Friday, September 18, 2020

Theodor Plath's Last Will and Testament

Theodor Plath, Sylvia Plath's paternal grandfather, died on Nov. 5, 1918. He had filed his will (No. 2876) in Clark County, Washington State, on May 26, 1918. It's worth reading, and there's a surprise inside:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN! I, Theodor Plath, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, and not acting under the fraud, duress or influence of any person or persons, make this will.

I request that all my just debts against my estate including my funeral expenses and the expenses of my last sickness be promptly paid.

I give to my beloved wife Earnestine $100.00.

I give to my son Otto $1.00.

I give to my son Paul $1.00.

I give to my son Max $1.00.

I give to my son Hugo $1.00.

I give to my daughter Martha $1.00.

All the rest and residue of my property which I may own, die possessed of, or have a right to dispose of at my death I give and devise to my daughter Frieda.

I hereby appoint my son Max executor of this last will and request that no bonds be required of him, as such, by any Court or Judge.

Theodor Plath (SEAL)

Signed and sealed by Theodor Plath, testator, and by him declared to be his last will in our presence, who have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses in his presence and in the presence of each other at his request, at Oregon City, Oregon, this 26th day of May 1918.

Witnesses: Maud Davis (of Oregon City), Annie Stribley (of Portland, OR). [1]

Five days before filing this will, on May 21, 1918, Theodor Plath had filed at the Vancouver [WA] Land Office a Homestead Act claim (aka "patent") to 120 acres in Clark County, Washington, near Salmon Creek, a bit north of Portland, Oregon. [2] As Homestead Act land it was free, although the owner was given a certain number of years to improve it. U.S. homesteading, mostly on formerly Indian lands, was available from 1862 to 1976. Below, in the orange square within the square, is Theodor Plath's 1918 property:

and, from the Bureau of Land Management, Theodor's title or "patent" on that land, dated 5/21/1918. Of course the land has been bought and sold since then:

Bequeathing children $1.00 was not always a "disinheritance" or insult. Were that the case, Theodor probably wouldn't have named his son Max as his will's executor. Theodor might have distributed his assets already, and the will was a formality. Or the $1.00 acknowledged that the offspring were self-supporting adults, or proved that the testator was sound enough of mind to list all family members and give them a token. Frieda Plath, the youngest, in 1918 was 21 or 22 years old and in a Chicago nursing school. Sylvia met her Aunt Frieda in 1959 and liked her. Ernestine Plath, Sylvia's paternal grandmother, in 1918 was in an Oregon mental hospital and survived Theodor by less than one year.

According to a March 1980 letter from Aurelia Plath to Mary Ann Montgomery, Otto Plath owned property in San Francisco that he sold or otherwise tended to while the Plaths were on their honeymoon. Any record has yet to be found.

[1] Washington State Archives (Olympia, Washington); Probate Place: Clark, Washington, pp. 112-113.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Otto Plath and Lydia Bartz Plath, Voter Registration Rolls, 1914

Let's retire the fiction that Otto Plath and first wife Lydia Clara Bartz Plath, married in Washington State in August 1912, were together for three weeks only, because records continue to show it was closer to three years. In 1914 Otto was teaching in Berkeley, California, living with Lydia, and both were registered to vote -- as Progressives. Here's their voter-registration page. [Click the image to enlarge.]

Wait, but it's 1914, so women in the U.S. can't vote!?! In California they could and did.

Otto and Lydia are still at that address in 1915 as she enrolled in UC-Berkeley's summer school.

Source: California State Library; Sacramento, California; Great Register of Voters, 1900-1968.

Aurelia in Drag

"When students of the Boston College of Practical Arts and Letters gave a play recently, Miss Aurelia Schober was the leading man," says the caption.

Discovered in the obscure Eustis [FL, near Orlando] Daily Lake Region newspaper, March 4, 1926, page 8: a unique photo of college girl Aurelia Schober in faraway Boston, Massachusetts, outfitted as a man for her role in her college's German Club play. At the all-female Boston University College of Practical Arts and Letters (CPAL) German-Club theatricals, Aurelia was often (always?) cast as a man, being tall and talented. [See an earlier, related post noting her acting.]

The image must have been quite striking for an editor in Eustis, population then 2800, to clip from its original background and print.

Boston University's College of Arts and Letters' well-staffed and industrious Press Club regularly sent press releases with college news to numerous papers. Occasionally the Club's copy or photos were published in the Boston Herald, Boston Traveler, Boston Globe, Boston Evening Transcript. Photos were expensive to print and send, so how did this get to Florida? We do know that CPAL enrolled at least one student from Florida.

Aurelia's stage career extended beyond her college graduation in 1928 to a role (as a female) at Brookline High School in 1930, a performance Aurelia remembered impressed a theatrical agent in the audience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Two Aurelias in San Remo, Italy

Aurelia Frances Schober was born in Boston on April 26, 1906 to Aurelia and Francis Schober, both natives of Austria. On February 8, 1909 in Boston, Francis Schober completed his U.S. Petition for Naturalization form: citizenship papers found copied in the Plath archives. Francis filled in its blanks:

My wife’s name is Aurelia. She was born in Vienna, Austria, and now resides at San Remo, Italy. I have one child, and the name, date and place of birth, and place of residence of said children is as follows: Aurelia F., April 26, 1906  Boston Mass.  San Remo, Italy


What? [Click the image to enlarge.] In February 1909 Aurelia F. Schober is not yet three years old, but away “residing” with her mother on the Italian Riviera? This is never mentioned again in any archives.


Located between Genoa and Monte Carlo, San Remo was and still is a residence and retreat for Europe’s wealthy and cultured. Empress Maria Alexandrovna after a visit in 1874 donated the now famous San Remo seaside promenade. Alfred Nobel’s former home there is a museum now. 


Francis Schober wrote “San Remo” on this form twice and clearly, so it is unlikely to be an error. 

A ship’s manifest for the Kaiser Wilhelm II, sailing from Bremen on May 18, 1909 and docking at Ellis Island May 26, 1909 yielded, on Lines 13 and 14, two Aurelia Schobers, the younger represented by ditto marks and the designation “ch.” For the adult Aurelia, the clerk scrawled: “U.S.A. Citizen” and “husb U.S.C [citizen].” [1] (By default, wives then took their husband’s nationality.) Aurelia Senior had left the U.S. an alien but returned a citizen, or a soon-to-be one. Francis's full citizenship was granted by the court on July 10, 1909. A handwritten note on Francis's Oath of Allegiance says as of July 6 his new address is 2049 Columbus Avenue, Boston.


So mother and daughter Schober were in May 1909 returning from at least four months overseas. If too young to recall that trip, did Aurelia Plath never hear her parents reminisce? Because Francis had a San Remo link too.


According to the ship's manifest, when Francis (as “Francois”) Schober left Europe for the U.S. in 1902, boarding the ship Vancouver in Naples [his Petition for Naturalization, dated 1909, says "Genoa"] he listed his last job as “butler” in San Remo. [2] Why in 1909 were his wife, age 21, and small daughter “residing” there? If vacationing, wouldn't their residence be Boston? Was Aurelia Senior “wintering” with relatives she had last seen in Vienna in 1904, bringing her toddler namesake? Did she find a job there? (San Remo's posh Casino Municipale opened in 1905.) Had Francis proudly sent his wife and daughter on a fine vacation? Perhaps they were not in San Remo but somewhere else. A mystery half-solved. 


[1] Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 14; Page Number: 28. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

[2] The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943; NAI Number: 4319742; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: T843; NARA Roll Number: 052. [Francois Schober is on line 9.]