My great-grandmother, Nellie Louisa Scott Toney, died during my freshman year in college and I wish almost daily that I had asked her about her family. I loved and respected Grama Nellie, a woman who gave love to her family and always stood strong for them.
Nellie Louisa Scott was born in Worcester, MA on 19 September 1887 to Hannah E. Scott of West Boylston, MA and William Scott from Rutland, VT. Her mother died when she was 9 years old on 4 November 1896. Grama Nellie had 4 brothers, three from her mom and one from her stepmother, Henrietta Sutherland.
She married Edwin Alexander Toney on 5 April 1905 and had 10 children. She lived her entire life in Worcester before passing away on 25 March 1981. This may seem to be an ordinary life to some but Nellie’s life revolved around her extraordinary family including her uncle Charles Scott, the 2nd Black Worcester city council member in Worcester history. Her paternal grandparents were landowners in Rutland, VT. Her grandfather William Scott joined the MA 54th Infantry at age 42. William joined alongside his son, George H. Scott.
Nellie’s maternal grandparents were enslaved in Virginia. After the Civil War, they traveled with Methodist missionaries to Massachusetts. Nellie herself helped establish St Andrew’s Methodist Church on Chandler St in Worcester in the 1940s. Two sons and a grandson served in WWII – Albert, Frank, and grandson Fred.
1926 was a significant year for Nellie, full of both joy and heartbreak. Her youngest son, Edward Manuel, was born in January 1926, twenty-one years after the birth of her eldest child, Cora. But in April of that same year, her two-year old daughter, Ethel, died of complications of tuberculosis. And if that was not tragic enough, just three months later, in July, her 12-year-old, Esther, also passed away from tuberculosis.
How did she do it? I can’t imagine the strength to endure such tragedy while caring for a newborn. I do know that portraits in large oval frames of Esther and Ethel hung on the wall in Grama Nellie’s house until she passed. One hangs in my mother’s house now although no one knows if its Ethel or Esther. According to my mother, the other portrait disappeared when my great-uncle Eddie claimed the frame it resided in. None of Grama Nellie’s other children had such portraits.
Grama Nellie’s husband and six of her ten children predeceased her. That she endured to care for subsequent generations of Toneys, including myself, is a testament to her strength, her love, and her beauty. Someday, I will finish her story. I want others to know just how magnificent she was.
(This post was adapted from previous posts)