Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1920-1924

Mary E. Wilson with

Mary E. Wilson with Arthur and Jim

This is the next installment of the Autobiography of Mary E. Wilson, the mother of a friend since childhood. She was born in England and spent many tumultuous years during the First World War. Those stories are told in previous posts. In 1923, her mother sails for America and the children led a difficult life.



During 1920, my Grandmother Greenhill and Uncle Ernest came to stay with us. Uncle Ernest was a very spoiled teenager and planned to stay with us prior to going to America to join other family members.

We were very crowded in our row house on Blue Row but we had more to eat because Grandma gave my mother money for their room and board. It did not last long because Ernest was caught trying to “caress” me and mother really beat him up and told them to leave. They went back to Leeds to wait for their sailing date for America.

I was now nine years old and doing very well in school. I was obsessed at that early age with the idea of becoming a nurse when I grew up. I think in my young life I had seen so much of death, illness and miserable poverty that I really wanted to help people.

In 1922, my mother received a letter from Uncle Ernest. My Grandmother Greenhill was dying of cancer and she wanted to see my mother before she died. They all donated money for her fare to America and she was thrilled to be able to get away from the drudgery of her life in England.

In December of 1923, my mother sailed for America and I was left to care for my two younger brothers and a bad tempered, drunken father. I was frightened.

We had no Christmas in 1923, I guess I had no access to any money. After my mother left, my father started to drink more and we learned very quickly to keep out of his way.

My mother had been in America for a few months when she took out her naturalization papers to become a citizen of the United States. She was commended by the judge for loyalty. She had borrowed money for our fares to America. She refused to return to England to what you referred to as “a life of drudgery and hopeless ambitions”. I have often wondered about her loyalty to her children when the judge was admiring her loyalty to her new country.

My Grandmother had died and my mother was working in the Stratfield Hotel in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She finally sent money to my father for our passage but he immediately deserted us and disappeared. My mother sent money to a local food store to pay for our food and rent. I was so frightened and often very hungry and felt so sorry for my little brothers. I remember vividly my brothers and I eating raw turnips from the farmer’s field because we were so hungry.

The school board finally notified my Grandma Ellum in Grantham about our problem and she came to Bishop Auckland, sold all our home furnishings and we all went to Grantham to live with her and Grandfather Ellum. He was a kind, gentle man and used to be a Baptist minister but was completely dominated by my Grandma.

We’ll continue the story next Sunday with the next installment and still more moves for young Mary and her brothers, Jim and Arthur.

Next week we’ll be checking in on Dan and Ced in Alaska and Lad, still in Venezuela and all that’s happening to Grandpa and the younger children back in Trumbull.

If you find these stories of life from the 1920’s through the 1940’s interesting, please pass the link along to friends and family who might also enjoy them. They might bring back memories for them and encourage them to share their stories with you and those in other generations. Our family traditions and stories are the “glue” that holds families close.

Judy Guion


10 thoughts on “Mary E. Wilson Autobiography – 1920-1924

  1. Mrs. P says:

    It is truly sad that her parents literally abandoned their children. In my family, though there was hardship and my grandfather had to go to an orphanage, each action was thought over carefully and when it was determined that none of the family could take him. Even so, they visited him and stayed in contact with him until they could take him back. I couldn’t imagine just being left there, having to survive by whatever means you could think of.

  2. Patty B says:

    It is amazing how when face with adversity people did what needed done, unlike today where most everyone expects a handout and the government to automatically help. That is why they will always be known as the greatest generation and we can all learn something from them.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Patty B. – The generations that followed those brought up in the 20’s and 30’s could learn so much from the example they set. My hope is to spread the word and get people sharing their own life experiences in the hope that those who followed will learn the importance of strong character traits. I could go on but enough said.

      • Patty B says:

        I was blessed to be raised by such parents. And it is by their example that I can get up in the morning and face each day without my husband. Part of their inheritance to me is their strength.

        • Judy Guion says:

          I too have experienced extreme difficulties in my life, but I give credit to my parents and my grandparents for giving me the strength to continually move forward, looking for the best life has to offer. Our parent’s generation truly were inspiring.

  3. gpcox says:

    These stories are like a portal looking back in time.

  4. Gallivanta says:

    What a desperate situation the children were in. I am also intrigued by how quickly citizenship was obtained back then.

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