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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Evidence of the City Directories

I was trying to figure out the course of my great-aunt Ruth’s nursing career. It’s hard to do without much documentation. She didn’t keep a diary that I know of, and when my father moved her from her apartment in Portland, Oregon, after she fell and broke her hip, a lot of her papers must have been thrown out to condense her things to be moved into our house with eight people already living in it. Then her papers were probably further condensed when my parents moved from their big house to a double-wide trailer house. (Later they built a large house again.) A final condensation of papers happened when my parents decided to reduce their household down to a single travel trailer during the years they followed the sunshine and had no fixed address.

Aunt Ruth wasn’t much for talking about her own life. When I got to know her well the year that she and I were left alone in California together, we talked mainly about her sister, the grandmother I never knew.

But now I’m digging into her past and have discovered a source of information about her professional life: city directories on

Ruth Boedefeld was born late in 1892. That means that it was about 1910 when she graduated from high school. Maybe even 1911. What did she do next?

1912 Elkhart, Indiana City Directory
The 1912 city directory for Elkhart, Indiana, shows that she was an assistant secretary to the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). The directory says she boarded at 528 Vistula in Elkhart, which was her parents’ home. (I think it’s fun to see that her sister, Beatrice, rated a large bold-face entry for her position as the society editor on the Elkhart Truth. But their father, the cabinet-making foreman at the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railroad shop, might have felt slighted—or not—he seems to have encouraged his daughters in their careers.)

Bee on that large front porch
In 1914 the city directory has Ruth as a student, still boarding with her parents, but their residence changed to 714 W Marion. It was a large house (the 2011 Google screen shot shows that the house had been divided), and there were a few pictures of their front porch showing they had a lot of room. Back to Ruth the student—I have no idea what she was studying at that point.

Ruth didn’t study nursing until a few years later. In the summer of 1916 her sister, Bee, went to Yellowstone for a few months, and Ruth was her substitute at the Elkhart Truth in the interim. Perhaps she was taking a typing class. Typewriters had by that time assumed the form that they would keep for decades. The Truth office reporters used under-mount typewriters until at least 1917, when Bee bought her own tiny portable Corona typewriter.

The 1917 typewriter

In the 1917 city directory Ruth is listed as a clerk for the New York Central Railroad (the successor to the LS and MS). Then of course the United States joined the World War in Europe.

Ruth went to nursing school and joined the United States Army Nursing Corps. The 1920 Census shows her in Washington D.C. at Walter Reed Hospital. Down on line 95 she appears, an Army nurse still, a little over a year since the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

The entry in the 1922 Elkhart, Indiana city directory is a little sad. Ruth was back at home and working as a nurse at the local hospital in Elkhart. Her father died that October, and during the next year she and her mother settled up his estate, sold their home, and headed to Portland, Oregon.

The next city directory to show Ruth is Portland, Oregon in 1924. She and her mother took a house in the Ladd Addition, a planned community in a wagon-wheel configuration with a rose garden in the center. Ruth worked for the Visiting Nurse Association, probably as soon as she arrived in Portland. The Visiting Nurse Association was a loosely-allied series of organizations around the country of home-health care services. In Portland they ran clinics for giving inoculations and basic child and maternal health care.
The 1924 Portland, Oregon City Directory

The 1926 Portland, Oregon, city directory shows that Laura and Ruth moved four or five blocks east to a place on the corner of SE 9th and Market Streets. Ruth was working for the Visiting Nurse Association.

The 1927 directory shows no change in their location or Ruth’s professional position.

But in 1929 they had moved about a mile north to 789 NE Pacific Street. There was no change yet in Ruth’s profession.

The Great Depression had no effect on Ruth’s job. Nursing was always necessary. But perhaps she and her mother could not afford the place on Pacific, for they moved several blocks north to 753 Weidler where they paid $35 a month for the rent, according to the U.S. Federal Census for 1930, taken in April of that year.

They stayed there, as recorded in the 1931 city directory, which shows Ruth as expected, but her mother is listed several lines above with her last name quite mangled as Boebeseld. Ruth is listed also right below her mother as a “registered nurse.”

In 1933 the city directory shows a change in Ruth’s status. She is the Welfare Supervisor for the Visiting Nurse Association. She and her mother had moved again, 15 blocks east, to a little house.

When the 1940 Census was taken, Ruth and her mother had moved to 1202 Tillamook, at the corner of NE 12th Street. They had Bee’s son living with them at that time. Ruth was doing well in her profession.

Showing seven places Ruth lived in Portland, Oregon
The war years were hard on everyone. Ruth’s nephew went off into the Army, and her mother, Laura, died in 1945 a few months before the war ended. Ruth rose to the position of general supervisor of the Visiting Nurse Association in Portland.

In the years afterward, Ruth rented apartment No. 2 in a double building at the corner of NE 16th and Hancock streets. She lived there for the next two decades.

I am not sure whether she retired when she was 65 years old, in late 1957, or later. She appeared in the 1956 Portland City Directory still listed as a supervisor for the Visiting Nurse Association. When the 1959 edition came out, she was listed at her residence, but no profession.

And that is where the city directories leave me hanging. I don’t know where else to look for later city directories. But they might turn up, and they might give me some more information.

Still looking . . .

Aunt Ruth in her apartment on NE 16th St

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