Persistence of Vision

Even if I had been more thorough in my investigation of the 1940 census, and what it tells us about trends in education among Thomas Lovewell’s descendants, I still would have missed one of its most exceptional stories, if Dave Lovewell hadn’t clued me in.

One aspect of my search that amuses me now and then, is noticing how what I’ve learned so far, colors my perception of what I find next.  I heard that Stephen Lovewell and some of his descendants exhibited symptoms that might be interpreted as dyslexia, so when I read that he was named as one of the two students at White Rock whose penmanship had shown the most improvement, I just assumed it must have been pretty lousy at the beginning.  Dave affirms that while his grandfather was an avid reader of Western novels late in life, his signature on checks, the extent of his writing, was a jagged scrawl.  Stephen Lovewell was probably not merely dyslexic - he was a left-handed dyslexic, at a time when left-handedness alone was viewed as a handicap to be overcome.  But that’s not the story.

Dave informed me that Stephen Lovewell’s daughter Edna, born in 1900, was a lawyer, one of the first women admitted to the bar in Nebraska.  She practiced law in Beatrice before moving to Chicago, where, according to whispers repeated within the family, she was murdered in 1940 for her role in prosecuting mob figures.  That last part may be a stretch, but Edna Myrle Lovewell was not only a very bright young woman, but a model of dogged persistence.

After graduating from high school at Lovewell in 1918, when many of her friends were contemplating matrimony, Edna set her sights on other goals, enrolling at Grand Island Business College.  She spent a year teaching school near Norton, Kansas, then took a job as a stenographer in the law firm of Hazlett, Jack & Laughlin in Beatrice, Nebraska, where she also studied law under Gage County’s legal dean, Fulton Jack.  Finding time to put in a year at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, she transferred to the University of Nebraska, completing her B.A. in 1932.  Afterward she returned to Beatrice to her old job, while continuing her legal studies.  Admitted to the bar at the end of 1936, she became a partner in the new firm of Jack, Vette & Lovewell, and served as secretary of the Gage County Bar Association.  It was not enough.  She moved to Chicago in 1939, and seemed to start the process over again, working as a stenographer for a legal firm, while no doubt picking up the fine points of Illinois law.  

The 1940 census finds her renting an apartment on Carmen Avenue in Chicago, still listing her profession as stenographer when  the census-taker interviewed her on May 22.  She was struck by a car and hurled against the curb near her apartment on July 15.  According to the Belleville Telescope, her sisters, Dolly Davidson and Orel Poole, rushed to her bedside at a Chicago hospital, where she died on the 24th from a concussion and pneumonia.  Dave Lovewell reports that Chet Poole went with his brother-in-law when Stephen Lovewell brought his daughter home from Chicago in his pickup.  She is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  As her obituary put it, “In the years she had been away from her home community her occasional visits had been eagerly anticipated by her family, who welcomed her radiant personality, and by her friends who have watched with pride and kindly interest her many accomplishments."

The Zoominfo website cryptically labels her death as due to "what was thought to be a hit and run accident on a Chicago street.”  A dastardly deed without a doubt, but a mob hit?  It seems unlikely, although, according to the Telescope, she was a practicing attorney in Chicago at the time of her death.

The part about her being among the first women in Nebraska admitted to the bar, is quite true.  “The History of Nebraska Law” lists the first 105 women lawyers in Nebraska, between 1883 and 1936.  Edna Lovewell was number 104, a member of a very exclusive club indeed.  


© Dale Switzer 2023