Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Life Cut Short

While looking through the Shelbyville, Illinois area newspapers for references to my great-grandfather Harry Edward O'Brien, I often ran across short blurbs on his older sister, Anna Alice O'Brien. She was born two years before Harry, in Shelby County, Illinois on 27 July 1882. Unlike her three brothers John, Harry and Roy, it does not look Anna pursued music. But it is clear that she was a talented and creative woman. Anna studied millnery, traveled throughout the Midwest to some of the regional designers, and later bought a building and opened her own store.

In the 1900 US Census, Anna appears in the household of her parents in Shelbyville, Illinois, working as a millner. According to clippings from the Decatur Herald, in 1908 she was working as a trimmer in the shop of Ms. Ida Miller. Clearly they were friends, as this clipping from 1 November 1908 shows (see below).
It looks like Ida Miller's store was in Sullivan, Illinois. Another clipping from 15 November 1908 shows that Anna had wrapped up her work at the store for the season and was returning to Shelbyville to visit family.

One article from the Decatur Herald on 27 February 1909 shows Anna traveling with her younger sister Rosa:

In 1910, Anna went to Chicago to attend the latest millnery openings. It appears that Anna had also spent two years working with her Aunt Anna Maria O'Brien in Whitewater, Wisconsin but I am not certain on when this fits in her timeline. Anna returned to Shelbyville in 1912 and bought her own building for $600, which is quite an accomplishment. She opened a millnery store in September 1912. It is interesting to see how she put her own talents and career first.


Anna married Charles Carlton Stretch on 25 December 1912. The wedding occurred on Christmas morning in Tower Hill, Shelby County, Illinois:
Decatur Herald, 28 Dec 1912
Anna and her sister Rosa went to Chicago in August 1913 to visit their Aunt Anna Maria O'Brien, who was recovering from surgery.

In 1914, Anna appears in the news clippings, traveling to St. Louis and Chicago for millnery supplies and to attend showings. In February 1914, her Aunt Anna Maria O'Bried died in Chicago. This clipping shows that Anna worked with her Aunt in Wisconsin.

May 1914 brought spring weather to Illinois and outdoor improvements on the building that Anna had purchased in 1912 for her business.

After battling blood poisoning from a scratch on her neck, Anna died at the age of 33 on 17 October 1915.
Decatur Herald, 19 Oct 1915
After expanding my news search to look for articles on her husband, Charles Stretch, I found the funeral notice for Anna. She was highly regarded in the community.

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