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By Susan Woodland Howard and
In the 1870s Alta, Utah was a small mining town at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County. At an altitude of more than 8,500 feet, it was the site of frequent winter snow slides that destroyed everything caught below. Here in 1873 a young married couple, Margaret Bateman Davis and Alfred Oxenbold Davis, awaited the birth of their first child. Alfred was the town’s telegraph operator—a vital job in what was then a remote community. Fires frequently swept through the area, but like the snow and wind, there was no way of controlling them. Fortunately for the young parents, their baby daughter was born at a relatively calm time between periods of fire and ice.
Eva Catherine Davis was born 9 July 1873, the second child to be born in Alta and the first girl. Her parents, believing she was the town’s first newborn, considered naming her Alta, but when they learned of the earlier child they named their own baby Eva Catherine. When she was still an infant a fire destroyed the town (along with the record of Eva’s birth.) Margaret, Alfred and Eva then moved to West Jordan.
Margaret, or Maggie, as she was always called, was a talented, fun-loving young woman. She had grown up the youngest child in a large family in West Jordan, so that young Eva had the company of many cousins. Margaret eventually gave birth to seven younger siblings, all of whom lived to adulthood except for Victoria, the third oldest, who died when she was nine months old.
Occasionally Alfred’s job required him to change locations, so the family lived in several Utah towns: Corrine, Logan, and Midvale, until they settled in Murray. When arthritis prevented him from continuing in his job as a telegraph operator, Alfred found work in Dillon, Montana. He died there 15 February 1896 when Eva was twenty-two years old, and Raymond, the youngest, was only three and a half. After her father’s death, Margaret took in boarders and Eva worked in a store selling lace. Eva’s younger brother Fred, now twenty-one, also got a job to help out the family.
Eva attended school at one of the Brigham Young academies in the Salt Lake area. She was a member of the first graduating class from the school. (Several BYU academies were scattered throughout the state.) Later in her life she enjoyed writing, especially humorous poems, reading and learning.
In March 1899 Eva was at the home of Charles and Lucetta Penrose. Lucetta had been confined to a wheelchair after she injured her spine in a fall and suffered permanent damage. Eva was helping care for her that day in March when a caller knocked at the door. Eva answered to find Edwin, Lucetta’s youngest son, standing on the doorstep. He had just arrived home after serving as a missionary in the Southern states. According to Eva, it was love at first sight.
Was it a coincidence that Eva was at the Penrose house that day? Surely the Penroses had mentioned Edwin to her, or perhaps let her read some of his humorous letters about his trials and tribulations as a missionary. Eva was tall and slender, with long dark hair falling to her waist, and the dark brown eyes of her mother. She often said that at over 5’8” she was the second or third tallest girl in Salt Lake. Edwin was a bit shorter and a little younger, but this didn’t stop the romance from beginning. According to her daughter, Dorothy, Eva would never admit that she was older than Ed. That her birth records had been destroyed in an Alta fire made it a simple matter to claim a later birth year.
Eva and Edwin Centennius Penrose married a few months later on 28 June 1899 in the Salt Lake Temple. Ten months later they welcomed their first son, Edwin Ray Penrose, born 13 April 1900. Two years later on 26 June 1902 Alton Barwell Penrose joined the family. The two-year old Ray (as he was called) had a hard time pronouncing “Alton” and called the new baby “Budder” which he later shortened to his nickname, Bud.
Eva learned fun-loving ways as the child of Margaret Bateman Davis. (See the history of Margaret Bateman and Alfred Oxenbold Davis.) She was in on a family surprise party planned for Edwin that was written up in the Deseret News. In a column published November 1, 1902 on Page 8 the following item appeared under “Social and Personal”:
Mr. Ed C. Penrose was the recipient of a genuine surprise last night. While he with Mrs. Penrose was out dining at a friend’s house a number of relatives and friends invaded his home, adorned it with Jack o’lanterns, set the table with dishes formed of pumpkins, beets, etc., hollowed out to receive the viands and various startling insignia of Hallow’een, arrayed themselves in ghostly habiliaments and turning off the lights awaited his return. His first step into the dark room was the signal for a chorus of sepulchral groans that caused the warm blood to coagulate into icicles in his veins. Then the lights were turned on, and an array of sheeted figures met his gaze, completing the arctic paralysis that had already set in. After that, unmasking and explanations were in order to restore the impromptu host to his equilibrium, and the rest of the evening was given over to a genuine good time, music, recitations and a sumptuous spread being the features of the evening. The successful affair was planned by Mrs. Penrose, and the host will never again declare himself in the category of an immune from social surprises. Present were: Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Penrose, Mr. and Mrs. George B. Margetts, Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest S. Penrose, Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Stratford, Mrs, M. Davis, Mrs. Mulhall, Mrs. Rudd, Mrs. Barbee, Miss Emma Edwards, Miss Jessie Crawford, Miss Margetts, Mr. George Trumbo, Mr. Walter Aylett.
The named guests include Ed’s parents, Eva’s mother, and several Penrose and Davis relatives. The writing style definitely is definitely Edwin’s.
As Ed’s missionary letters home to his parents demonstrated, he had a talent for writing that won him a job at the Deseret News as a sports and police reporter. His father, Charles Penrose, had been a previous Editor-in-Chief of the LDS church-owned newspaper, and in late 1898 the church asked him to take on the position again. Ed worked hard—he earned his position on the paper, although having his father as Editor helped him get started.
Eventually the young Penrose family bought a new home at 1156 Third Avenue. Here on 11 July 1909 daughter Dorothy Eva was born.
Dorothy remembers this as a wonderful place to grow up. Just one block north was the City Cemetery where the Penrose kids initiated newcomers to the neighborhood by dressing up in sheets they took from Eva’s linen closet. Ray and Bud were the “ghosts” hiding behind tombstones. There weren’t yet many houses in the area, so the children had the hills and canyons as their playground. According to Dorothy, Bud was always in trouble and was known as “the Penrose scourge” of the neighborhood for such pranks as pulling trolley cars off the wires.
Eva was a thrifty housewife. Dorothy tells this story:
At one time she had the opportunity to buy a large amount of eggs from a farmer. She decided to store them in brine, and put them in our cellar, a dirt room under the house, The method of preserving must have been wrong because after a few weeks, we became aware of the most horrible stench around the house. When we tracked it down, we found that the eggs had spoiled, and if you have never smelled rotten eggs in brine, you have not missed much. It took a long time to get the odor out of the house.
Eva’s sister Maude and brother-in-law Sidney Reynolds and their children lived just a few blocks away. Dorothy said that the girls—especially Eva Reynolds—were like sisters to her.
The great influenza epidemic hit Salt Lake during World War I. Dorothy came down with it at school, so Ed and Eva stayed up with her during the night. They soon came down with the flu also, but luckily Ray and Bud never got sick, so they nursed the family back to health.
After the War ended Ed was asked to be the State Commissioner of Roads. His job was to examine the roads, most of which were still unpaved dirt, throughout the state of Utah and report on their condition. He bought a second-hand army car and Eva and Dorothy joined him on an inspection tour. There were no motels and few places to eat, which meant the family often slept in the car and cooked over a campfire. Dorothy had a wonderful time. We don’t know whether Eva enjoyed it nearly as much. On occasion another state employee, John McNeil, traveled with the family. A photo of McNeil, Dorothy and Eva on the lawn in front of their Third Avenue home shows that they had become good friends.
On 12 Feb 1924 Ray Penrose married the girl next door, or as it turned out, the girl who lived across the street on Third Avenue, Gunda Weidner. They had two sons, Edwin Ray, Jr. and Glen Robert. Ray became a partner in the Independent Oil Company. The family bought the Weidner home on Third Avenue and lived there for several years.
Bud had married Glenna Read, and they had a daughter, Gayle. Bud also worked at the Deseret News as a Linotype operator. Bud and Glenna later divorced and she and Gayle moved to California. Glenna remarried, as did Bud. Both Gunda and Bud’s second wife, Ellenor, became close friends with Eva.
Ed, or Eddie as the fellow newsmen called him, had contracted malaria while serving as a missionary in the southern US and had been seriously ill. He had other health problems that meant that at times he was unable to work for months, so that as his condition worsened the family finances suffered. He developed heart disease. At some point, probably around 1922 when Dorothy was thirteen, Eva and Ed sold the Third Avenue house and moved to an apartment. Once she graduated from high school Dorothy worked, and Ray and Bud helped as much as they could. These were dark, difficult days for the family. Edwin died at age 58 on 9 February 1935.
Eva found herself a widow at a relatively young age as had been her mother Margaret Bateman Davis before her, and her grandmother, Mary Street Bateman. In Eva’s case her children were grown and she did not have to worry about raising them on her own, but at times the last decades of her life were a struggle.
The 1934 Salt Lake City directory lists the Penrose family living at The Meredith Apartment building on 1st Avenue. There is a photo of Ed near the end of his life in front of another building (three stories with arches) that Gayle Penrose Harris remembers as probably the last place they lived before Ed’s death. (It also may have been one of his next-to-last homes.) In the photos taken towards the end of his life, Edwin looked thin and gaunt.
Ed and his father Charles Penrose were not the only writers in the family. In 1930 the Deseret News published an article about an airplane trip to Oakland written by Eva Davis Penrose. This was an adventure for her because passenger air travel was just beginning. In case you think Ed might have ghost written the article, the style is Eva’s own. A handwritten rough draft, in pencil with changes, shows that she labored over the article herself. She must have gone to visit her sister, Vilate Davis Chadwick, who had moved to Oakland in 1926 with her husband John. Eva also liked to write poems—her favorite, judging from the number of handwritten copies she made, is at the end of this history.
Eva’s brother, Tom Davis, had operated the Balsam Inn at Brighton for 25 years when he was stricken with pneumonia in February 1936. He died February 7 at age 57. Bud, Dorothy, Phil and Tom’s widow, Mettie Catherine Davis, traveled by skis from Park City to snowbound Brighton. Together with Tom’s son Paul Davis, several of the skiers brought Tom’s body from the resort by sled and on skis. Eva’s youngest brother Raymond Davis had married in 1924 and had moved to Washington State. He eventually served as an undersecretary in Eisenhower’s cabinet in the 1950’s. Another brother, Fred, (Alfred Frederick Davis) died in 1946.
Eva was also close to her sister-in-law, Lucile Penrose Brown, Edwin’s younger sister. Aunt Lucile was often a dinner guest in the home of Dorothy and her family, and Eva sometimes stayed with the Brown’s. At Eva’s funeral, Lucile signed the Guest Register as simply “Aunt Lucile.”
After Ed’s death Eva and Dorothy moved to a smaller apartment. She had a little income in the form of dividends from stock she owned in Independent Oil, Ray’s company. Four months after Ed’s death Dorothy married Philip Adamson Woodland on 5 June 1935. After the many years of suffering through Ed’s declining health, it must have been hard for Eva to see her daughter leave, but fortunately she didn’t go far. On the third day of her honeymoon Dorothy wrote her first letter home to her mother from Twin Falls, Idaho.
Eva lived with Phil and Dorothy for a year after they were married and they had a two-bedroom apartment on C Street near 6th Avenue. (Aunt Mettie Catherine Davis also joined them for a few weeks after the death of Uncle Tom Davis.) Phil and Dorothy bought their home on Eleventh East when daughter Dianne was just a baby, and here Eva lived with them for another year. In the late nineteen-thirties the US economy had not yet recovered from the devastating effects of the Depression. Young families like the Woodlands struggled to buy a home. Phil often had to work out of town, so Eva’s presence was a great help to Dorothy.
Despite her financial difficulties, Eva occasionally visited Vilate Chadwick in Oakland. She continued to be close to her sister Maude Davis Reynolds, who had been widowed in 1933. At one point Eva and Maude decided that they should go into some kind of business; they rented a large house, and turned it into a boarding house. Their families admired them and encouraged them in their venture, but the work exceeded the profits, and they had to give it up after a year or so. In 1939 Maude married again to Joseph Salisbury.
Philip’s work often took him away from Salt Lake, and when possible he had Dorothy and daughter Dianne stay with him, although finding a decent place for them to stay in a time when there were few motels in the smaller towns where Phil worked as a tile setter was difficult. At one point in 1939 Eva herself seemed not to have a place to stay—she was looking for an apartment. Fortunately friends and relatives offered her a room for a few days. These must have been lonely times for her. She wrote to Dorothy: (spelling unchanged from Eva’s letters)
I met Ray today, and he said I would have a small dividend soon and don’t know of anything that would make me happier than to help you get them out. I am getting along quite well. [Eva is talking about Dorothy’s tonsils here.]
When I called Maud after you left she told me Leah was there for a few days so of course that was out. I had just called up a place to get a furnished room when Lucille called, and said her friend had just left and she would like me to go up there. I went for four nights, and then Mrs. Anderson called me and asked me to stay with her two or three nights. I went down there but the weather turned very cold, so I developed quite a sore throat and cold. Guess it was changing beds, but am feeling better today.
They expected Pearl and Fred tonight but got a letter this am saying they would not be back until the last of next week. I was going back to Lucille’s tonight, but Mrs. A. broke down and cried and begged me to stay with her. Of course I did not need much coaxing, as I do not like to stay at the Brown’s very long at a time. I am very comfortable at Pearl’s. They have given me her room with private bath, so I feel quite swell. Have missed you all so much but know it is the only way you can save some money. I think it is so much better to have an apartment and know you will be more comfortable than in an Auto Camp.
In August 1940 Eva wrote to Dorothy:
I was surely blue last night. I went to get some groceries, and discovered I had lost a dollar bill, just about all I had. Don’t know how it happened, as I had it in my coin purse. Guess it must have fallen out when I opened my purse. I was just sick about it as I had been so careful. Went over to Maud’s last night and she loaned me 50 cents and gave me some groceries. Guess I will have to borrow a little from you, as I will not get anymore until the 15th. I was trying to make the $1.00 last me until then. I never carry a bill, if I can help it, as am afraid of losing it. Well, that’s that, just another little jolt.
(According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1 in 1940 would be worth a little less than $15 today.)
When World War Two broke out, Eva saw two of her grandsons serve in the armed services. Ray Penrose, Jr. joined the US Merchant Marine, and Glen Penrose joined the Navy.
In the late 1940’s Eva got a job at Snelgrove’s Ice Cream Store in Sugarhouse, then located on the north side of 21st South between 10th and 11th East. She tended the candy counter wearing a white uniform and a perky Snelgrove hat. Alas, there were not to be any free chocolate treats for her Woodland granddaughters if they stopped by on their way home from school. Ray and Bud were unhappy about their mother working and insisted she quit. Eva had plenty of energy, so it is unfortunate that in that era it was not acceptable for her to have a job.
She also did needlework and ceramics. Her grandchildren still own a few items of her handiwork. Eva dressed well and was a great shopper. After her death, Dorothy discovered to her consternation that her mother had an unpaid bill of one hundred dollars due at a local dress shop. Eva served many years in the LDS church’s Primary organization for children. She served on the Salt Lake Stake Primary Board as well as the LDS Children’s Hospital Primary Board.
Eva belonged to a women’s literary club called the Delphian Society. This club, taking its name from the Delphic Oracle in Greece, originated in Chicago in the early years of the nineteenth century. The Society published a series of fifteen volumes that the members studied—the Delphian Texts. The local chapters studied subjects that would have been offered as part of a college liberal arts education—history, literature, philosophy, poetry, fiction drama, art and music. One year she wrote a humorous poem relating the course of study that year—Renaissance literary women--to some of the club officers. (Part Eleven of the Delphian Text published in 1929 begins with chapters on “Characters of the Renaissance.” Eva’s draft of the poem she wrote is found at the end of this history.)
Eva’s grandson, Glen Penrose, remembers that she enjoyed finding ways to surprise the family. Once at a family party Eva left the group to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Someone answered the bell to find a tramp on the doorstep—a man. He came inside—and fooled everyone. “He” was Grandma Penrose!
Another granddaughter, Dianne Hyde, recalls that Grandma always had hard candies in her purse when she came to visit. Dianne would run to the door and ask if she had anything in her purse for her grandchild, and Grandma would always pull out something. Today the sight of red and white striped peppermint candies brings back the memory. Grandma’s purse also always held a bottle of smelling salts—actually a small vial of ammonia—in case someone had hysterics or fainted.
A good deal of the conversation between our mother and Grandma centered on who was pregnant, but Grandma only used the French word, enceinte, or a lowered voice to say, “she’s in a family way.”
Grandma lived in a rooming house on First South and approximately Fourth East, just a couple of blocks from the Episcopalian Church where as children we sometimes visited the playground. She had a room at the front on the first floor, but the bathroom was a scary, dark place up one flight of stairs. Being that it was so close to downtown Salt Lake, Grandma could walk there and shop or meet friends at the ZCMI Tea Room. She often walked one block to Second South and catch the 8-11th East bus to Sugarhouse, getting off a couple of stops before reaching 21st South--just a few steps away from our home.
We liked to go to Grandma’s place because she would let us play dress up in her jewelry. I still have a few pieces of that same costume jewelry, now worn out, but with memories attached.
One afternoon I was at Grandma’s apartment without my sisters. She was on the phone with a friend or a relative—I didn’t know who it was. She said that she felt kind of blue—that day would have been her Golden Wedding Anniversary, so I know it was June 28, 1949. Another time she was talking to someone about her “dividends.” I didn’t know what a dividend was, but it sounded impressive to my ears.
Many afternoons Grandma would appear on Eleventh East after getting off the bus. She often wore a nice dressmaker suit with a lacy white blouse and “grandma shoes.” In the summer she wore shirtwaist dresses. Her hair was always nicely done. Occasionally my mother drafted her into babysitting duty. I remember only once when she became sharp with me, and told me “she didn’t want to get cross.” She also read us Uncle Wiggly stories. On special occasions she would pour a couple of inches of her bottle of Coca Cola into a glass for me—such a treat!
Eva and Dorothy talked on the phone nearly every single day, usually in the mornings. It seemed to me the conversations always lasted at least two or three hours. I don’t remember what the conversations were about, but with many friends and a large family to keep track of, I’m sure they had plenty of material.
Just before I was to begin school I was diagnosed with rheumatic fever, which in those days was treated by keeping the patient in bed for weeks. I started school on time, but during my grade school years I had a couple of relapses that resulted in more weeks confined to bed. Grandma spent many hours with me during those weeks. She taught me how to crochet simple little doll dresses and how to play checkers. She listened to me at a time when all the other adults in my life were too busy and too harried to give me their undivided attention.
One day—I think I was about ten years old—Grandma and I were in the back yard of our home. It was a beautiful fall day. I told Grandma that this was my favorite time of the year. “Oh no,” she said. “In fall everything is dying. I like spring much better, when everything is new and young again.” Perhaps she was thinking of the onrushing winter of her own life.
The Bateman family held family reunions in Fairmont Park, about a mile from our house. I remember going to at least one of them with Grandma, but I was too young to be interested in adult conversation—I headed for the playground.
Grandma had suffered from migraine headaches most of her life. They usually hit on the weekends, probably because, as her doctor told my mother, they all slept in and Eva didn’t get up for her morning coffee. I do remember that she kept a bottle of sherry in the cabinet under our sink, in case she needed it “for medicinal purposes” while visiting us. I hadn’t thought about this for years, but a sip of sherry at a wine tasting in a Napa winery thirty years after her death suddenly brought Grandma back to me. As a child I must have done a little sherry-tasting myself.
Some time in 1952 or ’53 Grandma moved into a rented room of a neighbor across the street and two doors up, Mrs. Edwards. I didn’t know that her health was failing. I was delighted to have her so close by. Many Saturday mornings I went there and sat in her bedroom with her, telling her about my hopes and dreams. It didn’t occur to me to ask her what her hopes and dreams had been. I do remember telling her once that I was very happy, and that I had everything I wanted. She told my mother what I had said to her, but even when I was sick, I was happy when I was with Grandma.
By 1953 she was having health problems. Her daughter-in-law, Ellenor, an RN, took her to see a doctor who found a lump on the side of her throat. A biopsy showed it to be malignant. They went to a cancer specialist who told the family that it was inoperable, and that she probably had a little over a year to live. This was the reason she had moved to be so near to us. A few weeks before she died, she came to stay with us. My younger sister was sent to sleep on the sofa while Grandma shared our bedroom with me.
I remember visitors from Sugarhouse Ward, probably our home teachers, who gave her a blessing. Afterward she said that the pain left her for an hour or so. No blessing would take away the cause of her pain, and eventually she was moved to LDS Hospital where she died on 24 July 1953. Mom told us that Grandpa Edwin had been waiting eighteen years for her to join him in heaven. To me, not yet twelve years old, eighteen years seemed like a long, long time for him to wait.
Dorothy wrote the following about her mother’s last days:
I have always felt that she knew how serious her condition was. Dr. Cowan was giving her X-ray treatments every week, and her condition did not improve. I have wished that we could have talked openly, I knew that there were things that she wanted done, and I could have given her more support and assurance. We had a very close relationship, and I felt that I had never really reached maturity, until after her death, and had to realize that I could no longer go to her for advice. Ray and Gunda, Bud and Ellenor were very supportive, and did everything that they could to help us during her illness.
Grandma’s funeral was my first. I remember all the flowers, and that I sat with my Grandma Woodland. Alonso Bateman, one of the cousins that had grown up with the Davis children, spoke first. Mark E. Petersen, who had worked closely with Charles Penrose, Edwin Penrose and Bud Penrose spoke about his friendship with these men. Both of them talked about the Bateman and Penrose families. They spoke about what a fine daughter, mother and wife Eva Catherine Davis had been. Sadly, looking back, neither of them seemed to know much about her as a human being.
When daughter Dorothy prepared the birth and death dates for Eva’s grave marker she found several different dates of birth for her mother. After research indicated that the true birth date was 1873 instead of two or three years later, Dorothy put down the correct date, although she said she hated to do it. Surely Eva would have forgiven her only daughter for insisting on an accurate date.
Eva Davis Penrose was a loyal and loving person. You could tell her anything and feel that you could count on her. Her grandchildren all remember her as a sweet and loving person who has a special place in their hearts.
Woodland Howard and
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