This photo shows Olive in the middle row, second from right. It is likely the earliest photo we have of her.
From Olive Tuma to Olive McCarthy
Becoming Olive McCarthy: The Transformation At the age of 5 or 6, Olive was set on the most momentous passage of her entire life - her transformation from Olive Tuma into Olive McCarthy. Its beginning was not auspicious; indeed, it must have been terrifying. As the Tuma family disintegrated and its members dispersed, Olive was placed in an orphanage in Lawrence, about 30 miles from Cambridge.
After a year or 2, Olive was taken in by Margaret McCarthy, who was to become her foster mother in fact and true mother in every other way. Margaret provided an upbringing that led to Olives’s developing into a young woman who was educated for her time, able to develop and maintain friendships, employed in a white collar occupation, and devout in her faith as a Roman Catholic. Olive remained with Margaret in Lawrence until 1933, the year of Margaret’s death and her marriage to my father. Olive was then 29 years of age. What began as a wrenching split from her parents and siblings turned out to be the best break in Olive’s young life.
Early 20th Century Lawrence Lawrence at the turn of the 20th century was much like nearby Lowell, also a mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River where Mom and Dad lived their lives together. In 1900, Lawrence with 62,600 residents was ranked 57th nationally by size of population. By 1920, it grew to have a population of 94,300, its largest ever. Today, its residents number about 76,000.
In addition to its mills (or perhaps because of them), Lawrence a century ago was known for its large immigrant population, with inflows from Ireland, French and English speaking Canada, Italy, and Germany among others. Margaret had immigrated from Canada with Scottish - Irish antecedents and her husband, Patrick, from Ireland.
With Lawrence’s industrial development and diverse ethnic make-up came hardship and strife. The labor strike of 1912 (sometimes referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike) was brutal, involved more than 20 thousand mill workers, and lasted 10 weeks. It received national attention. While the strikers ultimately prevailed, with mill owners agreeing to a wage increase and other concessions, their victory in retrospect was pyrrhic. Labor saving technologies introduced in the mills following the strike, other practices of the mill owners, and economic recession kept wages depressed long after the strikers had returned to the factories. These were the years when Olive grew up in Lawrence.
Life in The Protectory The placement of children in orphanages in the late 19th - early 20th centuries was far more common than in America today. The incidence of women dying in childbirth was high and affliction by disease widespread, as we have already seen in the Tuma family. Waves of newly arrived immigrants working for minimal wages in the textile factories and other enterprises of the time severely capped the incomes of those in the working class. Churches, often supported by philanthropists, were prominent in taking the lead in housing and educating children with no place else to turn. With its heavily French Canadian and Irish immigrant population, Lawrence had a particularly active Catholic community.
Olive’s residency in an orphanage lasted a year or 2, and we know little about it. I recall her telling me of knowing hunger while there, having only bread and water for meals. One blessing was that in the orphanage she met Kathryn Glynn, another orphan 2 years her senior who was to become her lifelong closest friend, attendant during my birth and, years later, tireless companion to Olive as she faced death from breast cancer. (As a licensed practical nurse, Kathryn was a resource as a health care provider as well as trusted friend.) They must have found solace in each other’s company as they endured orphanage life together. Olive surely found comfort in Kathryn’s companionship as her life was coming to a close. Aunt Kate, as I called her, was also my Godmother. She died in 1982.
It seems most likely (although we cannot be certain) that the orphanage where Olive spent these early years was The Protectory of Mary Immaculate in Lawrence. The doubt stems from neither her nor Aunt Kate’s names appearing in a roster of residents, now maintained by the Order of Grey Nuns in Montreal, during the time the girls would have been in an institution. What points to The Protectory being the correct orphanage is its then being affiliated with St. Mary Church (today known as St. Mary of the Assumption Parish), where Margaret McCarthy was a congregant. Margaret’s connection with St. Mary almost surely brought Olive into her home.
A document, entitled the Golden Jubilee of the Protectory of Mary Immaculate, printed in 1918 and signed by the Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns) contains descriptive material about The Protectory, of particular interest as mother had likely resided there not long before this piece was written. It was founded by a priest of Irish origin in 1868. By 1903, the new “house” of the orphanage was under way and contained a, “beautiful large chapel, community room, classrooms, playroom, domestic science school, shower baths, and a spacious dormitory.” At the time of the publication, 225 orphans resided at The Protectory. In May 1917, “for the benefit of the girls, a Domestic Science School was opened; this course is for those who have finished Grammar School; it consists in Sewing, Knitting, Embroidery, Culinary Art, Laundry Work and Housekeeping. Just now 12 girls are following this course, which will be a very great advantage to them for the future...” My God, what a future!
The Protectory appears to have been funded by its “Charitable Friends.” About the men’s group supporting the institution, it was written. “These good men are endeavoring to be a great help to the Orphans. The tiny seed is planted; watered by the blessings of Almighty God, it will soon grow to a tree, under the branches of which the poor and needy may enjoy the comforts of life.” The “Golden Jubilee” celebrated in 1918 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the institution. The orphanage closed in 1954 and the last of the Grey Nuns departed in 2010, having provided elder care for many years. The institution, now named Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services, provides a nursing home and residential care for the elderly. Source: Eagle-Tribune, “The End of an Era: Last Grey Nun."
Margaret McCarthy Enters Olive’s Life Comparing the environments in Cambridge-Boston and Lawrence where Olive grew up could lead one to suspect she had become no better off in Lawrence. Both the Tumas and the McCarthys lived in tenements in the gritty sections of industrialized urban areas. While the Tumas were entrenched in the lower rungs of Boston’s working class, Patrick’s station toiling as a day laborer was hardly more exalted. While Joseph and Mary had separated, Margaret, either by the time Olive came to live with her or soon thereafter, had become a widow. Olive’s destiny in Lawrence, as it would have appeared to be in Cambridge, was to be raised by a single mother on a pinched budget.
Yet, qualitatively, the upgrade in coming to Lawrence was monumental. Olive had migrated from an unstable and tumultuous environment to one created by Margaret that was secure and nurturing. In Lawrence, Olive was educated in Catholic grammar and high schools, providing structure and quality education, outcomes unlikely had she stayed with Mary. Through Margaret, Olive was a member at St. Mary Church, where, as she grew older, she became a devout Catholic and sang in the choir. During their time together, Margaret and Olive moved several times, but stayed within the same section of Lawrence keeping in tact the social context of neighborhood, schools and church. Sometime after Patrick died, Margaret became a “shopkeeper” of a small grocery store (1920 Census), creating a source of income that, while likely modest, could sustain them both. Olive recalled with delight many years later the candy treats Margaret gave her from the store.
After her high school graduation, Olive obtained white-collar employment (stenographer, clerk, bookkeeper) at Beach Soap Company, where she remained until after her marriage in 1933. Securing office work with a substantial, financially sound company, being promoted and keeping a quality job into the Great Depression was a remarkable achievement under any circumstances, but all the more so in a city where textile mills, with their appalling working conditions and paltry wages, dominated the local economy. Olive, with Margaret’s parenting, had earned her place in the middle class of American society. So far as I know, she was the only one of the Tuma children to achieve “white collar" status in society.
Sometime during Olive’s childhood on what might have been the most terrifying day of her young life, her biological mother, Mary, most likely after her marriage to John Olsen, attempted to reclaim Olive physically. Legally, Mary could have taken Olive with no difficulty. Olive was Margaret’s foster child, not her adopted daughter. Being notified in advance of Mary’s planned excursion to Lawrence to take Olive, Margaret enlisted the support of St. Mary Church to keep her child. There was a meeting of Mary, Margaret and a parish priest, who convinced Mary that the best course of action was to let Olive remain with Margaret. Mary, to her great credit, agreed. St. Mary Church was not only the link in bringing Margaret and Olive together, but in keeping them together as well.
While Olive viewed remaining into her young adulthood with Margaret as a blessing, it was not the termination of her relationship with Mary. As I discovered after mother’s death, Olive and Mary maintained a bond, at least during mother’s adult years. Olive and John were married in Weymouth MA, where Mary then lived with John Olsen, not in Lawrence / North Andover. (In a later chapter, you will see photos of Olive as a young woman with the Olsens in and around John’s home in Weymouth.) My father told me that he and mother visited Mary on occasion in her later years. And, of course, John Olsen was the woodcarver of masterful works, several of which (presented elsewhere in this narrative) are or have been in my possession. An intricately carved set of 3 candlestick holders (shown elsewhere in this narrative) was John Olsen’s wedding present to Olive and John.
From all of this, I surmise Mary’s interest in having Olive rejoin her with John and Ruth was well intended and unselfish. As Mrs. Olsen, Mary may well have believed she could provide a comfortable and stable home where her youngest daughter could be properly raised. To Mary, it was time to bring her daughter back home.
Olive remained with Margaret until the latter's death (or burial, it’s not clear which) on January 12, 1933, at age 84 and exactly one decade before my birth. Olive was then 29 years of age. Margaret is buried next to Patrick in the Saint Mary-Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence.