Monday, October 24, 2011

Backward Glance - Virginia Caroline Topping

Virginia (seated) w/cousin MargaretYates
Abraham Lincoln was the President of the United States of America when Virginia Caroline Topping was born in Almond, Portage County, Wisconsin, on April 12, 1862. This was exactly one year after the official beginning of the American Civil War. Because of this conflict, 'Ginny' was never acquainted with her father, John Topping. John enlisted as a Private from Grand Rapids, Wisconsin, August 18, 1861. After a visit home, Virginia said, he bid "my mother, brother and sister farewell ... never to return." He was killed at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, when Ginny was just five months old. John never met this daughter, but she wrote that in a letter to her mother, her father "suggested that she name me Virginia which she did." 

In her later years, Virginia wrote a brief family history. She had a great love and respect for her father, though she never knew him. She wrote the following lines as a tribute to him.

There in the field of Glory
Facing the soft Southern sky
Sleeps many an unknown hero
The world passed unheeding by.

From many an humble village
Or a little farm nearby
Giving up all for duty
They marched away to die.

To die for their home and Country
With no thought of glory or fame
As the clarion call resounded
For the cause of humanity came

For the ranks of the great are recruited
With many a common soul
Rising up at the call to service
Find their name on the martyr's roll.

Yes in many a Country village
Far away from the City's strife
A great soul climbs unaided
To the shining heights of life.

Then breathe softly southern breezes
O'er the grave of our honored dead
Moonlight touch with reverent fingers
The grass waving over his head.

Virginia's parents, John and Margaret Jane (Orr) (Wallace) Topping were married in 1859. Her sister, Ella Calista, was born in 1860. Their half-brother, Wilford Lincoln Wallace, was born in 1857. Their family lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when the census was taken in 1860. In 1870, Margaret (called Jane) and her children were living in Des Moines, Jackson County, Minnesota, next door to her parents, Edward and Margaret Orr. Maud Morgan, Virginia's daughter, wrote, "grandmother Topping who was a rather large woman as Virginia was also and a little cousin remarked Aunt Jane's got wide wegs (legs) and so had Ginny."

By the time the 1880 census was taken, Margaret had moved to Colfax Township, Page County, Iowa, with Virginia (recorded as Jennie) and Wilford. A short time later, on February 24, 1881, Virginia married Charles Clark Morgan in College Springs, Page County, Iowa, where they were both attending school. Charles' parents were Edgar Lansing and Mary Jane (Clark) Morgan. They lived in Elmo, Nodaway County, Missouri. Virginia and Charles had five children: John Clyde (1882), Maud May (1884), Edgar Howard (1887), Wilford Charles (1890) and Francis Willard (1892). They moved their family, along with Charles' mother, to Gove County, Kansas, in 1893.

Sometime between 1900 and 1905, Virginia and Charles were divorced. Though she did quite a bit of writing, she doesn't seem to have left a record of this event. In 1910, she was enumerated on the census in Grinnell, Gove, Kansas. She was living with the William Beaugher family, and reported as divorced and called "County Charge."

According to her own record, Virginia left Grinnell in May of 1911. She traveled to Sulphur Spring,  Gravette, Berryville, and other small towns in Arkansas, working primarily in hotels. She then worked in Springfield, Missouri, leaving there in September 1915. She spent some time visiting her cousin and friends in Blanchard and College Springs, Iowa.

It appears she then went to visit her brother, Wilford, in Nebraska, but returned to College Springs in October to work for a Mrs. Martin, and others. She left for Nebraska again in May 1916 (her record says 1915, but chronology suggests 1916), where she says she worked at the Wise Memorial Hospital, different places "till I went to Wood Lake Nebr. where I worked in the laundry of a small hotel there and afterwards on two different ranches." She also worked at the Rome Hotel in Omaha.

On August 1, 1916, during what appears to have been a reflective time for Virginia, she wrote the following:

"I have lived in this old world for 54 years and have had my share of sickness and trouble and sometimes have become very much discouraged and almost thought it was of no use to try, and that I might as well give up the unequal struggle and drift down to eternity without an effort. I have been a dreamer from my early childhood and have always desired to write something worthwhile. Of late years have thought that as my education was deficient, it was of no use at my age to make an effort. But a new thought has come to me. I think this way now, that as I am only 54 I may live 20 years and not be very old so why not try to educate myself as much as possible and write the best I can and try to make [my] dreams come true. If we make up our minds we are too old to accomplish anything worth wile it is a bar to progress in any line. But if we try our very best if we don't live to finish all we set out to do we are the better for having tried, and our efforts will be an inspiration to those who come after. So I have resolved to do all I can from this time on to become as well educated as in me lies, and to write something that will make the world better for my having lived. I am going to believe that I have 20 years to accomplish this."

There is evidence that Virginia did do her best to accomplish her goal. She left numerous pieces of poetry and journal recordings, as well as the beginnings of a small novel, at least. 

With failing health, in October 1918, Virginia traveled from Omaha to Grinnell, Kansas. From there, she went to Burley, Idaho; Boise, Idaho; Teneburne, Oregon, and back to Boise. She even went to work in Seattle and "got work at Mrs. Branson's across Lake Washington at a little place called Bellevue." She then worked in Wenatchee, Washington, until her health worsened and she returned to Boise. In 1920, Virginia was living with her son, Edgar, in Kuna, Ada County, Idaho. What an amazing journey for a lone woman in that time period!

On December 22, 1921, Virginia "was operated on for appendicitis and a female trouble" at St. Alphons Hospital. Her total bill appears to have been $120.

Virginia moved to a house about 14 miles west of Boise, Idaho, owned by George Ferrins. On July 30, 1927, she lunched with a farmhand, Earl Ferrins. Afterward, it seems she went out on her porch to knit. Earl found her lying dead on the porch in the afternoon, apparently having suffered a heart attack. She was 65. She was buried in the Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise on August 2nd.

It is difficult to express the legacy left by this woman, whose life was unusual for her time, and the impact on generations of her family. She had a granddaughter whose middle name was Virginia, as well as a great-great-granddaughter.  She has a great-granddaughter who carries her name - Virginia Gayle (Avery) Hoyle, and a great-great-granddaughter whose middle name is Caroline. Perhaps because she left such a prolific written record of her own, along with a verbal and written record from her daughter, Maud, it is easier to feel close to her. Her family feels an honor and love for her akin to that which she felt for her father. While Virginia Caroline (Topping) Morgan did not realize a full 20 years to fulfill her goals, her life was worthwhile, inspirational, and did make the world a better place.

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