Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Career Girl

I continue to be a bit surprised at the interesting twists and turns I'm taking in researching the people behind the rescued photos in my collection.  Initially I was satisfied to just half-way pinpoint what part of the country connected to the people caught in the photographer's lens.  As I progress with this project, I'm now inclined to keep digging a bit further.  Every person I've researched so far has turned out to have some interesting aspect to the life long past that makes me think it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to meet him or her.

Today's subject is one of those.  The photo is a small one, picturing a pleasant looking young woman dressed in an outfit with a nautical theme.  The sideways glance and the subtle quirk of the mouth almost suggests that she is amused by some private joke.



The format of the photo is the basic post-card format, dating to about 1907.  On the reverse is written in pencil "Opal Louise Hayes, age 18?".  There is no information to suggest a location.  I seldom use middle names when I'm searching for people, since so frequently they are missing on the records or shown merely as an initial.  But this time, for some reason, I decided to begin my searches looking for the full name.  There was a little germ of an idea that wondered why someone make a point to write out the entire name, like maybe it was the usual way to refer to this young lady.  "Opal Louise, dinner's ready!"  

The hunch proved to be a good one because Opal Louise Hayes leaped right off the top of the search results and it was only minutes before I knew I had the right girl.  Opal Louise Hayes had applied for a passport when she was 33 years old and the passport provided not only a wealth of information but also a photo of an older version of the Opal Louise Hayes in my photograph.


Opal Louise Hayes was born May 4, 1889, in Macon, Missouri.  The passport application does not worry itself with information about her mother, but it establishes that her father was Daniel Joseph Hayes, born in Illinois but at the time of the application was living in New York City.    In the 1900 census the family is living in Moberly, Randolph County, Missouri.  Father Dan is shown as a "commercial" banker or traveler - the census taker's handwriting is atrocious.  Mother Elma is a music teacher.  Opal was apparently the only surviving child to be born to the couple.  By 1910 only Elma and Opal are in the household and Elma is shown as widowed.  However, if Dan was still living in New York City at the time Opal submitted her passport application in 1922, then I'm guessing there was a divorce or the couple were no longer living together for other reasons.

Opal attended Howard Payne College - not the one in Texas but one of the same name in Missouri.  She went on to teach music at Central College, which had merged with Howard Payne.  In the 1930 and 1940 census, she is living in residence at Central College and is shown as associate professor of music.  Apparently she never married.

The dean of music at Central College was another single career woman by the name of Nannie Louise Wright.  It appears that the two women were life-long friends and associates. They provided identification for each other on their respective passport applications and were preparing to travel to Europe on the ship Laconia, sailing from Boston on June 28, 1922.  They both listed their intentions to visit the British Isles, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France.  Two musical ladies embarking on a grand tour of Europe.  I'm betting they had a marvelous time that summer.

The physical description of Opal Louise on her passport is interesting.  The usual notations of eye color (grey), hair color (medium brown), and complexion (brunette) were there, but what I found odd was the notation under distinguishing marks of "eyebrows".  The two photos above prove out that she had dramatically arched eyebrows.  One wonders if they were naturally or cosmetically sculpted.

The musical partnership of Nannie Louise Wright and Opal Louise Hayes as dean and associate professor is attested to on many occasions in the newspapers of the time. One of the earliest mentions I found was in the June 29, 1915, issue of the Moberly (Missouri) Weekly Monitor:  "At the 20th annual convention of Music Teachers in St. Joseph, The News Press contains the following mention of Miss Opal Louise Hayes, a Moberly girl now located at Fayette: 'A notable feature of the program was the group of four preludes and eight etudes by N. Louise Wright of Fayette, played by Miss Opal Louise Hayes, of Fayette, a pupil of the composer.  Miss Hayes is a remarkably accomplished pianist as regards both technique and interpretation and the compositions of her teacher also deserve the high praise which was accorded them by the teachers who heard the recital.'"

 The two women gave numerous concerts together.  The following appeared in the March 9, 1937, issue of the Sedalia (Missouri) Democrat.  Again, we see those arched eyebrows and quirky mouth.  Opal Louise looks a bit like the cat who ate the canary here. 


On October 15, 1940, the Moberly newspaper mentions that the two were entertaining the Moberly chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  The program consisted of 3 parts:  (1) compositions of Dr. Wright's, including a group of children's pieces; (2) compositions of Miss Hayes; and (3) preludes and waltzes which they dedicated to E. F. Swinney of Kansas City, who had donated a Conservatory of Music at Central College.  A few days later the two were playing duo piano numbers for the Moberly Music Club.

Both women wrote many original compositions and a quick Google search turned up sources for Opal Louise Hayes' musical pieces that are still available for purchase through Amazon and eBay.  There is a YouTube video of someone playing a piece written by Nannie Louise Wright.  Both women definitely left their musical mark on the world.

Nannie Louise Wright died in 1958 and is buried in Fayette, Missouri, where she lived most of her life.

Opal Louise Hayes was one of six alumni who were given distinguished alumni plaques by Central College on April 20, 1961.  An article published in her hometown Moberly's newspaper  to celebrate this honor included the following:

"A noted composer and dedicated music educator, Miss Hayes was born in Macon.  She studied at Washington University and Tulane University before entering Central college, where she earned the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees.  In 1922 she traveled and studied abroad and in 1934 she took the Master of Arts Degree from Columbia University.

"Miss Hayes began her career as music educator at Howard-Payne College and in 1925 when that school was merged with Central she continued on the faculty as associate professor of piano and theory.  She retired in 1960 after 48 years of teaching.

"Miss Hayes has performed in numerous recitals in various cities, frequently presenting programs of her own compositions.  The most notable of these included recitals in Steinway Hall, New York; Sarasota, Fla., and at Intermont College, Bristol, W. Va.

"A tireless worker, she devoted much of her spare time to composition.  She has published more than 75 compositions for children in grades one to three, as well as a number of other works."

Oddly enough, I could find no obituary for Opal Louise Hayes, nor could I find any listing for her burial on FindAGrave.  From the Social Security Death Index I was able to determine that she died in February 1975.

I had no idea when I selected this particular photograph for research that I would end up with a role model.  I love finding success stories for other single career women.  I hope that little enigmatic smile that Opal Louise shows in her photos meant she was having a great time.

LSW