A brief History of Florence Stratton part2




In 1920, the Beaumont Enterprise, which was owned by longtime friend, W.P. Hobby, bought out its rival newspaper, the Beaumont Journal. Florence then would move onto the Enterprise’s pages as a reporter and society editor. She would find even more opportunities there as a writer and a journalist.

Florence’s first foray into book writing and publication did not involve her own work. It was, in fact, a compilation of articles written by the popular short story writer William Sydney Porter, who used the pen name O. Henry. O. Henry’s writings was from his time at the Houston Post, from October 1895 to June of 1896. She compiled his work, wrote the foreword, and published “Postscripts by O. Henry.” O. Henry’s popularity still appeared to be intact among Americans even 13 years after his death. This 1923 publication was a monetary success for Florence. Another book would be released the same year called, “Favorite Recipes of Famous Women.” Again, the content was compiled by Florence, but this time with the help of her best friend Willie Cooper. The book of recipes was actually compiled during Willie’s time as first lady in the governor’s mansion.

Florence’s first literary work would be published in 1925. “The Story of Beaumont” was, as its name implied, an early history of Beaumont. The book was a popular success among the locals. Below is the foreword written by M.E. Moore, Beaumont’s superintendent of schools.

   In “The Story of Beaumont,” Beaumont has an achievement which few cities and their schools can enjoy. Its possession certainly places our schools in a restricted class so far as local historical material is concerned.

Far sighted and thoughtful school authorities everywhere recommend that a course in local history and civics be given in the upper grades and in the high school, so that children will not grow up un appreciative and ignorant of their home city and its possibilities. David Compayre, a noted French authority on education, has said “Growth comes from realizing possibilities.” Certainly no city can fully realize its possibilities for the future unless it studies its achievements in the past. But it is usually very difficult to obtain local history in a form such that it can be used in the school. This book offers such material.

There is nothing finer or better to promote citizenship, a love of country and a high resolve to serve the community, the state and the nation than to teach such histories in our schools. Beaumont and the schools owe a debt of gratitude to the author of this volume, not only for the facts in the book but for the charm and interest with which each chapter is written and illustrated.

In stating that this book will prove of great worth to the children in the schools, let me add that I would not create the impression that it will not prove of high value and gripping interest to the grown-up as well. He will find the book written in readable, whimsical language, bristling with human interest on every page and filled with information that every person in Beaumont will keenly appreciate.

M.E. Moore,

Superintendent of schools.

In 1926, Beaumonters would get the opportunity to take a closer look at their own lives through the Sunday morning pages of the Beaumont Enterprise. A new feature, Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter, began in February 1926 and would run until 1938. The articles would always begin with “Dear Della,” with Della, of course, representing the intrigued Beaumont residents who would sift through the pages of the newspaper looking for local gossip. The “Weekly Letter” wouldn’t turn into a weekly column until the latter part of 1926 and into 1927, and over the years, it grew in popularity.

Throughout her life in Beaumont, Florence seemed to maintain a close relationship with family. From the old directories and census records, it appears that she had always lived with her sister Emily and her brother-in-law. However, in 1929, Florence decided to build a house of her own. The house was constructed using some of the bricks of the old 1893 Jefferson County Courthouse, which was demolished around the same time to pave way for the current 13-story structure that was finished in 1931. The house still stands today across the street from the McFaddin-Ward House.

Another publication released in 1931 was called “The White Plume.” The short story was co-written with Vincent Burke, a sports editor for the Beaumont Enterprise. It was billed a true love story from O. Henry’s past and featured a twist reminiscent of one of his short stories.

Florence’s final publication would be released in 1936. It was titled “When the Storm God Rides; Tejas and Other Indian Legends” and comprised stories that were collected by Bessie M. Reid and retold by Florence Stratton, with illustrations by Berniece Burrough. It went on to be used as a textbook in local schools.

Sadly, Florence’s life would come to an end on January 28, 1938. She had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier and was to go to New Orleans to try a novel type of surgery (for those times), but she would expire prematurely at the Touro Infirmary from arteriosclerotic heart disease. Her funeral was held at her house at 1929 McFaddin. Over 200 mourners and well-wishers attended the service, with a mile-long funeral procession to Magnolia Cemetery. Her typewriter at the Beaumont Enterprise was covered in flowers in honor of her passing.

A brief History of Florence Stratton part1



Florence Stratton was born in Brazoria, Texas to Asa Evan Stratton and Louisa Henrietta Waldman on March 21, 1881. Although some references state she was born in 1883, I have confirmed her month, day, and year of birth through the following sources: a 1900 census, at least six mentions in Florence’s Sunday Enterprise weekly letters, and a letter from Florence’s 10-year-old sister, Emily, in February 1883. Little is known of her childhood, but I hope to keep peeling away the layers and find out more of her early life.

One interesting note I found while researching Florence’s early years in Brazoria County is that her grandfather, Major Asa Stratton, owned a sugarcane plantation. On that property sat the second oldest log cabin in Texas, known today as the McCroskey-Stringfellow House. Florence mentioned it several times in her weekly Sunday Enterprise articles, which we will get into next week. Another interesting fact is that Major Stratton’s daughter and Florence’s aunt, Sarah Emily Stratton married Samuel Bryan, son of W. Joel Bryan and nephew of Stephen F. Austin. Does that make Florence related to Stephen F. Austin?

In 1900, Florence graduated as valedictorian from Troy Normal College in Troy, Alabama. She lived there two more years while teaching and then moved to Beaumont in 1903, most likely to live near her sister Emily. Emily and her husband, Walter Stevens, had already been living in Beaumont for at least a year; Walter was working as a clerk in the E. L. Clough Drug Store.

In Beaumont, Florence continued her teaching career by becoming a faculty member at Miss Anne’s private school in 1903, then moving on to Beaumont High to teach grammar. Her salary is unknown to me, but when she resigned in 1905, her successor took on the job at $60 a month.

In 1906, Aurelia Peters Norvell formed the Colonel Moffett Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Many prominent Beaumont women joined this organization, and Florence was no different: She became its charter secretary. Florence’s Revolutionary War ancestor was her great-grandfather Peleg Stratton.

In 1907, Florence began her journalism career at the Beaumont Journal as society editor. She also spent much of the following years, 1908-09, in Washington D.C. with her best friend, Willie Cooper. Together, they rubbed elbows with Washington’s elite, even attending a White House reception in January 1909.

Florence and Willie had spent many early years together, and when Willie finally married her childhood sweetheart, W.P. Hobby, in 1915, little changed in their friendship. In fact, Florence probably spent more time with her, especially after Hobby became governor in 1917. Evidence in Texas newspaper archives dating from 1917 to 1920 put the three together at many events in this time frame.

Florence started two charity funds: the Milk and Ice Fund, which gave underprivileged people milk and ice during the summer months, and the Empty Stocking Fund, which gave toys to the poor children of Beaumont. Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered when the Milk and Ice Fund was founded. Each year, the Beaumont Enterprise rehashes the same article and says it began in 1914. I would agree, but the only proof I have of the fund starting earlier than 1920 is a 1921 article in the Beaumont Journal stating the fund had been running for a few years. The Empty Stocking Fund, which I believe was started in 1920, is run by the Beaumont Enterprise today.

A November 1980 article by Laura Young of the Beaumont Enterprise stated that Florence had written speeches for Governor Hobby. Though not farfetched, I haven’t found proof of it. In fairness, the article was an interview with Eunice Stephens, Florence’s niece. Unfortunately, Eunice is partially to blame for some of the incorrect information out there. Her recollections do not seem to fit the facts. In defense of Eunice, however, all information gathering on Florence using Eunice seemed to happen during the final years of Eunice’s life (1979-1980; she died in January 1982). I do not and will not speculate on Eunice’s ability to remember her aunt’s ventures, but publications that have used her as a source, such as the November 1979 issue of The Texas Gulf Historical & Biographical Record, have contained completely inaccurate information on Florence’s life.

To be continued…

Tyrrell Historical Library



My ongoing research into all things SETX has spanned many counties—even taking me off our clay paths to places like Austin—and the search continues. For instance, last month I talked about my affection for the Sam Houston Research Center and all the great things they offer. Well, this month I thought I’d stay closer to home and give the number one research hub in Jefferson County the opportunity to be in the spotlight. Through my research on Susie Spindletop and her “Weekly Letter,” I’ve spent many hours—and a fair sum of money—at the old Baptist Church. In fact, I’m sure I’ve personally kept them well stocked in quarters over the past two and a half years by printing out the Sunday Enterprise’s “Weekly Letter” from their microfilm machine at $0.25 per page. To be honest, I get a lot more out of a roll of quarters at the Tyrrell than I do at our neighboring state’s casinos!

The Tyrrell Historical Library has been a fixture in Beaumont since its inception in 1926, but the intention wasn’t always for it to be a library. Indeed, this classic structure had its own history before being converted into its current form. Built to be the First Baptist Church in 1903, it served as a replacement for the original brick church previously erected on the same grounds. In the early 20s, the congregation had outgrown that building, so they constructed a church at the corner of Broadway and Willow that was sufficiently large to host the masses of new members each Sunday.

In 1923 W.C. Tyrrell, a venture capitalist and one of Beaumont’s most prominent businessmen, purchased the building and donated it to the city for use as a public library. The library opened in 1926 and served as the main public library until the new structure was built in 1974. The building was subsequently renamed the Tyrrell Historical Library in honor of Mr. Tyrrell.

To assist those doing genealogical research, the Tyrrell has an extensive collection of family archives, city directories, and newspapers, and has gateway access to other research venues such as Ancestry.com. As an aside, volunteers from the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR) are usually on hand on the first Saturday of each month to help anyone doing family research. But it is a good idea to call beforehand to make sure that they will be there.

The Tyrrell has been a very useful resource for me, especially when I was doing research on old Beaumont through the pages of the former Beaumont Enterprise and Beaumont Journal. I do have private access to a newspaper archive, but unfortunately neither newspaper is digitized so are not currently available there. I have also found the collections at the Tyrrell to be excellent. Old photos and letter archives of a few subjects that I’ve written about in the past can be found there. One collection in particular is the Stratton-Stevens-Follin family papers, which were donated in October 2013. This collection comprises 60-plus letters by the Stratton family. Those of Asa Evan Stratton, the father of Florence Stratton (Susie Spindletop), account for most of them. Notably, it was here that I obtained a copy of a letter proving the year of Florence’s birth. Most of the other letters are general correspondence between various family members, which are not of particular interest at the moment. However, they should provide me with further insights into her parents’ lives during my future research.

The Tyrrell Historical Library is certainly a gem, not only to Beaumont, but also to all our surrounding counties. The archives are a pivotal resource documenting our history. And I for one am glad to have it as my number one starting point when delving into our past.

Did You Know:

You can support the Tyrrell Historical Library by joining the Tyrrell Historical Library Association.

$15 Associate Membership

$25 Family Membership

$50 Sustaining Membership

$100 Patron Membership

—– Institutional Membership

Your tax-deductible membership dues and donations are used to support the library’s restoration, promote the development of its diverse collections, and encourage the use and enjoyment of the library.


Mail contributions to:

Tyrrell Historical Library Association

P.O. Box 12563

Beaumont, Texas 77726-2563





TSHA Annual Meeting 2017



The Texas State Historical Association Annual Meeting 2017 was held last weekend, and I, for one, had a pretty good time. Although Houston traffic was its usual self, I managed to arrive intact for both Friday’s and Saturday’s sessions. I’ve only attended a few of these conferences, but I will say that each year seems to bring a few interesting subjects to light that pique my interest, and this year was no different.

On Friday, after registration, I perused the exhibitors, vendors, and the silent auction, hoping to find certain publications, documents, or memorabilia pertaining to some of my interests. I did find a few books, but nothing to brag about, unfortunately. I will say that most exhibitors were focused on Texas history, and not really on SETX history, except for a few postcards, reprinted maps, and other documents. As for the documents, I did see two notable ones at a vendor’s table; fellow researcher and JCHC member Bruce A. Hamilton had already purchased the first. He found the original roster of the Albert Sidney Johnson Camp #75 of the United Confederate Veterans, dated 1895. I also saw a Sabine Stock document for sale, but I wasn’t prepared to shell out $4750 for it – nor was anyone else, for that matter.

One of the best sessions of the day, for me at least, was Using Oral History to Document Rural Dispersed Communities, sponsored by the Texas Oral History Association. This subject has been a very popular topic at the JCHC the past few years, and I can’t stress enough the importance of documenting history straight from the sources of our past. It really doesn’t matter how glorious a life someone has lived, or how simple their means. It is better to ask the questions now than to have someone like me, years from now, examine the facts but fail to generate the “human factor,” of the life they’ve lived. In other words, I can give you the facts, but I can’t give you their story through their own eyes.

On Saturday, I knew which late session I would be attending, but had no clue about which early session to choose. Since I wasn’t alone on this voyage into Texas history, a friend suggested A Tale of Two Bayous: Preservation and Conservation in Houston. This seemed like a good topic, and it was. Both speakers were excellent, and their stories were fascinating. I especially enjoyed Nathan Jones’ presentation on Ima Hogg and her architect, Wayne Bell, during the session Building the Decorative Arts Collection of Ima Hogg, since I have visited the property multiple times. For those who haven’t yet visited Bayou Bend, you are missing out on a wonderful tour. There is much to see, and it was surprising to hear the explanation of how collection came to be.

The last session, and the one I most wanted to attend, was History in Action: The College Classroom in 2017. I initially wanted to go to this because I saw that someone had done a paper on William P. Hobby. Hobby is an interest of mine, because of my research into Florence Stratton. I was amazed by the talk and pleased to learn a few things from speaker Hector Zuniga that I did not know about the former Texas governor. To me, this talk alone was worth the trip.

Looking back on the conference, I can say that I took away some new knowledge of how to use oral history, and I am looking forward to meeting a cast of young scholars who do their homework and churn out some great historical research papers. I hope the trend continues.