Lewis Hine caption: Mildred Griffiths, 9 Pleasant St., 13 yrs. old. A regular packer in Blanchard’s Sardine Factory. Makes $1.00 to $2.00 a day. Sometimes works until midnight. Location: Eastport, Maine, August 1911.
“My dad had one picture of her as an adult, but it was interesting to see one of her as a young girl. My wife thinks she was very pretty.” -Richard Knowles, grandson of Mildred Griffith
According to the Sanborn Insurance Map Co, there were eight fish cannery companies operating in Eastport in 1911. Seacoast Canning had six separate locations. The canneries covered slightly less than a mile along the coastline facing Passamaquoddy Bay. The bustling port city had a population of about 5,000 residents. Nearly every family had at least one member who either worked at the canneries or did commercial fishing. Hiram Blanchard & Sons, the cannery where Mildred worked, was located at the corner of Warren and Madison Streets, just a few blocks north of downtown Eastport.
The cannery would have been about a 15-minute walk from Mildred’s house at 9 Pleasant Street, which was in the south end of the city. That house is no longer there, but a large Victorian house at 11 Pleasant Street still stands. I walked around the area, and it appears that Mildred is standing near the shore just south of Pleasant Street, and the house at 11 Pleasant Street is the one behind her right shoulder. That would mean that the next house to the right, the one over her left shoulder, would have been where she lived.
Some records indicate that her last name was Griffiths, not Griffith, but her birth certificate confirms that there was no “s” at the end of her name.
In the photograph, she is wearing nice clothes, and a necklace, hinting that perhaps Hine took the picture on a Sunday. The other girl, who is only partially revealed, is apparently not a sister, because her only two sisters were 12 and 13 years older than she. Mildred was a lovely girl, and this is a beautiful photograph. Sadly, I would soon learn that her mother had already died when she was photographed, and Mildred lived only 31 years.
According to the census, Mildred’s parents were married in 1884. Her father was a fisherman. In 1900, they were living on Battery Street, which is just north of Pleasant Street. In 1910, she is living with her paternal grandmother; and her father, now widowed, is living with his married sister at 10 Pleasant Street, just across the road from Mildred.
Mildred married Charles Hiram Knowles in 1915. He was born in Canada, and entered the US in 1903. He was living in Machiasport, Maine in 1910. In the 1920 census, Mildred and Charles are listed living at 8 Pleasant Street, with one-year-old son Millard. Charles, who had served in WWI, worked in a lumber mill, and Mildred worked at one of the canneries. Later in 1920, they had a son, George, who died shortly after birth. By the end of the year, they moved to South Portland, Maine, where they had two more children, Charles (1925) and Neal (1926).
Mildred died in Portland on June 26, 1930. Charles remarried and had two more children. He died in South Portland in 1968. Son Millard died in Tacoma, Washington in 1978. Charles died in New Jersey in 1997, and Neal died in Texas in 1983. I contacted Millard’s son, Richard Knowles, who lives in Washington State. He was unaware of the Hine photograph, and knew very little about his grandmother.
Edited interview with Richard Knowles (RK), grandson of Mildred Griffith. Interview conducted by Joe Manning (JM) on June 18, 2010.
JM: What did you think of the photo of your grandmother?
RK: My dad had one picture of her as an adult, but it was interesting to see one of her as a young girl. My wife thinks she was very pretty.
JM: When were you born?
RK: I was born in Portland, Maine in 1939. It’s a funny thing, and I don’t remember a lot about it, but on Sunday afternoons back in the 1940s, we would go out for a ride in the car and visit a man that my dad said was his uncle, and his last name was Griffith. I guess he must have been my grandmother Mildred’s brother. (Census records show that Mildred’s brother, Elmer, was living in Portland in 1930.)
JM: When you were growing up, did your father tell you anything about your grandmother?
RK: The only thing he told me was that she had died, but I’m not sure when. I don’t whether they were divorced then, or if they were still married. My grandfather, Charles Knowles, Mildred’s husband, remarried, I think about 1930 or so. There were three boys: my father Millard, and his brothers, Charles and Neal. After my grandfather remarried, he had two more children.
(After this interview, I found out that Charles and Mildred were still married when she died, and that the children remained with their father and were raised by him and his second wife).
JM: I see that your mother was Florence Seyford. Records show that your parents married in 1939. And then, four years later, they married again. Is that correct?
RK: Yes, that’s right. They got married after I was born. I was born in September, and they got married in October. The marriage didn’t last long, and they got divorced. Then they remarried in 1943. My dad was in the Coast Artillery then, and he was stationed in South Portland, Maine. He was there till 1945. Then he was shipped out to the Philippines. He arrived there on VJ Day. His most dangerous assignment was driving a beer truck from one base to the other, and some Filipinos tried to hijack it. That was the extent of his World War II experience.
He was reactivated in 1950 with a National Guard unit. We were in Georgia and New Jersey, and then Dad was shipped to Japan. We returned to Maine for about a year and lived with my mother’s sister. Then we spent two years in Japan, and then went to Fort Lewis, Washington. Then Dad went to Germany in 1958, came back, and was assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He retired in 1964, and moved to Tacoma, Washington, and that’s where he spent the rest of his life.
*Story published in 2010.