Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catharine "Joe" Leggett - A Spicy 1920s Love Story (52 Ancestors - #16)

After telling Oliver's story last week my mom's cousin Dotti dropped me a note saying that one of my future stories needed to be about "Joe" Leggett. She went on to tell me about my maternal great grand aunt, Catherine Josephine Leggett (aka "Joe). After reading what Dotti told me about her, I felt an urgency to write about Joe and I thought that there is no time like the present!!

Catharine Josephine Leggett was born on a cold Boston, January day in 1885 to William and Honora (Marnell) who were immigrants from St. John's, Newfoundland. She grew up with at least two sisters, Elizabeth (my maternal great grandmother) and Mary as well as two brothers, James and William. Catharine was second youngest.

Many knew her by "Joe" Leggett, including my cousin, my mom and my aunts.  It is not clear when she adopted her nickname.  As of the 1920s US Census, Joe was living with her sister Mary, brother-in-law John McDonough and her mother Honora on Second Street in South Boston.  She listed herself as a machine operator in a hosiery factory.  When asking folks what she was like or what she looked like, they all fondly remembered her being a tall thin woman with strawberry blond hair.  She was quite likeable and lived around the corner from my grand aunt Cassie (Griffin) Hurl.  From what I hear she loved to dress to the nines!  Wish I had a photo!!
1920 Census Listing the Leggetts (snippet taken from my tree in Ancestry.com)

This is where the story gets interesting!  According to my cousin Dotti, "Joe was the first forelady (aka: female foreman) in a stocking factory on B Street in Southie."  I tried to find a photo or the name of the factory with no luck.  Apparently a female foreman was unheard of for the time!  She was a modern woman of the 1920s, listed as single in the 1920s census, but not for long!

At some time between 1920-1924 Joe had an affair with a married man, Francis (Frank) Leo Cotter, who had an upper management job at the hosiery factory. He was so smitten with Joe that he decided to divorce his wife and marry her.  They were still married in the 1930s and 1940s US census and without children.  It did not seem that he was working as of the 1940's census and it showed that he was several years younger than Joe.

Sadly, Joe died in 1949.  I'm not sure of the cause of her death, but as any good genealogist would do, I'll research the death certificate next time I visit the Vital Records Office here in Boston.  

Note: If Joe were alive today, I would want to know what it was like to be a female foreman back in the 1920s.  I'm pretty sure her pay was not that of her male counterparts.  I would also like to know what happened to Frank's first wife and children.  Today families of divorced parents can find a way to get along for the sake of their children, but I wonder if that was the culture back then??  If anyone has photos of the B Street Factory or where I might be able to find that building, please email me at kbruynell1@gmail.com.  I would especially like to thank my cousin Dotti (Hurl) Cucinatta for her contributions to this story!!


  1. So interesting! You do a great job, Karen.

    1. Thanks so much Tammi! I am having so much fun with this and feel closer to distant cousins who I might not even know. They are all terrific!

  2. I am a senior, from upstate NY, who does family Leggett genealogy.
    Found this story bit and loved it. Life is a bunch of stories and
    we couple them together, with genealogy...Am left with a smile...Thank you