Henrietta Spruhan Hess- my Grandmother

Henrietta Spruhan Hess seated in front of garden on the grass

My Grandmother, Henrietta Spruhan was born on January 31, 1894, in Illinois to Caroline “Carrie” Baur, age 30, and Henry Joseph Spruhan, age 36. Henrietta Spruhan married my Grandfather George Kellogg (W) Hess, Sr. on June 25, 1921, in Chicago, Illinois, when she was 27 years old.

At some point during her childhood, Henrietta and her family had moved to New Jersey. My records show that New Jersey was her residence when she was 16 years old.  She moved back to Chicago, Illinois at some point before age 26.  When she died in 1984 at the age of 90, she was residing in Florida.

Henrietta had 3 siblings.  Her sister Mary Edith perished in 1890 before Henrietta had been born.  This infant sister was only 1 year old at the time of her decease.  Henrietta had an older brother, Garrett Denny Spruhan who was born in 1891 and died at the young age of 27 years old in 1918.   He died from influenza  during the great influenza pandemic while stationed in Camp Taylor, KY. Garrett left behind a wife and infant daughter.  Henrietta’s other sibling was  6 years her junior, this sister was named  Josephine.  Josephine would live until the age of 76 she died in 1975.

Sadly, Henrietta contracted polio while in the 8th grade.  By 10th grade, she had abandoned her crutches, but was left battling some aftermaths of the disease throughout life.  She had told the story in this way, that she went with her family to a hospital to visit a sick person, and it was just shortly after that, when she was struck by polio.  In her mind, the connection was made.

She was extremely educated!  She graduated from the Chicago Musical College in 1914.  She was an accomplished pianist. Later in life when Henrietta moved to the Hess family farm in Michigan with her husband and sons, the first thing she requested was a baby grand piano.

They (Henrietta and George Hess, Sr.) moved to the farm in Michigan because two things happened. The first thing that happened was George Sr.’s father Jaun Hess died. The second thing was that my father was a sickly child. His appendix had burst and there was little hope for his life. In a letter that I have from Henrietta to my mother, Henrietta explains that the doctor’s thought the only hope for my father to survive was for him to live in the country.  He had to leave the city life in order to regain his health and save his young life.  This meant my Grandparents had to “sacrifice” their life style and George Sr.’s excellent engineering job. It was hard for Henrietta to make the transition between the society life with a very advanced education to the life on a farm in Michigan with no background in this type of lifestyle and no peer in Benton Harbor, MI that had her background or life style. The membership in a Baptist church was still not enough to answer some of her losses in this move. One of the first things that Henrietta insisted upon was having the farm made electric. The neighbors regarded this and many of their activities as “haughty”. … Think of it, the young society girl is now helping to run an active Michigan orchard. They wanted to be “modern” and discarded the horses in lieu of tractors (another sore spot with the farms near by.) In fact the local farmers were quite put out by the modern ways of their new neighbors. Migrant workers were called in to make the harvest every year and lived in shacks at the back of the farm. Henrietta somehow came to supervise the operation of the cider mill. My Uncle George Hess, Jr. was called to help with the farm. Because my father was “sickly” he was allowed to work in the kitchen with his mother and do light household chores.

Henrietta was known to be brilliant.  Very, very smart!  She was knowledgable in several languages.  She was devout in her Bible studies, but preferred to read the scriptures in their original Hebrew or Greek.  I believe she was also a student of latin!

At some point in her young adult life, she excelled as a typist and was hired to demonstrate the use of the dictaphone. It was always thought that her skill as a pianist had helped her with this occupation.   In the 1920 census (she was 26 years old at that time) she listed her occupation as “operator” for a “Dictaphone hardware company.” This was most likely her occupation when she was engaged to my Grandfather, George Kellogg Hess, Sr.

I remember that my Grandparents were ham radio operators.  Also, that they had a bomb shelter in their yard…(the types of things a child might remember about relatives that lived quite a distance away?)

Henrietta’s parents had a rich and successful history.  I will look forward in future posts to a discussion about their backgrounds.With Henrietta Hess by 1928 DodgeHenrietta Spruhan in coat with hat

Henrietta Spruhan Hess standing on porch hand on hip

Henrietta Spruhan July 6, 1894

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