Women Making History – The Mount Holly Cemetery Association

Instead of featuring one woman, today’s entry focuses on scores of women. The Mount Holly Cemetery Association has been protecting, preserving, and promoting Mount Holly Cemetery for over 100 years. The organization was empowered with these roles by the Little Rock City Council at a time when women still did not have the right to vote.

The Mount Holly Cemetery is a treasure trove of history, architecture and horticulture on the edge of downtown Little Rock.  It was established in 1843 when Chester Ashley and Roswell Beebe donated the land to the city of Little Rock. Feeling the town fathers were not giving the cemetery the attention it deserved, a group of Little Rock businessmen formed a cemetery commission on March 20, 1877. Charter members of the commission were J. H. Haney, Fay Hempstead, James Austin Henry, Philo O. Hooper, and Frederick Kramer. However the private group of men did no better in maintaining the cemetery.

In 1914, a contingent of the town’s women became critical of the cemetery’s unkempt appearance and took over the reins from the men. Following adoption of City Ordinance No. 2199 in June 1915, the ladies’ Mount Holly Cemetery Association was incorporated on July 20, 1915. (It should be noted this action by the women came at a time when women did not have the right to vote.)

The Mount Holly Cemetery Association grew out of a meeting which took place on June 9, 1914 at the home of Mrs. A. H. Scott. Thirty-six women gathered for the purpose of improving the cemetery.

An executive committee was formed, and the women started working on improvements to the cemetery. Though first viewed by some men as an auxiliary to the Cemetery Commission, it quickly became apparent that the women were in no mood to take a back seat in matters pertaining to Mount Holly.

The first executive board (from June 1914 to July 1915) included Mrs. A. H. Scott, Mrs. B. S. Johnson, Mrs. George Thornburgh, Mrs. Moorhead Wright, Mrs. H. M. Bennett, Mrs. George Worthen, Mrs. W. E. Green, Mrs. George Stratman, Miss Louise Gibson and Miss Clara Hotze.

The July 1915 incorporators were Mrs. Scott as well as Julia E. Bennett, Eva C. Shields, Rosa M. Miller, Ruby P. Ratcliffe and Marguerite R. English. Mrs. Bennett, known affectionately as “Scrap” would serve as the first president, and Miss Miller was the first secretary.

Over the years the Association has undertaken countless projects large (construction of a mausoleum) and small (signs on the lanes) to improve Mount Holly Cemetery for its residents and for visitors.

In 1993, the Association published a history of the first 150 years of the cemetery.  More recently, they launched the annual RIP (Rest in Perpetuity) picnic held the last Sunday in April on the grounds.  They have also published a cookbook–Recipes in Perpetuity.

Today, the Mount Holly Cemetery Association is still going strong!

Little Rock Look Back: First night of first TABRIZ

After over a decade of the Beaux Arts Bal (it was spelled the French way with only one “L”), a change was afoot in 1971. Because of the need to raise more money for the Arkansas Arts Center, the Fine Arts Club decided to replace their evening of dining and dancing with an auction event.

While there had undoubtedly been thrift sales and small-scale bidding on items to raise money in Little Rock, this effort would be the first large-scale endeavor to use an auction as part of a fundraiser.   In order to maximize the fundraising potential, it was decided this would be a two-night event. The first night (Friday, February 12) would be casual with a silent auction while the second (Saturday, February 13) would be formal.

There were two major reasons the Fine Arts Club needed to raise more money.  The National Endowment for the Arts had issued the Arts Center a challenge grant which required a $10,000 match. In addition, the Arkansas Arts Center was trying to build up an endowment for future purchases.  (This was less than three years after the facility had been faced with closing its doors.)

The name Tabriz was chosen because it was the name of a cultural city in the Mideast known for its marketplace.  The first edition had the tagline of “A Persian Market of All Things.”

The logo was designed by Jim Johnson of the firm then-known as Cranford/Johnson Associates. The decorations echoed the exotic theme employing palm trees, ferns, ceramic elephants, paisley fabric swaths, and turbans.

Among those working on the first Tabriz were Jane McGehee Wilson, Betty Mitchell, Betty Terry, Frances Cranford, Feetie Hurst, Tina Poe, Annette Connaway, Willie Oates, Phyllis Brandon, Jane Wolfe, and Mary Worthen.

Over 650 people attended the Friday night event. Admission of $5 provided sandwiches (conflicting newspaper accounts indicate either coldcut sandwiches or hot dogs) and beer.  Mixed drinks were an additional $1.

Newspaper coverage indicated that men wore “sports outfits,” suits without ties, or colorful parkas. It attracted men with “longhair and beards” and “conventional haircuts.” (Depending on who the writer was, “longhair” could have meant anything over one inch.)  The women that Friday favored maxi or midi skirts. There were no mini skirts on hand, but a Gazette reporter noted that some women were wearing hot pants which might make a mini skirt look long.

Music was provided by the trio of Tom, Jerry, and Barbara.

Because a Silent Auction was such a new thing, newspaper coverage pointed out that the rooms were actually quite full of sound as people chatted with each other both about bidding on the items and socializing in general.

To give people a preview of the auction items, the Arts Center galleries had been opened for viewing on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Friday and Saturday events.  An auction catalog was also available for pickup in advance of Friday.

Among the items up for bid were tennis and golf lessons, visits to beauty salons, credit at a pharmacy, a tour of the Municipal Courts building and lunch with city prisoners, a tour of the Little Rock Zoo, jewelry, artwork, tickets to Razorback games, a football jersey worn by Lance Alworth, a week in Las Vegas (one of only three items with a minimum bid), and a subscription to an answering service.

When all was said and done, the evening raised $9,500 for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Women’s History Month Throw Back Thursday: Mount Holly Cemetery Association

Mt Holly ProfileThe Mount Holly Cemetery is a treasure trove of history, architecture and horticulture on the edge of downtown Little Rock.

It was established in 1843 when Chester Ashley and Roswell Beebe donated the land to the city of Little Rock. Feeling the town fathers were not giving the cemetery the attention it deserved, a group of Little Rock businessmen formed a cemetery commission on March 20, 1877. Charter members of the commission were J. H. Haney, Fay Hempstead, James Austin Henry, Philo O. Hooper, and Frederick Kramer. However the private group of men did no better in maintaining the cemetery.

In 1914, a contingent of the town’s women became critical of the cemetery’s unkempt appearance and took over the reins from the men. Following adoption of City Ordinance No. 2199 in June 1915, the ladies’ Mount Holly Cemetery Association was incorporated on July 20, 1915. (It should be noted this action by the women came at a time when women did not have the right to vote.)

The Mount Holly Cemetery Association grew out of a meeting which took place on June 9, 1914 at the home of Mrs. A. H. Scott. Thirty-six women gathered for the purpose of improving the cemetery.

An executive committee was formed, and the women started working on improvements to the cemetery. Though first viewed by some men as an auxiliary to the Cemetery Commission, it quickly became apparent that the women were in no mood to take a back seat in matters pertaining to Mount Holly.

The first executive board (from June 1914 to July 1915) included Mrs. A. H. Scott, Mrs. B. S. Johnson, Mrs. George Thornburgh, Mrs. Moorhead Wright, Mrs. H. M. Bennett, Mrs. George Worthen, Mrs. W. E. Green, Mrs. George Stratman, Miss Louise Gibson and Miss Clara Hotze.

The July 1915 incorporators were Mrs. Scott as well as Julia E. Bennett, Eva C. Shields, Rosa M. Miller, Ruby P. Ratcliffe and Marguerite R. English. Mrs. Bennett, known affectionately as “Scrap” would serve as the first president, and Miss Miller was the first secretary.

Over the years the Association has undertaken countless projects large (construction of a mausoleum) and small (signs on the lanes) to improve Mount Holly Cemetery for its residents and for visitors.

In 1993, the Association published a history of the first 150 years of the cemetery.  More recently, they launched the annual RIP (Rest in Perpetuity) picnic held the last Sunday in April on the grounds.  They have also published a cookbook–Recipes in Perpetuity.

Today, the Mount Holly Cemetery Association is still going strong!

Black History Month Spotlight – Jimmy McKissic

bhm mckissicJames Henry “Jimmy” McKissic was born March 16, 1940 in Little Rock and was raised in Pine Bluff by his parents, Rev. James E. McKissic and Rosa Daniels McKissic.  He spent a lot of time in church and by age 3 was playing church hymns by ear. His mother was his piano teacher until age 13. At that point, she decided he needed professional instructors. He soon developed the dream of someday playing at Carnegie Hall.

Growing up in Pine Bluff in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was well known for musical talent in both the white and African American communities.  He served as a musical coach for a Miss Pine Bluff contestant, Frances Jane Anderson, who later went on to become Miss Arkansas and first runner up to Miss America.  Today, she is better known as Frances Cranford.

 

As a young man Jimmy played for St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church and the Mt. Calvary Baptist, where his father pastored. He also played for other churches in Pine Bluff and the surrounding area.  He earned a B.S. in Music Education from A.M.&N. College (now UAPB) which was followed by additional study with Marjorie Petray of Berkeley, before receiving a Hertz Scholarship to further his piano and musical training in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked at the American Church in Paris, where he was in charge of young adults for two years.

Establishing residency in Cannes, France, Jimmy’s personality led him to become one of Europe’s most popular entertainers. He performed concerts all over the globe including Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne, Davos), Franc (Paris, Biarritz, Nice, Cannes), Morocco, England, Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa), Syria, Holland, Bangkok, Singapore and Brazil, among others. He performed in numerous cities and states in the USA including Arkansas, California, Mississippi, Texas and New York. During his lifetime, while spending 49 years of his life abroad Jimmy played for three U.S. presidents. He also performed 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

After that debut, Jimmy considered it a privilege to invite people to attend his concerts “without charge”. He would say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” He often closed his classical concerts with hymns and/or popular songs as a reminder of his roots and his celebration of the universal nature of music. People from all over the world would come to hear him play from as far away as Australia or as close as Washington, D.C.  He later served on the musical faculty of the University of California, Berkeley.

A PBS documentary, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall,” chronicles his odyssey from Pine Bluff to New York, with scores of stops and detours in between.  In 1994, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  Regardless of where he lived or worked, he continued to visit Arkansas and support endeavors in the state.  In 2006, he lent his talents to a fundraiser for the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.  Four years later, he made the rafters shake in capacity concerts at that now-opened museum as well as the Clinton Presidential Center.  In addition to his musical talent and winning personality, he was known for his unique fashion sense (deliberately not matching his shoes was one trademark).

Two years ago today (February 13, 2013), McKissic died. His funeral services were held on the campus of UAPB, where he had spent so much time growing up.

For more on Jimmy McKissic and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.