notorious for stealing
and selling literally hundreds of babies.
Pam's Mississippi Genealogy
Pamela J. Gibbs | 11 Sandy Run Road | Hattiesburg, MS 39402 | (601) 264-8894 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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