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…

Rediscovering Florence Stratton


My research on the life of Florence Stratton is now in its fourth year. It’s true that I’ve made multiple discoveries in what would seem, at times, a hopeless endeavor, but there always seems to be an open door at the end of the hallway, so to speak. And I have definitely ventured into many of those long corridors.
In late December 2015, after a visit to the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center to research historian Bill Quick’s papers, I “quickly” (pun intended) became inspired by how organized he was in his research and how he maintained his notes. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Quick when he was alive, I am ever so grateful for his years of documentation of SETX history, especially regarding the Sabine Lighthouse—it appears we shared a mutual love for this structure.
f1So as many do, in January I decided to make a New Year’s resolution. I spent countless hours filing, scanning, and digitizing all my files for future use by persons unknown should the need arise. I believe I am nearly through with this growing inventory of information, except for the Florence Stratton Project as I call it. I have scanned and digitized many related files and documents, but three-plus years of research are not always readily available to scan, such as my small two-page file on the city of Ronald, Texas. Nevertheless, most of the files about Florence and her family are stored as PDFs, along with countless newspaper clippings in JPEG (photo) format. Then there are the “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter” articles written using Florence’s nom de plume, which span February 28, 1926 to January 23, 1938. This collection will be a whole new digitizing endeavor, which will mean many weekly trips to the Sam Houston Region Library and Research Center to obtain clearer images. The initial scans from many of the microfilm collections for the Beaumont Enterprise are quite blurry. DSC02508
I have also realized that field trips are a necessity. Given the timetable, genealogy, and friendships in Florence’s history, I found it important to proactively explore these sites, cities, and research hubs. And it was in Austin that I began my journey over the road. On Monday January 25, I stepped into the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The center holds many historic treasures—so much so that I could spend months, or even years, sifting through them. Since I only had a day, I decided to focus on W.P. Hobby Sr.’s papers. W.P. Hobby was the Governor of Texas from 1917 to 1921. At the time, he was the youngest governor ever to hold the office in the state. Hobby also had many local ties to Beaumont. He became the manager and part owner of the Beaumont Enterprise in 1907 and married Willie Cooper, the daughter of the U.S. representative Sam Branson Cooper, on May 15, 1915. At various points in Florence’s timeline, I noticed she spent time with Willie Cooper in Washington D.C. (1907–1908) or in the Governor’s Mansion in Austin (1917–1921). Other newspaper articles described her attendance at many functions with the Governor and First Lady, from a Turkey trot in Cuero to the inauguration of the Mexican president Álvaro Obregón.
White House reception attended by Willie Cooper and Florence StrattonIn one of the two boxes I requested, I found a scrapbook that once belonged to Willie. After looking at all the newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, it certainly put what I’d been studying into perspective. Between the clippings and other historical artifacts, I located an invitation addressed to “The Misses Cooper” dated January 9, 1908. It reads as follows:
The President and Mrs. Roosevelt request the pleasure of the company of
The Misses Cooper
At a reception to be held at
The White House
Thursday evening January the ninth
Nineteen hundred and eight
From nine to half after ten o’clock
Holding something like that in your hand can be inspiring to say the least. Both Willie and Florence attended the White House reception in January the following year as well. I know this thanks to an article in the Washington Post dated January 8, 1909.
I made many discoveries that day. Most of the scrapbook concentrated on W.P. Hobby becoming lieutenant governor and eventually governor when James E. Ferguson was removed from office. I also noticed a lot of content on women’s suffrage (women’s right to vote). Unlike others, Hobby saw the benefits of this early. There is one letter to the editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in Willie’s scrapbook. We’ll call him Pete (because that is how he signed his name in the letter). Pete was hell-bent on not giving women the right to vote. He talked of the curse of Jehovah God “by harkening to the voice of women, and giving to the ballot.” He also quoted the Apostle Paul and the like, but it would have been pointless to spend one more iota of time on this jackleg. It is interesting to ponder just what Mr. Pete would have thought when a woman, Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, was elected Governor of Texas in 1925. A possible coronary, I would imagine.
I assume Willie saved this letter as a reminder of how important this era was for women, and through the newspaper articles, I was also able to get a small glimpse of Florence’s journey. In September 1918, she was listed as one of 31 vice chairpersons for the senatorial districts for the Democratic Party.
My next field trip will be to the place Florence treasured most, her place of birth, Brazoria County. Florence was born on March 21, 1881 at her childhood home in Brazoria, Texas, which in later years she revisited regularly in “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter.” Her popular column was published each Sunday, and in this, she also spoke highly of her grandfather, Major Asa Evan Stratton, who owned a sugarcane plantation.
My other ventures into her past will this month include a visit to Woodville to find any more sources relating to Willie Cooper that may be traceable to Florence, a revisit to Austin to peruse more of W.P. Hobby’s papers, and then the inevitable journey to Troy, Pike County, Alabama. Troy_School
Contrary to most articles about Florence, she graduated from Troy Normal College and not Gray Normal College as W.T. Block noted in his earlier writings. In fact much of Florence’s lore is inaccurate, and I’m still sorting through the mess. This is not to discredit Mr. Block on this subject; he was blissfully unaware that the recollections of his primary source, Florence’s niece, were wholly inaccurate. I personally have no knowledge of the atmosphere or Eunice’s mindset when she was interviewed for the articles published in the Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, but most of the “facts” were just plain wrong.
Graduation Photo editLuckily, with time, Florence’s past is emerging in the form of documented proof on how she spent her life, and how she was a positive resident who was loved by all. Many of my early questions have been answered, but there is still a mountain of research to climb. Some readers have asked what I plan to do with all this research. Well, it is no secret that I intend to submit a marker application to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) in 2017 to celebrate a life that deserves recognition in SETX history. Indeed, Florence’s contributions to Beaumont history, society, and charity cannot be matched.

Florence Stratton Mini Museum Exhibit @ the Jefferson County Courthouse


Florence Stratton Mini Museum Exhibit

Florence Stratton was born in Brazoria, Texas, in March 1881, to Judge Asa Evan Stratton and Louisa Henrietta Waldman Stratton. Her parents moved to Alabama when she was a child. Educated through the Alabama public school system, she then attended “normal” college in Troy, Alabama, and was valedictorian of her 1900 graduating class.

Florence moved to Beaumont in 1903 and took a job as a member of the faculty of Miss Anne’s private school. She also taught at Central High School in 1904. During this time and throughout most of her early years in Beaumont, she lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Emily and W. H. Stevens.Stratton 1907 1

In 1907 Florence began her journalistic career at the Beaumont Journal. Apart from teaching literature at Belle Austin Instate in 1909, she continued at the Journal as society editor, and by some accounts, even helped with the printing of the newspaper.

In 1914 Florence started the Milk and Ice Fund to help provide poor families during the summer months with needed milk and ice. Six years later, while at the Beaumont Enterprise, she started the Empty Stocking Fund to, again, give relief to the poor but this time with food and monetary donations. This fund is still active today and provides assistance to the poor in Southeast Texas each Christmas.

From 1917 to 1921, Florence spent time with her good friend Willie Cooper at the Governor’s mansion in Austin. Willie was married to W. P. Hobby, who served as Governor of Texas for a five-year term ending in 1921.

In 1920 the Beaumont Enterprise bought the Beaumont Journal, and it was there that Florence enjoyed most of her success as a journalist. Her column, “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter,” which began in 1926, drew more readers than any other column. Her popularity soared, and many relished reading each Sunday morning’s offering over the 12-year period it ran.

It was at the same time that her column started that Florence began, as she called it, “dabbling” in writing books. She compiled all of O. Henry’s articles, which were written while he was employed at the Houston Post, and published them in a book called Postscripts by O. Henry. She would also publish The White Plume in 1931, which was a short biography of O. Henry’s life.

Other books would follow, such as Favorite Recipes of Famous Women (1925),  and her most memorable literary contribution to Southeast Texas history, The Story of Beaumont (1925). This work delved into the early settlement of Beaumont, and to this day, is a reliable reference regarding the region’s past.

Yet another literary work, called When the Storm God Rides, was published in 1936. It was co-written with Bessie M. Reid and disclosed much-needed information about the Indians of East Texas.

Sadly in January of 1938, Florence died at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, a day after she underwent surgery. Her death certificate states the cause of death as “Arterio Sclerotic heart disease.”


After five months of research into Florence Stratton’s life, I have found a lot of misinformation about her. I believe all the dates and other information used in this article to be true. It is amazing how much you can find out in a city directory and censuses. Florence was an amazing individual, and I hope to explore more of her life in the next year. I have also begun work to have a marker dedicated in her honor, possibly at the Beaumont Enterprise.

If anyone reading this has knowledge of Beaumont’s first historian, whether in the form of documents, letters, photos, memories, or any other stories, I would love to hear about them. It is my wish to give Florence the credit she deserves.



Florence Stratton

Dear Della:

I know it’s been ages since your friend Susie has written to you, and I know she is deeply missed. I never met Susie personally, but I do know of her fondness for you and her knack for always knowing what you and your neighbors were up to. She shared many things with you each Sunday morning, something which I have only recently come to learn.

Della, I have read some of the open letters that Susie wrote to you over a period of 11 years on the pages of the Beaumont Enterprise. It’s obvious that Susie cared for everyone. But of course she did. You know she created “The Journal Empty Stocking Fund” to help poor people around the time of Christmas each year and “The Journal Milk and Ice Fund” because, as she put it, “even in the summer poor people are still poor.”

Thinking back, I can only imagine how hard it was for people during that time. Poverty was certainly color blind, and “Great” was a word used in sorrow. But you survived. You always will.

Yes I know that the Beaumont Journal is long gone, but the Beaumont Enterprise is still hanging on and its Empty Stocking Fund is still helping out citizens of this fine town, even today. It’s thanks to Susie that the poor are still being helped.


Della, I did find out something about Susie. Did you know she wrote books? Susie published them under the name Florence Stratton. One of her books, The Story of Beaumont, published in 1925, has found a home in my office.


After reading her column and books, I can see why you and your neighbors liked her so. Susie was one of a kind. My only regret in this scenario is that I wasn’t around in 1920s and 1930s Beaumont to talk with her. But I get that way when thinking about all my favorite people of Southeast Texas history. Although I must confess Susie is at the top of my list.


Guess what Della, I passed by Susie’s beloved house today. I couldn’t help but think that ol’ Susie is still watching out for her little house. And you know what, it’s still secluded behind those tall hedges. Just the way she wanted it.




Note: This article has been edited with updated information as of 08/10/2013

Florence Stratton was born in Brazoria, Texas, in 1881. Her parents moved to Montgomery, Alabama, when she was a child. She attended Troy Formal College in Troy, Alabama, and even became valedictorian. (Note: In W. T. Block’s article about Florence, he wrote that she had graduated from Gray Normal College. I found out that Troy Formal College is now Troy University. I did not find any mention of Gray Normal College.)

In 1903, Florence moved to Beaumont, where she lived with her sister, and subsequently became a member of the faculty at Miss Austin’s private school.

In 1907 Florence had begun her journalism career at the Beaumont Journal as society editor. Thirteen years later, she would join the Beaumont Enterprise in the same capacity.

Earlier I mentioned that Florence had published a few books. There were five to be exact. The first was a compilation of O. Henry’s writings when he worked as a news scribe in Houston. She compiled them and wrote the foreword. It was called O. Henry’s Postscripts and was published in 1923.

In 1925, she would publish another compilation book entitled Recipes of Famous Women. The Story of Beaumont would also be published that same year. This book was written from her interviews with early Beaumonters.

Two more books would follow, The White Plume, O. Henry’s own short story, published in 1931, and When the Storm God Rides, published in 1936, compiled by Bessie M. Reid and retold by Florence Stratton.

Florence started her popular column called “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter” in 1926 in which she would write to her fictional friend Della about the happenings in and around Beaumont society.

Note #1: Just as Susie was Florence’s alter ego, Della was a fictitious character representing the people of Beaumont. Susie/Florence always had a way of enticing her readers.

Note #2: After spending a rainy Saturday morning at the Tyrrell Historical Library looking through the archives at Susie/Florence’s writing, I was amazed just how much you can learn about early SETX history through a gossip column.

In 1930, Florence built her home out of the bricks from the old Jefferson County Courthouse at 1929 McFaddin (located across the street from the McFaddin-Ward house). Even today, the hedges are still present just as she had them oh-so-many years ago.

Sadly, on January 28th 1938, Florence died following surgery at a New Orleans hospital. The deat certificate states the cause of death as “Arterio Sclerotic heart disease.”

Florence Stratton was the first real published historian of our area. Her ceaseless energy and desire to bring the news of the day to Beaumonters was always her top priority. Through her work we can see just how life was in the early days. I’m sure Della would agree.


Note: I wish to thank the Tyrrell Historical Library and the Beaumont Enterprise for making available their wealth of information about this fine lady. I also wish to thank Ginny from the Chambers House Museum (http://www.chambershouse.org/) for introducing me to the life and times of the wonderful Florence Stratton.