Chapter Three:
The Gardner Sisters – May and Ida (1887)
May and Ida Gardner were both born in the Gardner house in Hingham, May on May 31, 1868 and Ida on November 2, 1872. The house remained May's principal residence for all her life, but Ida lived elsewhere at several periods, returning after her retirement.

Both May and Ida were educated at the Hingham elementary school, and May went on to Waldo High School and earned a Teacher’s Certificate from Plymouth Normal School. She took correspondence courses to further her education, and in 1898 she attended summer school in Plymouth to earn an advanced degree.

May taught at various area schools, notably Hingham, Stone Jug and Sunny Hill. Barbara Adams,
a great-great-granddaughter of May’s father Emery, has the hand bell May used to summon her students.

In 1890, May moved into the home of her cousin, Lyman D. Hill, to help Mrs. Hill, whose health was failing. At Mrs. Hill's death in 1911, May gave up teaching and kept house for her cousin. After the death of “Cousin Lyman” in December, 1913, May returned home and kept house for her ailing mother who died in 1923. From then on she lived alone, but her house was always open to relatives and friends. She was deeply interested in history and traveled extensively.

May Gardner (1868 - 1949)

May was a devout Methodist and an active member of the Hingham Methodist Episcopal Church. Her uncle, Hiram Gridley, had started the fund for a church bell shortly after the church was built. May carried on that tradition by making house calls on church members to collect money and food to meet the pastor’s salary during the depression years, 1929 to 1940.

May was also very active in politics. She was an ardent supporter of the Temperance movement and an avid Suffragette, working diligently for the passage of the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. She served as president of the county chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and president of the Sheboygan County Red Cross.

May had a knack for getting things done. In 1918, a soldier from Hingham, Lewis Tempas, was in an army hospital in Kentucky with pneumonia. The Army had refused his parents’ request to visit him. They appealed to May in her role with the Red Cross and in a few days they received permission not only to visit but also to bring him home to recuperate.

May was elected Justice of the Peace for Lima Township in April 1922, becoming the first woman ever to be elected to public office in Sheboygan County.

May died on March 16, 1949 as the result of a massive stroke some months earlier and is buried in the Hingham Cemetery.After a disappointing romance, May had devoted her life to caring for others, her cousin and his wife, her mother and later several needy widowed friends as well as her niece, Elizabeth (Bess) Gardner.

The caring and kindness Bess received from her Aunt May, Aunt Ida and their mother “Grandma Gardner” was reflected in the care she gave both May and Ida years later in their terminal illnesses, and in the pleasure she took in living in the house from 1959 to 1976; it probably also explains her reluctance to change anything in her "Grandmother's house" as she referred to it.
In the summer of 1887, fifteen-year-old Ida Gardner departed for California with her “Aunt Katie” whose correspondence fills in some of the details from the year that Emery Gardner died.

In 1864, Julia Hurley Gardner’s sister, Kate Hurley, was living in Brooklyn, NY and married to a James Whitney. Four years later, she was living alone, apparently in Ohio, and working in an asylum. Later she married Hiram J. Norris, a wealthy businessman from San Francisco, CA. Together they had three children.

Kate Norris brought her daughters Edith and Mabel to Hingham in 1887 for a visit with her mother and sister and presumably their brother Mike who also lived in Wisconsin by this time. Ida returned with them to San Francisco and stayed on for six years, forging a lifelong friendship with the “Norris Girls” and receiving excellent schooling. She became an accomplished pianist and developed a talent for art; one of her pencil sketches hangs in Barbara Adams' home.

Ida's father Emery died while she was in California; upon her return home it became necessary for her to help with the family finances. She learned typing, accounting and general business practice in Chicago while living with first with her aunt, Eliza Gardner Lloyd, and later with her half-brother John Gardner and his family.

Ida Gardner Curwen (1872 - 1962)

George Curwen with new porch (1931)

Ida’s business education led her to working for a Wisconsin senator at a law firm in Madison, WI, referred by her uncle Michael Angelo Hurley. By 1912, she had returned to Chicago to take a position as a claims adjuster for the transit company that ran the city’s streetcars, the Chicago Surface Lines. There she met her future husband, George A. Curwen, a motorman and instructor.

They were married on December 22, 1917 and lived in Chicago but spent all their vacations and most holidays in Hingham.George Curwen enjoyed spending time in Hingham and made many friends at Ambrose O'Reilly's blacksmith shop. He had the family home remodeled, including the addition of a screen porch across the front of the house. In those days, long before the advent of air conditioning, George wanted a cool place to sleep at night, so he built one.

Ida and George hoped to retire in Hingham in 1936 to enjoy the fruits of their efforts in a newly improved home. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1935. Ida continued working until her own retirement in 1937, when she returned to Hingham to live with her sister. Hingham children came to know Ida as the "Candy Lady" because she always had something sweet for them.
For several years, May and Ida wintered in Chicago, renting an apartment for the season and returning to Hingham each spring. After May died in 1949, Mrs. Ella Pelishek of Adell, WI came to live with Ida. However, Ida became increasingly senile over the next ten years and Ella, at age 76, was no longer able to cope with her. Bess Gardner Wilson and her husband Edwin moved to Hingham in 1959 to care for Ida, but it was soon apparent that they couldn't cope, either, so Ida moved into Bethany Manor Nursing Home in Sheboygan, where she died on January 21, 1962.

Bess (Gardner) Wilson and Charles Edwin Wilson (1959)