01 March 2010

Women's History Month - Remembering Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner Martin

Compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber

March is Women's History Month and there are several suggestions for honoring the sung to unsung women in our history. When this year's "Smile For the Camera" suggestion of "Give Their Face A Place" was suggested I immediately thought about Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner Martin. She had so many hurdles to cross, yet those who were still around to remember her told me of her spirit. This one little grainy snap shot shows her happy and even content.

Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner came into this world 9 January 1854. As her life began, her mother's ended. Elizabeth was born in a house at the edge of the Ohio Canal in Baltimore, Fairfield County, Ohio. Her father, John Cunningham Turner was a strong willed, determined miller, standing in the cold Febraury day wondering how he was going to manage with nine children to care for now that his wife Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner had passed away.

Elizabeth played by the canal bank and when four her father remarried, widow Jennette Ward Poff. Within a very short time, John C. Turner, went to California leaving Elizabeth with her step mother, siblings & half siblings.

When older sister, Caroline Amelia married Henry Goddard Ward, a known horse trainer, Elizabeth traveled to Versailles, Kentucky in the heart of the Bluegrass, Woodford County. She was promptly enrolled in the Kentucky Female Orphan School at Midway [now Midway college, Kentucky's only woman's college]. The goal was to make the students self-supporting. Pupils did the janitor work, started fires, scrubbed floors and washed their own clothing, helped with cooking, learned sewing and milked the cows on campus. Supported by the Christian Church, Elizabeth received religious training and would have a love for the needle and quilting throughout her life.

John Shouse, Christian Minister, was a strong influence at the school. Listening to sermons and visits from ministers were a common event at school. Elizabeth met and married Christian Minister Henry Foster Martin 3 July 1879. Henry Foster Martin, then a minister in Newton, Scott County, Kentucky wrote their marriage ceremony.
"...To you Henry and Lizzie I deem it necessary to say much in regard to your duties in entering upon this holy estate. During the year of your plighted troth, of this hour you have often thought and prayed. You thoroughly know each other. Your love has daily unfolded until it is a perfect flower...in true marriage, the husband and wife lead parallel lives, converging lives, lives moving in an asymptotes curve...at the same time these lives are so mutually inter dependent that the destruction of one is everything but actual death to the other...keeping this in view the yoke of marriage becomes a silken leash which never galls, never provokes resistance...Do you Lizzie, in the presence of God...take Henry...Do you promise by the help of God to be to him, a dutiful and faithful wife, aiding him in his responsible labors as a preacher in God's word and a servant of the church..."
John S. Shouse signed the marriage bond and performed the ceremony.

By 1880 the family which now included little John Shouse Martin, had migrated from the edge of the Bluegrass into Eastern Kentucky, Bath County. A year later the family moved to Farmers, Rowan County, Kentucky where they helped build the new Christian Church. A minister's pay is small and Henry Foster Martin began working as a superintendent at the Freestone Quarries when not behind the pulpit. He entertained his congregation and growing family of 6 children with guitar and dulcimer. Lizzie cared for her children and graciously played hostess to the congregation and town of Farmers.

One can only wonder how Lizzie and her husband handled explanations that they were not related to the John Martin of the well known Martin - Tolliver Feud in 1884. The town marshal of Farmers was handed an order to go to Winchester to get John Martin who had recently been arrested for killing a Tolliver. As the train pulled into the station at Farmers, just a few short doors from the Henry Foster Martin abode, John Martin, shackled and handcuffed, was shot and killed by the Tolliver faction.

Lizzie kept up appearances and by 1900 her husband and son John Shouse Martin were on another adventure. They decided to try their hand at merchandising, calling the company H.F. Martin & Son. With Elizabeth's education, they promptly appointed her as bookkeeper, adding to her already chore filled days. She undoubtedly had more than one conversation pointing out the mounting debts that the new business was incurring while purchasing goods. Among the concerns that they owed money to were Kitchen Whitt & Company and Crum & Fields both of Ashland. The business included merchandise consisting of dry goods, groceries, boots, shoes, notions, china and jewelry. Farmers was a small community and could not support such a concern. It quickly closed leaving the family to pay off the debts.

When Henry Foster Martin died in early 1905, Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner Martin once again squared her shoulders to face new tomorrows. She handled the debts, managed to go camping with family, traveled to Nelson County, Virginia and spent time with her children.

October 10, 1918 Lizzie's 2nd born son Henry Turner Martin wrote from Jellico, Tennessee "...all churches and public gathering places of every kind are closed here because of the flu...we were in a pretty severe train wreck Sat...we did not get a scratch..coming home..." I am sure the family must have felt relief that he was not hurt in the train incident. Home he came to his wife in Carter County, bringing with him the dreaded influenza. The flu developed into Menengitis and Henry Turner Martin died on the 27th. Elizabeth and her family climbed Pine Hill in Morehead for the 2nd time that decade to bury him beside her husband.

In the autumn of her years, among her family, her quilts and her family Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner Martin had a joyous family reunion:

"Ashland, KY., Oct 19, 1933 AP - Mrs. Henry Martin...step-brother, Henry Poff, Fairmont, Ind., were reunited here after a separation of 40 years. when they played together, as school children 60 years ago in Versailles, KY., little did they realize the reunion they had here would be so difficult to bring about...Her step-brother married and settled in Fairmont. He often expressed a desire to see his sister but in the hustle and bustle of living lost complete trace of her. During the past summer, while driving through the Bluegrass section, he made inquiries about her at Versailles without success. Returning home, he acted upon the suggestion of his wife and wrote the school at Midway, which gave him information that led to his finding his sister. The reunion was held here at the home of J. S. Martin..."

Elizabeth settled, in her later years, with daughter Francis Olive Martin Hagaman in St. Albin's, West Virginia. I am told that she enjoyed matching her quilt materials and sewing until the very end. Her life began and ended with challenges. Elizabeth Littlejohn Turner Martin died 3 November 1936 from Meylitis and Encephalitis. The family laid her at rest in Pine Hill Cemetery, Morehead, Rowan County, Kentucky where the "silken leash" of marriage continues to be honored and the tombstone honors their love of God with an open Bible.

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