Martha Eveline Thorpe was born 20 August 1890 in Perry County, Missouri. She was the youngest child of Joel Calvin Thorpe and Margaret Catherine Manning. Her nearest sibling in age was her sister Minnie who was 9 years old when "Mattie" was born, so she was truly the baby of the family.
When Mattie was about 5 years old, she fell and broke her kneecap. She was not taken to a doctor to have it set. The knee didn't heal properly and left her with a permanent limp.
On 12 September 1905, Joel Calvin Thorpe made his last will and testament. He may have been in poor health and feared he would not live much longer. In his will, he bequeathed one dollar to each of his children and he left the remainder of his estate to his wife for her use until her death.
The will went on to specify the distributions to be made upon the death of his wife Margaret. The property would pass to his two sons L. B. and Oliver. L. B. was required to pay the sum of $300 to Mattie, and Oliver was to pay the sum of $50 to sister Elle, and $150 to sister Ora. Minnie Thorpe had died in 1902.
The witnesses to this will were his cousin, Joseph S. Phillips and August Klump, a 37-year old widower. Although not put down in writing, it is believed that an arrangement was made between Joel Thorpe and August Klump regarding the future of the 15-year old Mattie.
Joel Thorpe died four months later on 05 December 1905.
On Christmas Day, 1906, two important events happened in the Thorpe family. Ora Thorpe and her husband Joseph Comte brought their new son Bernard Raymond to St. Mary's Church to be baptized. His godparents were L. B. and Mattie Thorpe. That same day, Mattie was also baptized and became a member of the Catholic Church. Apparently Mattie had become engaged to August Klump and converted to Catholicism so they could be married.
Four months later, on 16 April 1907, two more events happened at St. Mary's. Mattie made her first communion and she married August Klump. She was 16, he was 39. The witnesses were August's brother George Klump and Mattie's cousin, Mary Manning, daughter of Mark Theophilus Manning and Mary Rosella Miles. Mary Manning later joined the Sisters of Loretto as Sister Mary Concordia.
By 1910, when the census was taken, Mattie and August were living on a rented farm on Allen's Landing Road. They had two children: daughter Ethel and son Elbert. Also living with them was August's brother Emmett. By 1916, there were four more children: Alameda, Emanuel, Emmett, and Manetti. The family had settled into a typical rural lifestyle, but unexpected events in 1916 would turn everything upside down.
On 01 March 1916, 47-year old August Klump died suddenly after being ill for about a week. The cause of death was given as "lagrippe" or influenza complicated by pneumonia. His obituary appeared on the front page of the Perry County Republican on 02 March 1916.
"August Klump, one of the prominent farmer[s] residing near the Miles' school, died Wednesday afternoon at 4:30. He had suffered a complication of grippe and pneumonia since Tuesday of last week, but apparently was not in a serious condition. His physician had called at three o'clock and felt encouraged with his condition at that time. Soon after he began to sink rapidly."
Mattie had suddenly become a 26-year old widow with 6 children to raise, all under the age of nine. August was buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Perryville. The future must have appeared particularlybleak to Mattie when just three weeks later, on 27 March 1916, Mattie's mother, Margaret Catherine Manning Thorpe also died. The cause of her death was "grippe" as well, and for the second time in a month, Mattie and her family made the sad trip to Mt. Hope Cemetery.
On 14 November, 1916, Emil Huber, the administrator of the estate of August Klump, appeared at the session of the Probate Court in Perryville. After making some payments the estate was left with a balance of $1040.44. In a later appearance, he was ordered to pay $200 out of the estate to Mattie, "for 1 years provision for the widow and her six minor children".
Mattie wasn't the only family member to appear before the Probate Court. The death of Margaret Catherine Manning Thorpe in March had activated the provision in Joel Thorpe's will regarding the disposition of the property after his wife's death. The farm was to be divided equally between his two sons, L. B. and James Oliver Thorpe, and cash legacies were to be paid to his three daughters. However, in the eleven years that had passed since Joel Thorpe had signed that will, his son Oliver had died, and his widow Lorena had been struggling to provide for her five children.
On 16 November 1916, Lorena Stewart, the remarried widow of James Oliver Thorpe, appeared in Probate Court in Perryville. According to the court records, the legatees, (Ora Mary Thorpe Comte and Elle Thorpe Phlegly) "demanded their money, and threatened to have said real estate sold as forclosure". The farm in question consisted of one-hundred and ten acres, of which 55 acres passed to Lorena's children.
Lorena Stewart petitioned for the sale of the property stating that her children had no personal estate and no way of paying the $200 in legacies owed. She claimed that the rents and profits on the land were insufficent to support and educate her children. The court ordered the sale of the land and the final report on the sale of the property was submitted to the court on 12 February 1917.
On 13 August, 1917, after paying all the other debts against the estate of August Klump, Emil Huber appeared in Probate Court, this time to make the final settlement. The balance remaining in the estate was just $153.12. Mattie filed a petition with the court, praying that the Court would pay over to her the balance "for the support and education" of her six minor children. Mattie came forward and signed the receipt for $153.12. When she left the Court, she made some decisions that would change her life and the lives of her children forever.
Mattie made the decision to move to St. Louis and find work. It was more than just a relocation; she was leaving behind the family, friends and familiar rural life that she had known all her life. She wanted to keep her family together, but that would be impossible. The two babies were left in Perry County to be raised by relatives. 4-year old Manetti went to live with her aunt and uncle, Cora Klump and William Sutterer. 2-year old Emmett went to live with his uncle and aunt, L. B. Thorpe and Mary Christina Seemes.
In a time when women typically didn't work outside the home, Mattie's skills were those of a housewife. She found work in a laundry, but the long hours and low wages meant that she could not keep the four older children with her. Women in her situation had few choices. The children were placed in orphanages, until the time that she would be able to support them. They remained there until the end of World War I. The two babies never did return to live with their mother.
In 04 May 1922, the six minor children of August Klump, having no legal guardian, were named wards of the Perry County Probate Court, with the County Administrator, Sylvester Zahner as guardian. Apparently, the children's mother was not considered to be a sufficient legal guardian.
Mattie soon remarried and had 5 more children. After her second husband died in 1929, she was still working in the laundry. Once again, she was left with minor children to raise on her own, but she had more help this time. All of the older children had found employment by the late 1920s; the daughters went to work in the laundry; the sons became dairymen for the Beatrice Creamery. They were all living with Mattie and helping her raise the younger children.
Still troubled by the childhood knee injury, Mattie was once struck by a streetcar in St. Louis and had to be hospitalized. The doctor that examined her suggested that she have the kneecap rebroken and set again to heal properly. With 11 children to support, she couldn't afford to take that much time off from work. She walked using a cane and had difficulty climbing stairs.
Eventually, all Mattie's children would marry and make her a grandmother many times over. After World War II, Mattie moved to California where some of her children lived. She was a devout Catholic and raised all her children in that religion. She passed away on 07 June 1969.
Rankin Family History Project Sonoma County, California
Updated January 2000
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