Nallie was very small, perhaps 5 feet tall, and the pictures I saw of her were from very old age. She had silky, snow-white hair curled in a braid around her head. In her youth and throughout most of her life, Nallie's hair was black, and I was always told she referred to herself as "black Irish."
My grandmother was very interested in her father's background. His name was William John Turnbull Doak, and was born in Doaktown, New Brunswick in 1864, and came to the United States as a young boy. The family ended up in Columbia, MO, where he, and a friend he made there, John P. Baumgartner, worked as young barbers together. Mr. Baumgartner married Nallie's sister Lida Sterling Sexton, and WJT married Nallie. Mr. Baumgartner and Lida settled in Santa Ana, CA, where he became a news reporter, eventually becoming the founder and publisher of the Santa Ana, now Orange County Register. My great-grandfather moved to Riverside, CA with his young wife Nallie and established the barber shop at the Mission Inn. His barber chairs are still there today.
William John Turnbull Doak died in 1910. Together he and Nallie had 13 children, of which only three lived - my grandmother Mary Lyda, Estella Sterling, 6 years older, and Jessie Agnes, 9 years older. Estella Sterling was named for William's sister, also Estella Sterling. I was surprised to learn there were Aunt Sterlings on both sides of the family.
So, Nallie was walking down the street in Riverside with her three daughters - one with chestnut hair (Jessie), one with blonde hair (Stella), and one with dark brown hair (Lyda - my grandmother). One of Nallie's wealthy lady clients stopped them and exclaimed, "Oh dear, how did you have three such beautiful daughters?"
I am pretty sure this backhanded "compliment" bothered my grandmother much more than it did my great-grandmother, Nallie Sexton Doak.
By this time, Nallie, who had been widowed when my grandmother was nine years old, owned the Loring Block across the street from the Mission Inn (the barbershop side). Today, the Loring building is still standing, and it faces the pedestrian mall constructed in downtown Riverside, filled with touristy shops, small restaurants, and businesses. The entire top floor of the Loring Block was filled with seamstresses. At one point Nallie employed over 30 young women sewing clothing, primarily for wealthy ladies in Riverside - just like the one who didn't "get" how she could have had three such beautiful daughters.
So now my interest in fashion must make a little more sense. It's genetic.
I am also not the first child in my family whose mother died, and who was raised by her grandmother. Jessie, Nallie's oldest daughter, married Richard Hucklebridge and had three babies. A famous picture of Jessie holding her baby Dick in a Madonna and child pose was reproduced and sold all over Southern California. I can't tell how many times I've been in an antiques store and seen my own great-aunt and her baby being sold as antique Madonna picture. But Jessie got scarlet fever from contaminated milk after her youngest baby Ted was born (Ted was later a pioneer in the Olympics movement) and died. Nallie raised those three babies. My "Aunt" Betty is actually my 2nd cousin.
Being a woman business owner, especially a pretty large business like the dressmaking business, and raising three grandchildren up to and including putting them through college, is plenty for one lifetime. But Nallie also made and sold chocolates at the holidays for family presents. At any one time, there were numerous relatives in the house on Lemon Street in Riverside (still there) around the corner from the Mission Inn and the Courthouse and Library.
My grandmother always said that she failed to learn math properly, because her mother could not wait for her to get home from school so she could pick up the math papers and do her homework for her. Puzzles, math - Nallie made her own patterns for the dresses and figured out the ratios for different sizes. She sent the patterns to Chicago to have them cast in copper, and had dressmakers forms made up to her own specifications. She ran the business like a small country. At one point, she dressed pretty much the whole town of Riverside.
Reportedly, she slept no more than 3 hours a night. She stayed up late, working on patterns, doing the math problems, making candy.
And she wrote anywhere between ten and twenty stories for The Saturday Evening Post under a male pseudonym, which I do not know, and which my grandmother did not know. There was no praise for this - nothing. For all I know, she's one of the public domain, turn-of-the-century popular writers with bestselling-of-the-day books.
Nallie graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri at age 13 with a degree in math. It was at the time, an all-women's college.
After raising her three daughters, and her three grandchildren, and helping untold numbers of nieces, nephews and friends, Nallie even moved to a small apartment in Los Angeles so she could help her grandchild Betty get through UCLA.
Then of course she was back in Riverside. She was whip-sharp, strong and healthy for all but the last two weeks of her 97 years on earth. After a lifetime of tragedy (10 babies lost, daughter died of scarlet fever, husband terribly ill before his death) and triumph (few women of her generation did as much as she did) she died in 1961, only a few months before my mother died in June, 1962.
I always understood that she had been rare for her generation of women, and also that she and my father's mother, Miriam Glasband, had both been young teens when each graduated from college (Mary graduated from Columbia University at age 15 with a degree in pharmacy and opened the first pharmacy in Hells Kitchen).
I did not understand until recently through good old Ancestry.com that it was not in fact my grandmother's father William John Turnbull Doak who had the early colonial background, it was Nallie. I heard so many confusing, apocryphal stories about her youth, such as "the house burned down and Nallie helped her 6 sisters escape and her father and mother died." This would have been in Columbia, MO, so there is probably some story of a fire there, at some point after the Civil War.
Nallie's father was William Q. Sexton and her mother, Mary Bowman. Both have ancestry back to the earliest Colonial days in America. Some are New Englanders and others are Virginians. There are Bostwicks and Warriners and Spencers and Whitmans and Wyatts and Gentrys and Lees. Once you get back pre-Revolution, people married cousins, and marrying partners were a lot more scarce than they are today. There were no Eugene Glasbands around to provide a completely different heritage and perspective.
But also, once you get back pre-Revolution, you will find that just about everybody traces back to British nobility, and in my case, in multiple cases. But rather even than the Wyatts, I would in a million years, want to pick Nallie to be my forebear. I am so sorry I never got to know her, and so glad she is my great-grandmother.