ReTRo HouSeWiFe

Topics:  1940s Story

Other Retro Pages



I was intrigued by the story of Bessie Littleton, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for her role in the creation of the glass bake ware Pyrex, so I did a little research and found her son, Harvey Littleton who happens to be a renowned artist with an online art gallery!

I sent off an email, and got a reply from Ellen E. Fischer, the director of the gallery. Ms. Fischer took the time to ask Mr. Littleton about his mother Bessie, and write up his recollections, which you can now read below! (Many, many Thanks to Ms. Fischer and Mr. Littleton for this!)

Bessie Cook Littleton

Bessie's father was Joe Cook and her mother was Martha Elizabeth Cook (nee Harvey). Her mother and father were first cousins. Bessie was their eldest child, born Martha Elizabeth in Lowndes County, Mississippi. As Harvey's mother her legal name was Bessie Cook Littleton.

Her father was superintendent of schools and later was the founding president of Mississippi Southern. After 17 years in that position he returned to Lowndes County and ran successfully for the Mississippi State Senate.

Bessie's mother died of "galloping consumption" when Bessie was 8 or 9 years old. Her father remarried -- again, a cousin. His first wife and second wife were second cousins to each other. The second wife's youngest child, Bessie's half-sister, was born when Bessie was thirty years old. Between the two wives Joe Cook sired nine children. Oddly enough, the youngest daughter was given the same name as the eldest: Martha Elizabeth.

Bessie attended Mississippi State College for Women and was a schoolteacher before she was married. She taught all the grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Lowndes County and later taught in Biloxi. Harvey said that she used to play baseball with her students, some of whom were much taller than her 4 foot, 11 ½ inch height.

Bessie met her future husband, Jesse T. Littleton Jr., at Tulane where he was working on his master's degree in physics. They were married in 1912 after Jesse received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin. The marriage took place at Christmastime at Bessie's family home. It was hog killing time, says her son Harvey. When the newlyweds left for their new home in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Jesse was to teach at the University of Michigan for two years) Bessie took two trunks with her: one for her trousseau and the other filled with bacon, side meat, and hams.

Bessie Littleton knew how to do the housework of the time, cooking and cleaning and such. She knew how to use a mangle and in the 1920s bought the first automatic dishwasher to come on the market, a Graybar. Harvey says that it was as big as an office desk. Fortunately for Bessie, once her husband became established at Corning she always had a maid to help around the house.

Bessie would demonstrate how the house should be cleaned, the clothes washed and ironed and the food cooked and then trained the help to her standards. She gave birth to three sons: Jesse, Joe and Harvey. "Mother was a very strong personality," Harvey says. “She was a great competitor at croquet. "We had a croquet court at our summer home" (on Keuka Lake, in the Finger Lakes region, 30 miles from Corning). The rules of the game had to be copied out and kept close at hand because when his mother was playing, “sometimes they came into question,” he says.

Harvey Littleton

Somehow it is not surprising that Harvey Littleton became an artist in the field of glass art. His father was a Corning engineer tasked with the problem of developing an heat/cold resistant industrial glass for the railroads back in the early 1900s.

You can read more about Harvey Littleton at the Littleton Collection website. There are also some nice pictures of glass artwork by Mr. Littleton an other well-known glass artists.

There is also a Wikipedia entry for Harvey Littleton.

And some pictures of his art on Exhibit at the American Artists site of the Smithsonian!

      Purple Flower
© Copyright Retro Housewife 2003-2007