She Was a Holyoke Girl

by Laurel | January 17th, 2014

17 January 1892

Hon. Quimby Silas Backus

Hon. Quimby Silas Backus
Vermont State Archives

The following “snippet” appeared in the Springfield paper on January 17, 1892. Reading it, there was a certain “something” about this brief article that made me curious about Nellie Backus Bowman and her relationship to Holyoke (just who, if anyone, was she related to), how she managed to land in Philadelphia and in the midst of a scandal that — aside from this Republican news article published below — was published in many other newspapers including The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lets begin with the snippet from the Springfield Republican:

Dr. Hewitt Charged With Serious Offenses by a Philadelphia Lawyer

Dr. C. Ellsworth Hewitt is locked up at New York pending a suit against him by John O. Bowman, a lawyer in Philadelphia, for $100,000 damages. Bowman charges that Hewitt drugged Mrs. Bowman while attending her professionally and then assaulted her. When she regained consciousness he sealed her mouth by threats. On another occasion, it is charged that Hewitt gave her an overdose of morphine and then refused to administer an antidote until she promised to elope with him. Hewitt took her to Europe and was cruel to her that she applied to the American Consul and was sent back to America. Hewitt followed her. Mrs. Bowman was Nellie Backus of Holyoke.

Adapted from The Springfield Republican.

Today a little more about the background of Nellie Everetta Backus Bowman, and on Monday we will dive into the scandal mentioned in the news article, above. Nellie was born 14 Dec 1865 in Vermont.

On the 1880 Federal U.S. Census, Nellie Backus, age 14,  is living with her mother Lavinia (Lawrence) Backus at 16 Newton St. in Holyoke. With them is Nellie’s grandmother Amelia Lawrence, age 72, a servant and two roomers. Nellie, Lavinia and Amelia are all recorded as being born in Vermont.

On 29 May 1883, in Holyoke, Nellie E. Backus, age 18, married John O. Bowman, age 25, an attorney in Philadelphia. This is Nellie’s first marriage and John O. Bowman’s second marriage. Nellie’s parents are recorded as Quimby Backus and Lavinia; John O. Bowman’s parents are recorded as Jacob and Lavinia.

Quimby Silas Backus, Nellie’s father was a notable figure. “Backus was born to in 23 July 1838 to a middle class home at Bridgewater in Windham County, Vermont. His father, Gurdon Backus, was a Methodist minister; his mother, the former Wealthy Ann Hoisington, had come from one of the long-established Bridgewater families. When Quimby was a boy, Gurdon Backus moved the family to Brandon, Vermont, and there the younger Backus received an education typical for a middle class youth—an elementary education in the public schools followed by graduation at age sixteen from the local academy. Having received his diploma, Quimby Silas Backus moved on to Woodstock, Vermont, where he began work as a machinist.”

Quimby’s influence on the tool industry in the Connecticut Valley was felt for decades. Certainly the Holyoke residency in 1880 likely had much to do with the industrial development of the city and his work with manufacturers. Quimby was elected a Vermont State Senator in 1902 and ran an unsuccessful campaign to be governor of Vermont in 1908. Q.S. Backus died in December 1912 of Bright’s Disease.  You can read a very well-done extensive biography on Quimby S. Backus and his association with the Millers Falls Company here.

There is an additional biography available online, Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, Volume 1, Hiram Carleton, Lewis Publishing Company 1903. You can search and read this on Google books.

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