We’ve recently been working with Molly Kathleen Reagan to highlight three important women from Cortland County’s past. We supplied information and Molly created portraits of each of the three women. This is week two of our series.
This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered by CNY Arts.
Bertha Eveleth Jones was the oldest of two girls born to Augustus and Helen Jones. She was born on September 7, 1866 in North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Massachusetts. Both her parents came from long lines of New England stock. Education, religion, and community responsibility were greatly valued in her family.
When Bertha was 8 years old, her mother died, and her grandmother came to live with the little family. In time, her father remarried a woman with a daughter from a previous marriage. Her new stepmother brought along her sister-in-law, a high school teacher, who helped with the three girls’ education. A little brother was born to round out the household and the children grew up in a peaceful and loving home, thanks to the caring adults in their lives.
Bertha was always interested in art, and she wanted to go to art school when the time came for college. Her father wanted her to go to the relatively new and nearby Wellesley College. Bertha resisted until she found that she could enter the school as an “art special.” This meant she could take the classes she wanted without earning a degree, but she was happy to do that and graduated in 1889 from Wellesley.
In June of 1889, the Cortland Normal School was searching for an art teacher, and Wellesley College recommended Bertha Jones for the position. She took the job and relocated to Cortland. She formed lasting friendships and grew to love the community. She was deeply involved many organizations in her new hometown. In 1894, she married Edward Dwight Blodgett, the managing editor of the “Cortland Standard.”
Edward’s family had settled in Cortland County in 1805, and his father, Alonzo, was an avid storyteller about times of old and his life experiences. Alonzo D. Blodgett was born in 1825 and had lived through a period of rapid development in the county which he readily shared with all who would listen. Bertha enjoyed learning about the area from his reminiscences. Alonzo kept a series of scrapbooks which he filled with newspaper articles and information about the community. For the last 13 years of his life, he lived with Edward and Bertha, and he shared his memories with them.
When Edward died in 1926, Bertha was left trying to fill the void. She was very active in her church and the community, but it wasn’t enough. Her children were grown and her husband was gone, so Bertha invited members of the Cortland Normal School faculty to share her home. One history teacher who hailed from New England was dismayed to discover that local history must be included in the curriculum. This gave Bertha the perfect opportunity to dust off her father-in-law’s scrapbooks and help her boarder learn more about the history of Cortland County. This exercise quickly snowballed into an opportunity for Bertha to write a series of articles for the “Cortland Standard” which were designed for children to learn more about Cortland County. The articles commenced in September of 1930, and the “Cortland Standard” published the first edition of “Stories of Cortland County” in the summer of 1932. The book is in its third edition and is still a favorite in the gift shop at Cortland County Historical Society.
Bertha Blodgett created adorable postcards and wrote two additional books for children which featured mazes drawn by her. Her postcards were printed by the “Cortland Standard’s” printing department and hand-colored by Blodgett herself. This side hustle kept her busy with orders coming from New York, Detroit, and Boston. She could sell as many as she could produce.
As a teacher at the Cortland Normal School, Blodgett took Jere Wickwire under her tutelage. Wickwire was a regionally known artist and the son of Theodore and Emma Woodmansee Wickwire. In 1922, when Wickwire had his first one-man art show in New York City, he asked his former teacher to sit for a portrait. He later gifted the result to Bertha Blodgett, and it was a cherished family possession.
Bertha Blodgett was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cortland. Some of the organizations she was involved in were the YWCA Auxiliary, the Red Cross, the Fortnightly and Twentieth Century Clubs, and the Cortland County Historical Society. Blodgett’s signature is attached to the 1932 certificate of incorporation for Cortland County Historical Society. Blodgett donated the collection of Alonzo D. Blodgett’s scrapbooks and other family memorabilia to the historical society, and her daughter signed over the copyright for Blodgett’s book “Stories of Cortland County” to CCHS so it could continue to be printed and enjoyed by future generations of Cortland County citizens.
We invite you to stop by during our business hours to see the temporary exhibit “History Highlighted” by Molly Reagan. Three amazing females from Cortland County’s past are featured in the exhibit, and Bertha Eveleth Blodgett is one of them. ~Tabitha