Millicent Wallace has long held my fascination. It all started with her unusual first name (which essentially means strength) and increased when I discovered her photo in a red tin. I was finally able to put a face to the name but what caught my attention was the writing on the back:
This me is Minnie the old maid.
The sentence is short but nevertheless poignant. In her era a single woman without money was not looked upon favourably by society and it’s obvious that Millicent herself felt the same way. Society’s opinion is best illustrated by Jane Austen in the novel, Emma:
A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.
I’ve looked upon the photo and I’ve read the words many times in the hope that I could draw some knowledge or information as to the type of person that Millicent was. It was then that I realised that I wanted to give her the recognition she deserves by telling the world her story.
Born in 1864 in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, Millicent was one of twelve children born to her parents, Thomas Wallace and Bathsheba Wallace (nee Handscombe). She was also the sister of my Great, Great Grandfather Jesse Wallace.
She grew up in the town of her birth and in 1871 at the age of six was living in Oakley Cottages on Eleanor Road with her parents and siblings: Edward, Jesse, Thomas, Alexander, Ellen, Alice, Harry and Emily. Being quite young she probably had to help her mother out with basic household chores but also began to attend lessons at school.
Ten years later, the family was still living in Waltham Cross presumably in the same street and perhaps even in the same house. Several of her siblings had now left home (her brother, Jesse had left the country) and Millicent shared the house with her parents; sisters, Alice, Emily and Julia; brother, Henry and a lodger by the name of John Chambers. She was 17 years old and at this point she was becoming increasingly close to being of marriageable age. Finding a husband who would support her financially may have dominated not only her thoughts but also the thoughts of her parents, siblings and friends. If this did not go to plan she would have to find some other way to earn her bread.
By 1891, at the age of 27 it is apparent that she was not married and had decided to find employment as a means to support herself. She found work as a nurse (domestic servant) for John Fowler Newsam (a Corn Agent) and his family. Her new position required her to move out of home and live in the house of Mr Newsam which was located on High Street in the town of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Despite living in a different town, she still lived somewhat close by to her family. As a nurse she became responsible for raising John’s children and depending on her age and ability could’ve earned between 10 to 15 pounds per year.
Four years later Millicent’s father, Thomas passed away and as she was now over the age of 30, any hope of her marrying was fast diminishing. By 1901 and like most unmarried women of her time, she had left her position and moved back home to care for her now widowed mother. Living at 21 Eleanor Road in Waltham Cross she probably worked exceedingly hard and, depending on her mother’s abilities, was most likely in charge of the household duties. Unfortunately hard work and charitable actions were not valued as highly by society as that of a woman being married. In spite of society’s judgement I’m sure both Millicent’s mother and her siblings appreciated all her help.
Sadly, Millicent did not have to care for her mother for very long. Bathsheba passed away on 18 May 1904 and was buried beside Thomas in Cheshunt Cemetery. Her death ultimately resulted in Millicent becoming homeless and now dependent on her siblings. Where she went probably depended on who could best absorb the extra financial cost of having to support her.
In the end she went to live with her brother, Alexander and his family in Crickhowell, Wales. Alexander was eight years older than Millicent and since the late 1870s had lived and worked in Crickhowell as a Corn Merchant. Curiously, Alexander’s occupation is the same as Millicent’s ex-employer, Mr Newsam. Although there is no evidence available, I can’t help but wonder whether Alexander knew Mr Newsam in a professional context and perhaps helped Millicent obtain her position as a nurse.
Millicent’s single status continued and in April of 1911, at the age 47, she was still residing with her brother on Standard Street in Crickhowell. Perhaps determined not to be considered a burden on her family, she provided more than just household assistance; she also helped Alexander with his business.
1911 however was a year where life as Millicent knew it would change. About four months after the Census she married George Winterson and forever laid to rest her unrelenting status of ‘old maid’. There was a 24 year age difference between the pair and George (at the time) was a 71 year old widow. Whether there was any love between the two remains to be seen but perhaps it was simply a marriage of convenience. He was a Police Pensioner and due to his age, may have wanted someone to care for him.
They remained married for 18 years and continued living in Crickhowell until George passed away in 1929 at the age of 89. Millicent was once again alone. She still had her brother and sister-in-law nearby but unfortunately not for long. Her sister-in law, Jane passed away in 1930 and her brother, Alexander followed not long after in 1931.
Millicent remained in Crickhowell for the rest of her life and far outlived her siblings. Despite once being known to everyone (including herself) as the old maid of the family, she eventually overcame the title and lived right up until the age of 92, passing away in 1956.
I guess I’ll never really know whether there were any opportunities for Millicent to marry earlier in her life and if there were, I’ll certainly never know why she chose to reject them. She really lived in the wrong time to be an umarried woman and learning about her life and the difficulties she had to endure evokes my sympathy and makes me feel incredibly grateful that I happen to live in today’s world.
- Ancestry.com – FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line].
- Ancestry.com 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: RG10; Piece: 1347; Folio: 44; Page: 28; GSU roll: 828288.
- Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1881 England Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: RG11; Piece: 1397; Folio: 4; Page: 2; GSU roll: 1341341.
- Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: RG12; Piece: 1092; Folio 26; Page 10; GSU roll: 6096202.
- Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: RG13; Piece: 1277; Folio: 71; Page: 7.
- Ancestry.com. 1911 Wales Census [database on-line]. Source Citation: Class: RG14; Piece: 33603; Schedule Number: 71.
- FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837-1915 [database on-line].
- Ancestry.com. England & Wales, Death Index: 1916-2005 [database on-line].
- Information concerning servants wages (particularly Nurses) in Victorian England courtesy of the website Wayne’s This and That (http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm).
- Information about Spinsters & Old Maids in Victorian England courtesy of the website History and Traditions of England (http://www.webhistoryofengland.com/?p=1601).