Sunday, March 16, 2014

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I recently posted an entry about my newfound interest fascination obsession with old photo employee I.D. badges. At the end of that entry, I invited PermaRec readers to contact me if they wanted to try to suss out the stories behind any of the badges. Reader Bill Maselunas promptly volunteered to work on the one shown above, for a Wichita school matron named Martha L. Cannaday. Her badge is among the 250 that were recently exhibited at the Ricco Maresca Gallery in New York.

Before we get to Bill's findings, I should mention that Martha's badge was one of my favorites from the gallery show, and I wasn't alone in that regard — several PermaRec readers mentioned it as one of their favorites when I first wrote about the badges earlier this month. At the risk of being disrespectful to Martha, it seems pretty obvious that a big part of her badge's power is the pathos in her portrait and the way her job title — "Matron" — mirrors her matronly appearance. The discomfort I felt when writing that sentence (which you may also be feeling now that you've read it) is the karmic payback that comes with examining artifacts like the badges: We get a little voyeuristic thrill from these glimpses into other people's lives, but we also feel a bit of shame for violating their privacy and making superficial and sometimes condescending judgments about them.

So I was happy when Bill chose Martha's badge as his volunteer research project, because I wanted to be able to know more about her as a human being, not just as a mug shot on a badge. Here's Bill's report on what he found:

This has been a bit of a challenge, because Kansas has not made a lot of its public records and vital statistics available online. But Martha Cannaday is mentioned by name in this Find A Grave entry. That led me to lots of additional information, which allowed me to piece together the following:

• She was born Martha L. Tomlinson, April 27, 1919, in Kansas, to David Tomlinson Jr. and Mildred Chadbourne Tomlinson.

• Sibling Myrna M. Tomlinson was born March 22 1909, in Kansas. A nurse and a lifelong bachelorette. Died Oct. 1, 1985, and buried in Garfield Cemetery, Garfield, Kansas.

• Sibling Betty Jean Tomlinson was born June 10, 1924, in Garfield, Kansas. Died March 1, 2005, and buried in Garfield Cemetery, Garfield, Kansas. Was married to William Roy Kitchens (1923-1984). No kids that I have been able to find.

• My guess as to the date of her Wichita Public Schools badge is in the 1940s or ’50s. I've reached out to both the Wichita Public Schools and the local school museum, but no luck in tracking down any record of her employment. Her role as "matron" would basically have been that of a head nurse, which makes sense, given that her sister was also a nurse. I've checked the Wichita high school yearbooks that are available online, but again no luck.

• She died on April 19, 2007, in Kansas — likely Wichita. Garfield cemetery sexton Ray Wetzel believes he recalls a simple ceremony, attended by a single relative, with no obituary and no headstone placed. His recollection is that there was talk of buying one, but it never materialized.

• Her last known address was 5111 Funston St. in Wichita, an address shared by her sister Betty Jean, which leads me to believe they may have lived together after the deaths of their husbands.

• Martha and her sister Betty Jean both lived in Colorado at one point, perhaps in the Pueblo area. Their Social Security numbers were both issued there.

• The identity of Martha's husband is a mystery so far. Part of the problem is the inconsistent spelling of the surname. Depending on where one looks, it might be Cannaday (as shown on the badge), Canaday, Cannady, Canady, and others. This makes it somewhat challenging to say with any certainty which Cannaday is which. There are numerous male "Cannadays" of about the right age in Kansas in 1940, when Martha was still unmarried, but none in the immediate vicinity of Garfield, where the Tomlinsons (her family) lived.

• No children yet identified.

This pretty much exhausts the online resources. I have a request in at the Wichita Public Library to scan some old phone books and other records, but that could take some time.

Wow — no headstone, few if any descendants, one sister a spinster and the other a childless widow who became her roommate. If anything, this just adds to the pathos. But we still don't know about Martha's husband or marriage, and I'm hoping those provided some joy in her life.

Huge thanks to Bill Maselunas for his excellent research work (and Bill in turn wants to thank Ed Carlson, the curator of the pages for the Tomlinsons, and Ray Wetzel, the sexton at the Garfield Cemetery, for their assistance). Meanwhile, if anyone from Wichita can help us fill in some of the blanks regarding Martha and her family, please get in touch. Thanks.

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