Love That Dirty Water—Boston, You’re My Town: Great-great-uncle Felix

I lived in the Boston area for six years and still live just 90 miles to the west of the Hub; my older daughter went to college there; my younger daughter has lived there for almost ten years.  I have other family and friends in the area. And I’ve been a Boston Red Sox fan for over half my life.  So it gave me quite a smile to see that Felix Schoenthal, one of my great-grandfather’s brothers, ended up in the Boston area—Brookline, to be specific, a town that borders Boston and is known as the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy and the longtime center of the Boston Jewish community.

Felix and Margaret Schoenthal from 1919 passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 - Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

Felix and Margaret Schoenthal from 1919 passport application,
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 – Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

But before he got to Boston, my great-great-uncle Felix had lived, like his siblings, in western Pennsylvania after immigrating from Sielen, Germany in 1872.  As I wrote earlier, Felix married Margaret or Maggie Swem in 1878; Margaret was born in West Newton, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John and Rachel Swem; her father was a blacksmith there.

UPDATE: Thanks to Diane Young Decker who commented on this post, I now know a bit more about the family of Margaret Swem.  Margaret’s father John was Diane’s great-great-great grandmother’s brother.  Margaret wrote the following about her great-great-great grandmother Abigail Swem Wilson: “[The family] was Baptist or another fairly straight-laced Protestant denomination. Life was very very different on the hardscrabble prairies of Iowa, which is where David and Abigail Swem Wilson settled and finished raising their family. They were desperately poor, particularly during the Civil War years, when four of their boys went to war, leaving David, who was only able to get around on crutches, Abigail and the young daughters to handle the farm. One of the boys, Eli Wilson, was killed in the war and another never returned to the home place for any length of time.” Diane would love to hear from anyone else with Swem relatives.

Felix and Margaret must have been an interesting couple: a fairly recently arrived German Jewish immigrant and a Baptist daughter of a blacksmith from western Pennsylvania.

Felix and Margaret had two daughters in the 1880s: Rachel (1881) and Yetta (1884).  I assume that Rachel was named for Margaret’s mother and that Yetta was named for Felix’s mother, my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg Schoenthal, who had died in 1882.

In 1880, Felix was working as a bookkeeper for the paper mill in West Newton. Then in 1883, the mill was shut down.  This news article sheds interesting light on both the ways of business back then and the character of Felix Schoenthal:

"Why They Shut Down," The Indiana (PA) Democrat, June 14, 1883, p. 7

“Why They Shut Down,” The Indiana (PA) Democrat, June 14, 1883, p. 7

If I understood this correctly, the owner of the mill wanted employees, including Felix, to sign affidavits that falsely stated the cost of manufacturing paper.  I assume he was trying to justify his prices.  When Felix refused to do so, he was assaulted by the mill owner; other employees were fired for refusing to sign the affidavit.  As a result of the unrest, the mill was shut down.

Felix and Margaret relocated to Pittsburgh, where Felix continued to work as a bookkeeper according to directory listings in 1883; his listings in the 1884 and 1888 Pittsburgh directories are the same—bookkeeper.

Then in April, 1889, Felix opened a women’s clothing store.

Felix Schoenthal 1889 new store

Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 9, 1889, p. 3

Although this article only refers to “Mr. Schoenthal,” this listing in the 1889 Pittsburgh directory for “F. Schoenthal—Ladies’ Fine Furnishings” provides a home address, 144 Jackson Avenue, that matches the home address given for Felix Schoenthal in the 1888 Pittsburgh directory and earlier.

But it appears that the store venture did not last too long.  These ads in the October 19, 1889 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggest that Felix was already closing down the store six months later:

F Schoenthal store closeout october 1889

And in the 1890 Pittsburgh city directory, he listed his occupation as an accountant, not a merchant. In 1892, the Pittsburgh directory lists Felix as a cashier, and in 1896, he was an advertising manager. Then in 1897 he was again a bookkeeper.

It might have seemed like Felix was struggling to find his niche, but in fact Felix had developed quite a reputation.  According to Felix’s obituary, “Henry M. Whitney of Boston came to know of Mr. Schoenthal’s skilled operations in accountancy and interested him in association with New England Gas & Coke Company and Dominion Coal Company and Dominion Iron & Steel Company of Canada, for which vast enterprise he was general auditor.” Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6.  Felix took the job and moved to Boston, where he was listed in the 1898 and 1899 city directories as an auditor.

On the 1900 census, Felix and his wife Maggie and their two daughters, now 19 and 16, were living at 8 Kenwood Street in Brookline.  Felix was still working as an auditor for the coke and coal companies.

From September 23, 1901, until April 24, 1904, Felix and his family lived in Montreal, Canada, according to his 1919 passport application. I assume he continued to work for the same company since it had a Canadian division.

Felix Schoenthal passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 - Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

Felix Schoenthal 1919 passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 – Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

 

This news item in the September 8, 1901, Boston Herald announced the family’s upcoming move:

Felix Schoenthal move to Montreal 1901

 

After over three years in Montreal, they returned to Brookline and moved to 26 Kenwood Street (a different house from their prior home, which was at 8 Kenwood Street), according to the 1905 Brookline directory. Here is a photo of the house, which according to Zillow was built in 1905, so it was new when my relatives moved in.

 

26 Kenwood Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

26 Kenwood Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

At that point, Felix was still working as an auditor, but the following year’s directory lists Felix’s occupation as “typewriter,” and that is the occupation given in every Brookline directory thereafter.[1]

What was Felix doing with typewriters? According to an article written in the Boston Herald on July 13, 1924, Felix Schoenthal was the founder of the Model Typewriter Company in Boston.  The article described how Felix transformed the typewriter business not only for this company but nationally:

Felix Schoenthal typewriter story part 1

Felix Schoenthal Typewriter story part 2

Boston Herald, July 13, 1924, p. 31

Thus, Felix took a risk leaving his job as the auditor for the coke and coal corporations, a risk that seemed to pay off.  His innovation—refurbishing typewriters rather than selling them in need of repairs—is something that today has become part of many business models, whether it’s computers, cars, electronic equipment, or appliances.

Meanwhile, Felix and Margaret’s daughters had grown up.  In 1910, Rachel (also known as Ray) was 29, and Yetta was 25.  Both were still living at home and not working outside the home.   In the Boston Herald of May 28, 1911,  Felix and Margaret announced the engagement of their daughter Yetta to David Edward Moeser.

 

Yetta Schoenthal engagement
David Moeser was a year younger than Yetta and was born in Montreal in 1885.  He immigrated to Boston around 1904 or 1905, soon after Felix Schoenthal and his family had returned to Boston from Montreal.  David would have been only 19 when he left Canada for Boston.  Call me a crazy romantic, but I think David must have followed Yetta to Boston—a teenage love affair.  Or alternatively, Felix was a friend of his family and offered to help David get started on a career in Boston.  I like the first version better.

In 1905 David was working as a cashier, and in 1906 he was an accountant, leading some credence to the second alternative, that Felix, an accountant, was helping him start his career. He was also living in Brookline, less than two miles from the Schoenthals.  In 1910 his directory listing description is as a financial manager, still living in Brookline.

After marrying on August 11, 1911, David and Yetta lived with Felix, Margaret, and Rachel at 26 Kenwood.  In 1918, when David registered for the World War I draft, they were still living at 26 Kenwood.

David Moeser World War I draft registration Registration State: Massachusetts; Registration County: Norfolk; Roll: 1685068

David Moeser World War I draft registration
Registration State: Massachusetts; Registration County: Norfolk; Roll: 1685068

David was by then a naturalized citizen and the treasurer and general manager of Conrad and Company, Incorporated, a women’s clothing store that grew into a department store on Winter Street in Boston.

 

Boston Herald, January 4, 1928, p. 10

Boston Herald, January 4, 1928, p. 10

By 1921, David had established himself sufficiently as a knowledgeable business person that he was quoted in the Boston Post on the issue of whether or not a sales tax should be instituted to raise revenue:

David Moeser on sales tax 1921

 

Yetta and David were still living at 26 Kenwood Street in 1920 with Felix and Margaret Schoenthal, according to the 1920 census.  Rachel, however, was no longer living there.  In 1915 she had married Samuel Kronberg, who was almost twenty years older than Rachel and a widower.  His first wife, Nannie, an opera singer, had died in 1907.

Samuel was born in about 1862 in Russia-Poland (records conflict), the son of Marcus/Max and Tobie Kronberg, who had immigrated to Boston where Max was a merchant.  According to his obituary (see below), Samuel was a music student from an early age and studied in Europe for several years.  He then taught music and was the director of the Knickerbocker Opera Company in New York before returning to Boston where he became a successful music impresario.

Samuel was perhaps best known for producing a performance of Richard Wagner’s opera Siegfried at Harvard Stadium in 1915, the year Samuel Kronberg married Rachel Schoenthal.

Springfield Sunday Republican, May 9, 1915, p. 18

Siegfried part 2

Springfield Sunday Republican, May 9, 1915, p. 18

(I was tickled to see that one of the performers was Alma Gluck, who,  according to family lore, knew my maternal grandfather Isadore Goldschlager.)

Samuel’s younger brother Louis Kronberg was also well-known in the arts.  He was a painter whose work was supported by Isabella Stewart Gardner, the famed Boston patron of the arts, and many of his works are in her collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; Kronberg also has paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and elsewhere.

La Gitano by Louis Kronberg, about 1920, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

La Gitano by Louis Kronberg, about 1920, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston http://www.gardnermuseum.org/collection/browse?filter=artist:3297

In 1920, Samuel and Rachel were living at 1742 Commonwealth Avenue in the Brighton section of Boston, an area I know well since my younger daughter lived about half a mile away from that building when she first moved to Boston.  Unfortunately, Rachel’s marriage to Samuel was not long-lived as he died two years later on February 3, 1922, less than seven years after marrying Rachel.

Samuel Kronberg obituary

Rachel was only 41 years old when her husband died; she never remarried.  In 1926 she was living with her parents at 341 St. Paul Street in Brookline, another familiar address as my daughter lived on St. Paul Street for several years before moving to her current apartment.

Four years later the family suffered another loss when my great-great-uncle Felix Schoenthal died on August 26, 1926.  He was 69 years old.

Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6

Felix Schoenthal obit Boston Herald 8 26 1926 p 6

Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6

 

His widowed wife and widowed daughter Rachel moved in together and in 1930 were living at 4 Chiswick Street in Boston; neither was employed outside the home.  Yetta and her husband David Moeser had also moved out of the house at 26 Kenwood Street; in 1930 they were living at 20 Chapel Street/Longwood Towers in Brookline; David was still working for Conrad and Company.  He and Yetta had no children.

In 1940, Margaret Schoenthal and her daughter Rachel Schoenthal Kronberg were still living together on Chiswick Street; Margaret was now 80 years old, Rachel was 58.  Neither was employed.  Felix’s success in the typewriter business and Samuel’s success as an impresario must have been keeping them secure.

By 1940, David and Yetta (Schoenthal) Moeser had moved to 534 Beacon Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston where my younger daughter lives now.  David’s World War II draft registration indicates that he was still working for Conrad and Company in 1942.

David Moeser World War II draft regisration The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; State Headquarters: Massachusetts; Microfilm Series: M2090; Microfilm Roll: 107

David Moeser World War II draft regisration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; State Headquarters: Massachusetts; Microfilm Series: M2090; Microfilm Roll: 107

 

I have been unable to find a death record for Margaret Swem Schoenthal; the last document I have for her is the 1948 Boston directory which lists her residing still at 4 Chiswick Road in Boston.  In 1951, only her daughter Rachel is listed at that address, so I assume that Margaret had died sometime between 1948 and 1951.  She would have been at least 89 years old.  Her daughter Rachel died on June 4, 1953, according to the Boston city directory for that year.  She was 72 years old.

By 1953 David Moeser was the president and treasurer of Conrad and Company, and he and Yetta were back in Brookline, living in the Longwood Towers on Chapel Street, according to the city directory for that year.

David Moeser Boston Daily Record, November 4, 1955, p. 53

David Moeser
Boston Daily Record, November 4, 1955, p. 53

 

In 1968, David Moeser was chairman of the board and treasurer of Conrad & Chandler, the company produced when Conrad and Company merged with another department store, Chandler and Company, in 1957.  David Moeser had been instrumental in that merger, which changed the face of shopping in Boston, according to this article.

David Moeser died on July 12, 1969; he was 84 years old and had been quite a prominent businessman in Boston.

David E. Moeser obituary

David E. Moeser obituary Boston Herald, July 14, 1969, p. 22

Just one month later almost to the day, on August 11, 1969, his wife Yetta also died.  She was 85 when she died. She and David had known each other probably since they were teenagers and had been married for 58 years.

 

Yetta Schoenthal death notice

 

Since neither Rachel nor Yetta had had children, Yetta’s death ended Felix Schoenthal’s line in the family. That is a real shame; they were an interesting group of people.  Felix was obviously a very smart and creative entrepreneur.  He started as an immigrant coming to the US as a teenager and rose to own a very successful business in Boston.  His two sons-in-law were also creative and successful; Samuel Kronberg was a dedicated and well-known impresario, and David Moeser for many years oversaw one of the best known department stores in Boston .

I love having an old Boston family to claim as my own.  Not exactly the Cabots and Lodges, but a more recent and more ethnic version of the Boston elite.  When I think of Felix and his family living in Boston, I wonder whether he took his family to the newly-opened Fenway Park in 1912, whether he cheered for the Red Sox, and whether he ever saw Babe Ruth play for the Sox before he was traded to the Yankees in 1920.

1918 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

1918 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Did Felix take his family to the Museum of Fine Arts, which opened the building at its current location on Huntington Avenue in 1909? Did they stroll down the streets in Back Bay and downtown Boston to go shopping? Did they picnic in the Boston Public Garden and ride the swan boats, which had been there since 1877?

I am sure they visited David Moeser’s Conrad’s store on Winter Street and listened to Samuel Kronberg’s musical performances at Copley Plaza.  They likely also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in order to see the paintings of Samuel’s brother Louis.
Copley Plaza, Boston, with Boston Public Libra...

Copley Plaza, Boston, with Boston Public Library at left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know these streets, and I know these places.  Unlike when I write about my relatives in places like Pittsburgh or Santa Fe or Philadelphia or even New York City, I really can envision my Schoenthal relatives living in in Boston and Brookline.  The next time I am there, I will think of them and smile.

English: Boston skyline at night, as seen from...

English: Boston skyline at night, as seen from Cambridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

[1] For some reason the 1910 census states that he was a clothing merchant, but that was clearly an error.  Perhaps a neighbor gave the information, just another example of how unreliable census information can be.

25 thoughts on “Love That Dirty Water—Boston, You’re My Town: Great-great-uncle Felix

  1. Amy, I love this entry, very interesting personae and a territory that I have
    been to so many times, though as a visitor. Museums, especially the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, places, parcs, monuments, harbor. Friends live in Brookline, and Newton. Very few urban areas are as familiar….
    Strange that from these large families the 2. or 3. generation often leaves us without descendants…..

    Like

    • Thanks, Dorothee! Someday we should meet in Boston. Such a great city and so easy to see. And yes, I truly was sad when I realized that neither of the daughters had children to carry on the line. I’d have loved to find a Boston cousin living today!

      Like

  2. So impressive! I wonder, does Conrad and Chandler still grace the Boston Landscape, or have they been swallowed up? And fascinating, the reference to ‘Ladies fine Furnishings’ – now there’s a definition that has altered with the years! There’s at least half a book, I’m thinking, in Felix’s life. A great gentleman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Frederick! No, Conrad & Chandler no longer exists. I believe it closed in the early 1970s. We moved to Boston in 1975, and I do not remember any store by that name. And I agree—Felix is definitely book material!

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. I was so happy to have stumbled across your blog. i’ve always dreamed of doing something this extensive. I will be spending some time exploring. I got here by searching for my father’s first cousin three times removed, Margaret Swem. I don’t always google each person I am researching, but I was having trouble finding what happened to Margaret after 1870. Apparently she did well for herself! Her sister Alvira (Allie) married the son of one of the most prominent citizens in West Newton (can you hear me being impressed?). So two of the Swem girls at least made “good matches”. If anyone else descended from the Swem family contacts you, would you please connect us? Margaret’s father was my great great great grandmother’s brother and I would love to share what I have learned, and perhaps learn something to flesh out the family stories. Thanks so much for doing such a beautiful job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, this is so cool! I love when cousins stumble on my blog. I know that we are related only by the marriage of your distant cousin to mine, but we are still cousins. 🙂 I’d love to know more about the Swems. I will email you.

      Like

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