I’ve heard it said that a sacrifice without a price is meaningless. Today, I wish to speak to you of a mother’s love and sacrifice for her children. To be sure, our family tree is full of wonderful mothers; however, this one continues to stand out. Olive May Waldie Bedwell – wife of brothers William Franklin Bedwell and James Monroe Bedwell – protected and nourished and bestowed each of her many children (and some that weren’t biologically hers) with love and continued devotion. She sacrificed many things in her life time – and always did so with a smile on her face and joy in her heart.
Olive was one of eight children born to Thomas Harrison Waldie and Josephine A. Wylie on 28 April 1882. She spent her childhood in McLennan County, Texas where she presumably met William Franklin Bedwell. William was the son of Martha Isabell Curbow and the grandson of Tilman P. Curbow. According to granddaughter, Jan Shafer, Olive was in love with William’s younger brother James Monroe Bedwell; however, her parents pressured her into marrying William because they thought that he could provide a better life for her. The couple married in McLennan County on 21 Jan 1901. William and Olive had four children: Evelyn in 1901; Preston Wiley in 1903; William Langston in 1906; and Merrill Fern, 1912. Due to William’s apparent alcoholism this couple eventually divorced – formally sometime around May of 1916. Later, in 1927, William was incarcerated in the Tarrant County jail on a drunk charge where he was murdered by another inmate.
In the meantime, the love of her life, James Monroe Bedwell had married and subsequently lost his wife (Clara) in child-birth – leaving him with two small babies, Homer and Paul Bedwell, to care for. Whether or not Olive and Jim ever “formally” married is not know; however, they began living together in a common law marriage sometime between 1913 and 1915. Olive took Jim’s two babies and raised them as her own. Jim and Olive subsequently had six more children together: Llese Deloris in 1915; Maurine Lillian in 1917; James Madison in 1915; Floy Laverne in 1920; Joy Lavonne in 1920 (twins); and Nana Ruth in 1921. Sadly, James Monroe Bedwell never saw the birth of his youngest child, Nana Ruth. He died of an unexpected heart attack – he was only 38 years old.
The death of Jim Bedwell must have come as a heavy blow to Olive and the family. Granddaughter Jan states: Olive’s life was a very hard one. Jim worked for the railroad. The family lived within a block of the tracks and after Jim’s death they continued to live there until sometime in the late 50s. Olive worked as a laundry woman washing and ironing for others from her house. The older children helped a little with supporting themselves. As my grandmother aged she earned money by babysitting children (something she had experience with), so you see her house was always full of people. Every year she won the prize at church for having the most children. (She had 14 pregnancies total but some did not go to term). I was told there was an agency that wanted to remove the children from the home because they did not think she could support them. A newspaper picked up the story and there was a huge public support for her to keep them. The children stayed with their mother. I saw this crumbling article once. It had all the kids in the picture standing on the steps of (maybe a church or mission). I have looked for this newspaper article but have no idea what paper or date. My mother told me they never believed in Santa because he couldn’t visit them. She remembered sitting on the floor as a small child with Jimmie and Maurine wrapping a brick with newspaper and taking turns unwrapping it with surprise like it was a package – this story broke my heart and every year I gave my mother a big beautifully wrapped package with a toy inside for the child that Santa forgot.
Just this last weekend, we were able to locate the newspaper article that Jan mentions above. It was published on 4 July 1926 in The Advocate:
Fort Worth, Tex., July 3. – Twelve children are growing up in the Fort Worth home of Mrs. Olive Bedwell. There is only Mrs. Bedwell to support and care for them. She supports them by taking in washing. They are healthy children, and happy. “Sweet children,” adds Mrs. Bedwell, “and such a comfort to me.” The story of them is an epic of what two hands can do. Nana Ruth is the youngest. She was two some time ago. Nine of the others are Nana Ruth’s brothers and sisters. Two are orphans whom Mrs. Bedwell took to raise.
Always a Smile – Mrs. Bedwell’s husband died several years ago. Since then she has earned $10 to $15 a week by washing and ironing. And though her hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., no visitor to her home finds other than a smile on her face. When her husband died, there was $6 due from his employer. Mrs. Bedwell offered it to a doctor who aided when Nana Ruth came. The doctor refused it, and Mrs. Bedwell spent the $6 for a Bible for the children to read. Every Sunday she takes her flock to Sunday school, along with a dozen other children of the neighborhood. “They like quantity at my church,” Mrs. Bedwell laughs, “and I’m a mighty popular member.” Two of Mrs. Bedwell’s children are old enough to earn a little money for themselves now. Another, a girl, now in high school, has been given a business college scholarship and is ready to study shorthand and typing. “My goodness, what have I to complain of?” this mother asks. “Lots of people ask me how I can be so cheerful. I just don’t have time to get blue.”
Were Seven Others – Somebody gave Mrs. Bedwell an electric washing machine. Once in a while people give her dresses for the children. The Union Gospel Mission of Fort Worth gives $10 of the $25 per month Mrs. Bedwell is paying on the little house in which she and the children live. “We get along beautifully,” Mrs. Bedwell sums up. “We never have been hungry. If people bring us things, I am thankful and accept them as gifts from God, who always will provide.” In addition to her ten living children, Mrs. Bedwell was the mother of seven who died. “I wish they all were with me,” she says, as she tells the striking story of what two hands, simple faith, unfaltering courage, and unwavering love can do.
Olive – you built a wonderful legacy, and here’s to a job well done!