Monday, February 29, 2016

Emily Braden & her Chariton Polka

It's unlikely many have heard it performed, nor is the sheet music likely to turn up in an old piano bench, but there really is a "Chariton Polka" out there, composed during 1859 by Emily Braden, one of Chariton's most accomplished early musicians and exceptional early residents.

The Lucas County Historical Society's copy of the music turned up during the winter of 2010-11 as we sorted contents of a closet in the Stephens House where difficult-to-display items had been stored over the course of some 40 years. Our goal in doing the sort was to return these stored items to accessility by integrating displayable items into the collection and finding a more appropriate archivally-save environment for those items that because of their fragility cannot be on permanent display.

One of the items in that closet was a fragment of the September 1859 edition of Godey's Lady's Book in which Emily's "Chariton Polka" had been published. This fragment, originally in the Chariton Public Library collection, was passed on to the historical society by the library during the 1970s.

Because of the way that fragment is bound, I couldn't safely scan the entire polka, but you can see the opening bars of the piece here.

Godey's Lady's Book was published monthly for 48 years, from 1830 to 1878, by Louis A Godey of Philadelphia. By 1859, when this copy of the September issue arrived in Chariton, there were 40,000 subscribers across the United States. Aimed especially at women, it contained poetry, articles, music, engravings and fashion news produced in large part by prominent writers and other artists of the time. But reader submissions --- including Emily's polka --- were welcomed, too, and often published.

The composer, nee Emily Waterhouse, was born Oct. 2, 1837, in London and received there and in France what would have been considered then an exceptional education. She was the eldest daughter of George Waterhouse, a prosperous watch- and clock-maker, and Massey Gosden, his wife.

When the 1851 census of England was taken, the Waterhouse family was living in Clock House, Cranford, Middlesex.

Emily came with her family from England to Dubuque County, Iowa, in 1852, but her father died soon after. She married in Dubuque County on Dec. 10, 1855, Joseph Braden, of Chariton, also a native of London.

Joseph (left) had arrived in Chariton from Dubuque during 1853 as an employee of the U.S. Land Office, which had been moved west from Fairfiled during that year. He had emigrated from London to Dubuque during 1851 and gone to work as clerk and bookkeeper for Thomas Hart Benton Jr., then Iowa's superintendent of public instruction, but had moved quickly to the employ of the U.S. Land Office.

Once located in Chariton, Joseph returned to Dubuque County to marry Emily and the couple immediately settled together in Chariton. Joseph continued his employment with the land office until 1858, when all of Iowa's district land offices were consolidated in Des Moines. He then went on to become one of Lucas County's leading businessmen and public figures, principally known as a banker. Chariton's Braden Avenue is named after Joseph and Emily as is the Braden Subdivision.

The Bradens had no children of their own, but raised as their own daughter a niece, also named Emily and also born in London --- to Joseph's brother, George, and his wife, both of whom apparently died when Emily was a child. Emily Jr. married at Chariton Howard Culbertson, and they had several children.

Joseph Braden died during 1906, but Emily lived on until Jan. 22, 1922, when she died at the home of her niece, Emily (Braden) Culbertson, in Chariton and was buried beside her husband in the Chariton Cemetery.

Here's a portion of Emily's obituary, published in The Chariton Leader of Jan. 26, 1922, which gives some idea of talents, outlook and nature:

"Mrs. Braden was a woman of refinement, talent and keen intellect. Her educational training enabled her to come in contact with the best in life. Among her accomplishments was that of composing poetry and music, much of which was published, but some of her best work she would not allow to be published, preferring to keep it for her friends. Her best productions flowed from her pen and her heart after the death of her mother (in 1877) for whom she had a devoted love.

"Her long and alert life witnessed the coming and going of firm friends who were attracted to her by her sympathetic understanding, her wholesome wit, her intellectual insight and her ability to help in every time of need.

"She is among the few surviving early citizens of Chariton and the community who were active in formulating the contructive plans and policies of the city. Being such a worthy helpmate to her illustrious husband, she was enabled to make her life count effectively in all that was good for the upbuilding of her home community.

"She was a longtime member of the Historical Society of Chariton. Up until the time of her marriage she was a member of the Episcopal church, but since that time has been a faithful and energetic member of the First Presbyterian church, of which she was a member at the time of her death.

"For several years she was the efficient organist of the church, composing much of the organ music herself. She also taught a Sabbath school class for years and in every way walked hand in hand with her husband in church activity. When the cornerstone of the present edifice was laid, one of her poems written for the occasion entitled, 'From the Land of the Dead to the Land of the Living,' was placed by the stone."

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