Florence Luella Jewell Shurtleff

Florence Luella Jewell Shurtleff

1895 – 1977

Florence Shurtleff in her Sunday Best, mid-1950s. Courtesy of her family.

Florence Luella Jewell was the oldest of the 3 children of John Henry Jewell (1867-1947) and Henrietta Maria Brownell Jewell (1869-1963).  Her mother Henrietta was the daughter of Cyrus Augustus Brownell (1832-1897) of Little Compton and Caroline (Chace) Brownell. Florence was born in Central Falls, RI; but soon after, the family moved to her great-grandmother’s place in Little Compton, on Maple Avenue at the head of William Sisson Road. This great-grandmother was Deborah Taylor Brownell, whose name is on the plaque attached to the front of the house, which is still in the family. Florence had a brother Willard Brownell Jewell (1899-1969) and a sister Ethel May Jewell (1902-1992), both born in Little Compton.

As a child, Florence attended School #9, (which became the Legion Hall, and is now the Treasurer’s office), here in Little Compton; which at the time was ungraded. There was no high school in town, so she continued her studies by attending and graduating from Durfee High School in Fall River, class of 1913. She returned to Little Compton and began teaching, continuing her education through correspondance courses and later attending Rhode Island College for 2 years. Here in Little Compton, she taught ungraded classes at #7 School in Pottersville, and grades 4-6 at #2 School on West Road.

During the 1918 flu epidemic, family recalled Florence telling that the town set up a “hospital” on the Commons, (either at the Grange or Odd Fellows Hall).  She worked with other town women to prepare meals at the Brownell House, for the patients; and then delivered them by cart or wagon to the temporary hospital.

In 1921, on her 26th birthday, September 6; she married Malcolm Chesney Shurtleff (1895-1959), whose family lived in Adamsville, at the bottom of Colebrook Hill. He was the son of Eugene Kussuth Shurtleff (1856-1942) and Harriet (Hattie) Elma Cook (1859-1943).  It’s possible they met as teenagers; as the 1910 census for Little Compton shows Malcolm, age 15, as a “hired boy”, living with a closeby neighbor of the Jewell family on Maple Avenue. He went on to graduate from East Greenwich Academy and Dakota Wesleyan University. ­ Florence and Malcolm’s wedding was held at the Methodist Church (then located on Pike’s Peak) of which she and her family were very active and devoted members.  Florence had already been teaching Sunday School there for many years.

Florence and Malcolm had 4 children: Malcolm Chesney Jr.(1922-2010), John Richard (1924-1943), Helen Elizabeth (1926-2019), and Donald Eugene (1932-2013).  Sadly, their son Johnnie, a fun-loving and well-liked teenager, lost his life suddenly to meningitis, at age 19 while attending boot camp during WWII. He is memorialized with his name at the corner of Maple Ave and Wm.Sisson Road. Malcolm Jr, Helen and Donald all grew up, married, and gave Florence and Malcolm their 7 grandchildren. One of those grandsons remembers, with a chuckle, the times as a boy, he would visit her, carrying a cardboard shoebox; which she would open very hesitantly.  She, and he, both knew he would bring little snakes to show her, just to see and hear her startled reaction!

They had a long and adventurous marriage; Malcolm’s various jobs, mostly as a teacher or school administrator, took them from Minnesota to Connecticut, back to Little Compton, and finally to Maine.  In between, they spent 4 years in the country of Peru, where he was principal of a high school there, as part of the Methodist educational project. In later years, they were referred to as missionaries for their work there. Two of their 4 children were born in Peru; John and Helen.  Florence recalled the frequent earthquakes they endured while in Peru; one of which occurred the day they brought Helen home from the hospital. Malcolm’s last job, in Maine, was with Border Patrol; which had them living in several very cold and remote areas near the Canadian border.  Their daughter Helen remembered well the cold, deep snow, and difficulty traveling and getting to school during the winter in Jackman, Maine. Florence and Malcolm’s final adventure together was a cross-country road trip, where they planned to visit family and friends all along the way. They made it to California before Malcolm succumbed to leukemia in a hospital there.

Wherever they lived, Florence (and Malcolm) were active and devoted church members; he being a lay minister. In Bridgewater, Maine the church they attended was so appreciative of their help and participation that a photograph of them still hangs in the fellowship hall.  Florence taught Sunday School throughout most of her life, beginning at age 13 at the Little Compton Methodist Church.  She lived her life by many of the Methodist codes of the day: no drinking, swearing, dancing, or card-playing.  Her daughter Helen remembered that on Sundays during her childhood there were many church services to attend (more than she liked!) After the Methodist Church here in Little Compton was lost to fire and hurricanes, it merged with and became part of the United Congregational Church.  Florence continued to teach, and also became a member and officer of the church’s Ladies Aid Society.  In her later years, she taught an adult Bible class, from her home, for which she is still fondly remembered by many.

This from a former member of her adult Bible class:

“I used to watch her come into church…. always the same pew; as did my Nana, who I was with and how I met Mrs. Shurtleff.  Nana attended Florence Shurtleff’s evening Bible study on Thursdays. As Nana became less able to drive, I drove her and stayed….. and came to enjoy Mrs. Shurtleff’s evening lessons very much.  It was cozy, about 6 or 7 women around her kitchen table having tea and homemade cookies after the class.  She was a gentle, loving teacher as we explored the Bible together.”

Susan Wildes Collins, Granddaughter-in-Law

March 2020

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