The Stepmother

Week 6: #52 Ancestors – Surprise

By Eilene Lyon

The Surprise

My grandfather, Laurence M. Smith, wrote many stories about his life. I’ve already shared some on this blog. But there’s a big gap between the death of his beloved mother, Mary Lila Reams, and the beginning of his engineering career. All he said was, “It was a sad and tragic time for our family and not a time to be remembered in any great detail. It is enough to say that after this time the family fortunes went no where but down.” What happened during that time that he never spoke of?

In the 1930 census, I finally located Laurence’s father,  Charles E. Smith, in North Moscow, Latah County, Idaho – along with a wife and his youngest son, Loren.1 Grandpa had a stepmother!

I asked my mom and aunt if they knew about this stepmother. They said they’d been aware their grandfather had remarried, but the consensus was that she was universally disliked by Charles’s children.

Who was Jennie E. Wallace?

So who was this mysterious second wife of Charles E. Smith?  This is her story…

Jennie E. Wallace was born in Iowa in 1874, the last-born child of John Wallace III and his second wife, Rhetta Lawler.2 When she was about a year old, her family moved to Kansas, and in 1882, to Latah County, Idaho. John Wallace opened the first sawmill in Kendrick.3

Jennie had three half-siblings, including William Duffy (“W. D.”) Wallace, and six siblings. In 1893, Jennie married a Canadian-born man in Moscow, George A. Smith (no relation to my Smith family).4 George worked as a typesetter. The following year, Jennie gave birth to their daughter, Camille.5

JennieESmith Residence
The Jennie E. Smith House

About 1901, Jennie and George separated. George took a job with a newspaper in Grangeville, a hundred miles away.6 As a single mother, Jennie had to work to support herself and her daughter. She became a dressmaker and later ran a boarding house.7 This house was located at 934 W. 6th St. in Moscow.8 The house is long gone and the property was absorbed into the University.

Around 1912, Jennie’s aging parents came to live with her and she cared for them until 1915, when her father died. Her mother predicted she herself would not last another three days. Three days later, she died in a fit of “apoplexy” and a double funeral was held for the esteemed Wallaces, Latah County pioneers.9 A few years later, Jennie’s brother, W. D. Wallace and another man were killed in an auto accident in 1919.10

Jennie’s half-brother, William D. Wallace. (Special Collections, University of Idaho)

By 1920, Jennie and George had officially divorced. She claimed to be widowed in the census that year, but he said he was divorced.11,12 George was still living in Grangeville. Later, he moved to Kellogg and then Sandpoint, still working as a linotype operator and running a printing shop.13,14

A Second Marriage for Both

Jennie E. Smith and the widowed Charles E. Smith were married June 16, 1920.15 He was 52 and she was 45 years old. Shortly before her marriage to Charles, Jennie became a grandmother. Her daughter, Camille, had married in 1917, and gave birth to a daughter, Betty Rose, in May 1920.16,17


Smith16 041
Loren, Charles E., and Laurence Smith a couple years after Charles’s marriage to Jennie. They lived with Jennie in town, but Charles also had a farm north of Moscow at the time.

Charles’ two youngest children, Laurence and Loren (aged 12 and 9), were still living at home then. The three of them moved into Jennie’s home on 6th Street. It’s clear that Laurence and his siblings were still mourning the loss of their mother. Perhaps that was the root of their rancor towards Jennie, but we’ll never really know. Maybe they didn’t like the fact she was a divorcee.

Charles E. Smith’s home and delivery vehicles in Moscow, Idaho, about 1915, before the death of his first wife, Mary Lila Reams.

Charles was a business owner in Moscow for many years. First he had a confectionary shop on Main Street which he sold after a few years. He then started a delivery business, first delivering groceries in horse-drawn wagons, then adding trucks.

Sometime after his marriage to Jennie, he went to work at the University, tending the boiler at the physical plant. He was employed there in 1930.18 By 1940, he was unemployed and he and Jennie were living in Clarkston, Washington, about 34 miles from Moscow. Jennie’s daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter also lived in Clarkston at the time.19

As Paul Harvey Would Say…

After 1940, Charles moved to Spokane to live with his son, Laurence, and family. His granddaughters remember him as a kind — and largely mute — presence in their lives. Soon he wound up in a nursing home where he died in 1946.20 His obituary mentions his second marriage, but does not name Jennie or list her as a survivor.21


Charles E. Smith with his granddaughters in Spokane about 1942.

Jennie’s first husband, George A. Smith, who had not remarried, moved into the house in Clarkston with Jennie, but exactly when isn’t certain.22 It appears they rekindled their relationship and remained together from then on.

Jennie died in 1962 and was buried in the Moscow Cemetery. George (d. 1965) was laid to rest by her side.23 Their daughter and granddaughter are no longer living, so it would be difficult to learn anything about Jennie’s personality, or about the 20 years she spent with my great-grandfather, Charles.

Jennie E. Wallace on Ancestry

1898 photo of the Moscow Epworth League officers. “Smith,” second from left, is probably Jennie E. Wallace Smith. My great-grandmother, Clara Ransom, is seated at right. She knew the Wallace family and was two years younger than Jennie. (Special Collections at the University of Idaho Library)

  1. Smith, Charles E. and Jennie E. Year: 1930; Census Place: Moscow, Latah, Idaho; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0012; FHL microfilm: 2340136 – via 
  2. Smith, Jennie E. Year: 1900; Census Place: Moscow Ward 2, Latah, Idaho; Page: 7; Enumeration District: 0071; FHL microfilm: 1240233 – via 
  3. Obituary for John and Rhetta Wallace. Oct. 21, 1915. Abstract from unnamed Moscow newspaper. Latah County Historical Society files. 
  4. George A. Smith and Jennie E. Wallace. Idaho, Marriage Records, 1863-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2005. 
  5. George A. Smith. Year: 1900; Census Place: Moscow Ward 2, Latah, Idaho; Page: 7; Enumeration District: 0071; FHL microfilm: 1240233 
  6. George A. Smith. Year: 1910; Census Place: Grangeville Ward 2, Idaho, Idaho; Roll: T624_224; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0154; FHL microfilm: 1374237 – via 
  7. Jennie Smith. Year: 1910; Census Place: Moscow, Latah, Idaho; Roll: T624_225; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 0196; FHL microfilm: 1374238 – via 
  8. Mrs. Jennie E. Smith. Clearwater, Idaho, City Directory, 1914. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  9. Wallace obit. 
  10. Obituary for W. D. Wallace in the Dayton, WA, Columbia Chronicle, cited in 
  11. Jennie E. Smith. Year: 1920; Census Place: Moscow, Latah, Idaho; Roll: T625_292; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 123 – via 
  12. George A. Smith. Year: 1920; Census Place: Grangeville, Idaho, Idaho; Roll: T625_292; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 100 – via 
  13. George A. Smith. Year: 1930; Census Place: Kellogg, Shoshone, Idaho; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0008; FHL microfilm: 2340138 – via 
  14. George A. Smith. Year: 1940; Census Place: Sandpoint, Bonner, Idaho; Roll: m-t0627-00740; Page: 81A; Enumeration District: 9-23 – via 
  15. Jennie E. Smith (divorced) and C. E. Smith. Idaho, Select Marriages, 1878-1898; 1903-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2014. 
  16. Camille Smith and Philander Rawson. 1917. Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. 
  17. Betty Rose Rawson. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  18. Charles E. Smith. Year: 1930; Census Place: Moscow, Latah, Idaho; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0012; FHL microfilm: 2340136 – via 
  19. Year: 1940; Census Place: Clarkston, Asotin, Washington; Roll: m-t0627-04331; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 2-7 – via 
  20. Washington, Select Death Certificates, 1907-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  21. “C. E. Smith, 78, Succumbs” 25 Oct. 1946 The Daily Idahonian, p. 2. 
  22. Smith, George A. (Jennie). 1959-60 Lewiston-Clarkston Directory p. 332. 

29 thoughts on “The Stepmother

Add yours

  1. There is so much one can infer about Jennie, but without anything concrete to pin it on, it would be hard to say. She looks quite stern in the photo, but that’s not uncommon in photos of the day.


  2. This story transcends time! Stepmothers and stepchildren have not been seeing eye-to-eye forever, I suspect. Still, I’d love to know more about why Jennie was disliked. Also, I am in awe of you locating anyone with a name as common as Charles E. Smith. I mean, there must be millions of them, so good job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew quite a bit about Charles to begin with, so no trouble there. His grandfather, John Smith? Aye-yi-yi! Actually in this story, Jennie and her first husband were the challenge. She said she was widowed in 1920. I’ve learned not to take that at face value. Even in the mid-19th century, I’ve found that when a first spouse “vanishes” that they aren’t necessarily dead. Without a clear indication they died, I assume first that the couple split up.

      Jennie may have not really known much about dealing with little boys, having only had a daughter and granddaughter. I also suspect Charles’s grown children were just peeved about their father remarrying – they revered their mother. The attitudes of the older, grown children would have rubbed off on the little ones, I think.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. So interesting that Jennie and George ended up with each other after all of those years. In my husband’s family, the ‘evil step-mother’ stereotype seems to be a reality. A great-great-uncle left home because he couldn’t get along with his new step-mother and step-brother and ultimately was killed by an oncoming train when he was stepping out from under a boxcar (making us wonder if he left home only to become a transient train-hopping vagabond!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That makes sense. I’ve come across a number of divorced couples in census records. I think especially in the 19th century and first half of the 20th that divorces women were stigmatized by divorce. Therefore they frequently said they were widowed if they left the community.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting. As a step mother myself I was hoping to hear the reason they did not like her. Thankfully my step children and I have a good relationship. The oldest three are good friends and the youngest sees me as his real mother. Interesting story and clearly you did a lot of research.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow – what a fascinating life. And just more evidence, that no matter the time period. human beings are all very much the same…then, and now. I’m glad she found happiness with two different men…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love that you took the time to research and try to understand this person in your family’s story! We also have a “wicked stepmother,” for lack of a better term, in our family tree that I have always been intrigued by. I really enjoyed reading this!

    Liked by 1 person

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