Hettie Schoenthal, An Indomitable Spirit: Part I

With the next few posts I will finally complete the stories of the children of Simon Schoenthal, brother of my great-grandfather Isidore. These next few posts will be about Hettie Schoenthal Stein, the third youngest child and second youngest daughter of Simon and Rose.

Courtesy of the family of Hettie Schoenthal Stein

Courtesy of the family of Hettie Schoenthal Stein

In many ways I have saved the best for last because I was very fortunate to connect with Hettie’s grandson’s family, and they shared with me a number of photographs plus a memoir written by Hettie herself as well as an essay of memories written by her son Walter.  Some of those photographs and a bit of the memoir have already been included in earlier posts—with the family’s permission.  Hettie was almost ninety years old when she wrote her life story to share with her grandson.   I have kept the phrasing and spelling just as Hettie wrote it in 1973 and 1974.  All excerpts attributed to Hettie are from her memoir, “This is My Life.”

Hettie was born in Philadelphia on April 24, 1886, the eighth child of Simon Schoenthal and Rose Mansbach.  As Hettie tells it:

I was born and they named me Hettie Schoenthal in 1886, a tiney little girl weighing 8 ½ pounds. I was only two weeks old when Mother and I were taken to Wills Eye Hospital in Phila where Mother had an eye operation. My oldest sister [Gertrude] told me this story. She said I was such a good and pretty baby the Superviser wanted to adopt me as Mother only had seven more at home, then later on two more came along. There were six boy and four girls. The first were twins.

According to Hettie, the family left Philadelphia when she was five or in about 1891 for Atlantic City.  She described her childhood there:

I will tell you a little about my school days. I wish I had a picture of the school—it still looks the same as it did 85 years ago. I must tell you about the boy who sat in back of me. We liked each other. One day the teacher caught me turning around talking so she sent me to the coat room. When it was time for me to come out, she sent Frank in and I kissed him. I had a good time in there I played ball with the hats and tried on the coats.

They were the good old days.

I did not like school and I am sorry to say I did not go through high school but I am very happy and proud all my grandchildren are graduates of college. …

We had a big St. Bernard dog and I loved to take him on the beach. We would walk near the water. I made lots of friends both boys and girls.

Not all of Hettie’s memories were as pleasant:

Hettie Excerpt 1


I must tell you when I was seven or eight years old my sister was baking a cake and our maid said “Miss Gertie, you spilled some flour,” so I ran to get my little broom. When my sister came from the stove with boiling milk, I ran into her and was scalted very badely. I still have the scar. My hair covers it. I was lucky it did not go in my eye.

But that incident had some benefits:

My father was a strick man. He thought everything my mother cooked we should eat and I remember we had some sweet and sour beans. I would not eat them. I had a little apron on with a pocket and the beans landed in there. My dad happened to see me do it. He came over to my side of the table, took me by the hand, lead me in the other room, my panties came down, and the hand went to work. It was not to bad. I was the pet of the family because of my accident with the milk.

Clearly, Hettie was a spirited child.

Hettie also shared this story, which occurred when she was about twelve years old or in 1898:

One day I was walking on the Boardwalk and a photographer came along and wanted to take my picture so he did. Then Mr. Persky the Artist saw it and wanted to make a painting. It realey was beautiful it had a very expensive frame. It was put on display in a furniture store window. I was passing and I saw a crowd. I got way up front and some man said, “Here is the kid now.” My parents were able to buy it. It hung in our home for many years.

Fortunately, among the photographs I received from Hettie’s family was the one described above:

Hettie Schoenthal, c. 1898

Hettie Schoenthal, c. 1898

No wonder the photographer was taken with her! Hettie’s adventurous spirit is revealed in this anecdote from about 1903 when she was a teenager:

Now I think I am around 16 or 17 years old. I liked this boy very much. His name was Roy Willis. He wanted me to elope with him, so I would meet him around the corner. One night he had to work late, so I went for a walk and I met a boy who lived near us and he daired me to go on the Pier with him. So I went and Roy caught up to us and was very mad. The next day he and my brother Martin were going on vacation up in the mountain. He did not say good by. A few days later I got a post card with a picture of a fellow falling off of a horse saying I went off so suddenly he did not sign his name but did after he returned.

Hettie Schoenthal, 1906 Courtesy of her family

Hettie Schoenthal, 1906, about 20 years old
Courtesy of her family

In 1898, Hettie’s older sister Gertrude had married Jacob J. Miller and had moved soon thereafter to Tucson, Arizona.  When she was about twenty years old or around 1906, Hettie followed her big sister to Tucson. It must have been quite a shock for a girl who had grown up in the urban environment of Atlantic City.   Their house in Tucson “had a big screen porch and we slept out there most of the time and we would hear a coyot and sometimes we would smell a skunk.”

But Hettie seemed quite happy and had an active social life:

There were quite a few young folks in Tucson and I was having a good time horseback riding, card parties and Picnics. Two of the men were very nice to me. They wanted to date me every night. One was a traveling salesman and had to be out of town some time so Henry Stein was the winner. That summer it was very hot in Tucson so we went up to the mountains to a place called Orical. The hotel was run by an American Indian and his wife.

We had one very large room with four beds. When we went to bed the first night we saw a big Tarantular. That is a great big black spider on the ceiling. We were afraid for all of us to go to sleep so my sister and I took turns watching it. We had very little sleep.

On Sunday Henry and my sister’s husband drove up to see us and had dinner with us. Well we had a good dinner but I said the chicken tasted different. I found out later it was rabbit. I got so I liked Henry much better but I did not know if I loved him. He asked me to marry him but I thought he was so much older than I. There was 15 years difference. I came back to Atlantic City. After awhile I got restless, then my sister’s husband came east on a business trip and I was again for the west. I loved to travel.

Henry Stein and Hettie Schoenthal 1907 courtesy of their family

Henry Stein and Hettie Schoenthal 1907
courtesy of their family

Hettie also shared this story of her return to Atlantic City:

I must tell you, one day in Tucson Ariz, I think it was 1908, a girl from Phila and I went horse back riding. My horse belonged to our neighbor. I had ridden him many times and never had any trouble, but this time I don’t know if he got scared or what, but he tried to throw me. I stayed on him as long as I could. A man came along and told me I had better get off. I believe this girl’s name was Lena. One day she said “I am going back to Phila,” so I got restless so I said, “I will go with you.” So I got ready.

In those days it took 4 or 5 days by train. It had a Pullman car and the chairs were very comfortable. We met two very nice gentlemen. They wanted to treat us to a drink. We did not drink the kind they did. We had root beer. The one I liked best had a pretty red tie on. I admired it, so the next day when I saw him, he had a package for me. Guess what was in it? The red tie. That night I put on a white blouse and had the tie on. When they came in the dining car they got the next table to us. He said it looked better on me. Then he told me his wife made it. I said maybe I had better give it back and he said no. When we were getting near Phila he wanted my address. I told him I did not go with married men.

This photograph of Hettie with three of her siblings must have been taken during that return to Atlantic City in 1908 (love the wild hairstyles):

Hettie Schoenthal and her siblings, 1908 Atlantic City. Estelle, Martin, and Maurice?

Hettie Schoenthal and others—I think Sidney, Hettie, Estelle, and Jacob.  Atlantic City 1908 Courtesy of the family

Hettie must have returned to Arizona from the East not long after, and when she did, she seemed to have gotten over the fifteen year age difference between herself and Henry Stein:


Marriage license notice for Hettie Schoenthal and Henry Stein Los Angeles Herald Tribune, August 24, 1909, p. 14

Marriage license notice for Hettie Schoenthal and Henry Stein
Los Angeles Herald Tribune, August 24, 1909, p. 14

Hettie and Henry wedding photo

The summer of 1909 we went to Los Angeles, Cal, and Henry came up there and we decided to get married, so on Aug 24 we did and went on a nice honeymoon. Then we went back to Tucson to make our home.

Henry was the first white barber in Tucson. He shaved Grover Cleveland before we were married. His aunt brought him over from Uhel, Slovakia. He was very young. He had a younger brother over here who was in an accident and killed.

We built a very pretty home next to my sisters and we were very happy.

Two years later on Oct. 9, a little boy came along. We named him Walter, then Sept. 22nd two years later, a little girl. We named her Blanche. That was your mother. She was really beautiful.

Birth certificate of Walter Stein courtesy of the family

Birth certificate of Walter Stein
courtesy of the family


Henry Stein with his son Walter, 1910 courtesy of the family

Henry Stein with his son Walter, 1910
courtesy of the family



Walter and Blanche Stein, 1913 courtesy of their family

Walter and Blanche Stein, 1913
courtesy of their family


A few years after their daughter Blanche was born, Hettie and Henry and their children left Tucson for Ray, Arizona, a small mining town that was about 100 miles from Tucson.  What would have led them there?

Part II addresses that question and describes their life in Ray.


Blanche, Hettie, and Walter Stein

Blanche, Hettie, and Walter Stein




28 thoughts on “Hettie Schoenthal, An Indomitable Spirit: Part I

  1. Amy, you are doing a splendid job of pulling together the highlights of Hettie’s life. We will preserve your efforts along with the original photos, for future generations. Thank you, thank you for this treasure! I like to emphasize to people that although, as readers here can see, Hettie’s personalized account of her life (she wrote about forty pages by hand to each of her three grandchildren. We have not seen the other two) is about as crudely and primitively written as it could be, it conveys an ocean of fact and shows what a humble, open, authentic person she was. Her heart was infinitely huge. The fact that her story is primitive and without guile endears it to us two or more generations later. It’s worth is beyond price. Bottom line: if Hettie could do this, anyone can write the story of his or her life as a legacy for the future.

    I must emphasize that the stunning picture of Hettie was a hand-tinted photograph, not a painting. Sepia photos were often overlaid with nearly transparent layers of oil paint to give them color. When well-done, these photos had a soft, subtle beauty that contrasted with vivd and sometimes harsh color printing we take for granted today.

    I’m especially delighted that you include the story of the spider. Hettie told me that story and I often pass it along. In her account to me, she said that the spider was OVER THE BED. Of all the possible ways of dealing with the situation, staying awake to scream if it dropped onto the bed where the children slept is one that would never come to my mind! But those women were tiny and dressed in petticoats, long skirts and lace-up shoes. The bed must have been large and too heavy to move. Climbing up on it with a broom? My goodness no! What a window into the mindset of the times.

    Walter was born in Arizona Territory, thus he was an official “pioneer.” Arizona became the 48th state on Valentine’s Day, 1912, so Blanche was an ordinary citizen of a state.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Sharon, for your kind words and for the clarification about the photo. I must have misunderstood what Hettie wrote—it wasn’t a separate painting, but a “colorization” of the photograph.

      And yes, the spider story is pretty telling. maybe they were just afraid to hit it with a shoe? I would have been!

      And thank you most of all for sharing Hettie’s story with me. I only wish I had known her. Her stories must have been amazing.


  2. Pingback: Part II: Hettie Schoenthal, An Indomitable Spirit « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  3. Pingback: Hettie’s Spirit Lives On: Her Children Walter and Blanche « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  4. Pingback: A Humble Story Lives On | TiaMart Blog

  5. Pingback: Ray, Arizona: Home of the Gertrude and Hettie Schoenthal | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  6. Pingback: Sliding Doors | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.