Friday, September 9, 2011

Postcards from Lavella

For years I was proud of being the first woman in our family who left home before she was married, seeking my independence and destiny in another world. (For me, that other world was California.) How wrong I was! Researching family history, I have discovered a parade of woman in my family, and in my husband's family, who traveled a similar road years before my time.

One of these women was Susanah Lavella Hopkins, and like me, Lavella was destined to become a Californian. Known as Lala to her family, she used Lavella as her given name.

In 1869, Lavella's birth was registered under her mother's name, Fanny Hopkins, in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, Ireland. Her father, Nicholas "David" Hopkins, had been born into a family of means. David had a farm called Lamb Park in Coolbeg, near Wicklow Town. In 1881, when Lavella was only 11 years old, her mother died. Family correspondence suggests her father experienced financial difficulties.

By the time she was 21 years old, Lavella was working as an assistant in her Uncle John's shop in Milverton, England. Uncle John was a Methodist minister and a successful seedsman with businesses in Ireland and England. Lavella continued to work at Uncle John's shop in Milverton for at least a decade. Her sister, Grace Anne, went into service as a lady's companion. Lavella and Grace Anne had at least one brother, but his destiny is still a mystery. In 1901, her father, David, was boarding in a private home in Ireland. David died in 1905.

On June 4, 1903, nine days before her 34th birthday, Lavella boarded a ship in Liverpool and headed to America. Her destination was St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis was preparing to host a major World's Fair. Was Lavella contracted to work in one of the many upcoming exhibits? Was Lavella traveling to a rendezvous with a secret love?

We may never know the answer to these questions. While we know little of Lavella's hopes and dreams, loves and sorrows, we do know that she liked to travel. We are fortunate that 32 postcards which Lavella sent between 1905-1909 to her sister, Grace Anne, have survived for us to enjoy today.

My thanks goes to Alan and Vanessa Hopkins of Tooting Bec, London England for preserving the original postcards and giving me the opportunity to photograph them.

To see the postcards that Lavella sent just click on: POSTCARDS FROM LAVELLA.


© 2011, Cathy H Paris

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