Longtime readers of this blog may remember back in 2014 I wrote a piece about Mattie Adams and her orphanage in Cape Girardeau. By all accounts, Mattie was a big-hearted woman whose goal in life was to provide safe homes for the area's parent-less youngsters.
While stories of Mrs. Adams' home had been preserved through the years as rumors and legends, I had never seen anything concerning a similar figure of Scott County, from whence my ancestors came.
That is, until recently. A story published on Jan. 14, 1916, in The Daily Republican told the tale of Mrs. Emma Kelly, who adopted and raised 13 orphan children.
Curiously, I wasn't able to find an obituary for "Mother" Kelly in The Republican, nor in the Cape Girardeau Weekly Tribune nor the Scott County Kicker. Records posted to Ancestry.com indicate that Emma was born a Maylone, the daughter of George W. and Gilly A. Storms Maylone, in Kentucky. That differs with the information on her Missouri death certificate, which says she was born in Illinois. It doesn't list her parents' names.
Ancestry also shows she was married twice, first to James Ridgeway and then to the James Kelly mentioned in the Republican article. The online genealogy website also indicates Emma and Ridgeway had two daughters, neither of whom is mention in the newspaper article.
In any event, the Republican story proves Emma Maylone Ridgeway Kelly was a woman of compassion and generosity. Here's her story, as published on the front page of The Republican on Jan. 14, 1916.
MRS. KELLY MAKES $5,000 FOR DEBTS.
In three years Oran woman makes $5,000 to pay husband's debts.
RAISED 13 ORPHAN CHILDREN
Having no children of her own, she adopts and raises orphans, who are now useful citizens.
Everyday life furnishes its heroes and heroines, as well as do fields of battle, obscure corners of the ocean or strange places of the earth. Mrs. Emma Kelly, who died at her home, a mile and a half southwest of Oran, December 17, was one of them. In three years' time the aged woman wiped out a debt of $5,000 that stood against her husband and left an estate. Great as that feat was, however, she probably achieved even greater success on that side of life where human affections and character-building count more than dollars and cents.
At Oran and the country around the thriving little city Mrs. Kelly was known as "Mother" Kelly and her home was called the orphans' home. Mrs. Kelly was thus canonized in the hearts of her friends and neighbors and those who heard of her deeds because of the motherly kindness that made her pity friendless and helpless children left as orphans. Mother Kelly adopted and reared to useful manhood and womanhood 13 orphan children.
Mrs. Kelly's husband, Jim Kelly, died three years ago. He had been living on and farming 360 acres of good land owned by Caleb Matthews. Mr. Kelly was a good worker and a money maker, but he was also a poor spender and when he expired he owed Matthews $5,000 for rent and for goods bought on time at the stores at Oran.
Some time after Mr. Kelly's death Matthews went out to the farm to see Mrs. Kelly. He told her she would have to move from the farm and let some one else occupy it. But while there he noticed that Mrs. Kelly had been spreading manure on the wheat fields, some of it being procured from neighbors, and that everything looked neat and thrifty. After considering the matter in the light of these observations, Mr. Matthews told Mrs. Kelly to stay on the place and do the best she could.
Mother Kelly then proceeded to tackle a job that would have made nightriders howl with derision and would have made all discontented pessimists quake in their boots or shoes. She started out to wipe out the debts against her husband. She not only had the task of paying current rents and expenses, but had to pay $5,000 besides, and it presented a proposition that most people would declare to be impossible.
Although Mrs. Kelly was a Solomon in the lore of human kindnesses, she had no book education and could not even read and write. She worked several hands and was compelled to keep their time by making marks. She made current grocery and store expenses by selling eggs and butter and other produce. The wheat and corn she raised was left clear, except for tent and wages to her hired men. The first year of her farming operations on the 360 acres of land she cleared $2,000.
She raised three crops on the farm before her death and made money each year. When she died, December 17, she had an estate, consisting of livestock and some money.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelly had no children of their own. Of the 13 children adopted by Mother Kelly most all live in the neighborhood and are good and useful citizens. She willed her property to Mrs. Carrie Kiefer, one of the adopted children. Mrs. Kiefer and her husband lived on the farm with Mrs. Kelly and helped her farm the place. Caleb Matthews was appointed executor of the will, which was filed with the probate judge at Benton last week. Mrs. Kelly left three half-brothers and one half-sister. To each one of them she willed one dollar each.
The writer didn't have all of his facts correct. An examination of Emma Kelly's will on Ancestry.com shows she intended to give $1 to each of three half-sisters -- Georgia Patterson, Gilly Ann Dunning and Mary Garner; a half-brother, Harvey Malone, and a niece, Rena Mathews.
I wonder, too, if perhaps these children she took in, who are clearly shown living with James and Emma Kelly in the 1900 Census in Morley Township in Scott County, might not be her orphaned relatives, perhaps nieces and nephews.
Regardless, the couple clearly opened their doors to homeless children and deserve the accolades expressed in the Republican article.