Society for the Relief of Worthy Aged Indigent Colored Persons
United States Army Army Nurse Corps
United States Army Cavalry, 9th
16 cu. ft
New York (N.Y.)
The Bridgwater family is a multi-generation African American family descended from Samuel Bridgwater (note: later family members spelled the name with an "e"). The son of slaves, Bridgwater enlisted in the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment-one of the famous "Buffalo Soldier" regiments-in the 1880s and served at several posts on the Indian frontier. He also fought in the Philippines during the Spanish American War, where he was wounded. He and his wife Mamie ultimately settled in Helena, Montana, where they raised their family and became active in community affairs. Their descendants continued their parents' involvement in community affairs and their father's tradition of military service. Their daughter Octavia, for example, served in an all-black unit of the Army Nurse Corps during World War II and then served her community as a nurse-midwife for the rest of her life.
The collection documents the lives of Samuel and Mamie Bridgwater's family and their descendants, primarily through the line of their daughter Mary Emma, who married Charles Harrell, a Pullman porter. The collection also includes materials from collateral relatives and from those who married into the Bridgwater/Harrell line. The women of this extended family were extensively involved in community affairs and organizations over the years and the collection contains materials about social and religious life of the relatively small African American communities of Montana. The collection includes family papers such as Samuel and Mamie's marriage certificate from 1892, school diplomas, scrapbooks documenting family members, baptismal records, hand-written birth and death entries, and correspondence between family members living in other western states. The collection also includes records of many social organizations in various Montana cities from the 1890s to the 1950s, including the Colored Women's Clubs of America; the Pleasant Hour Club in Helena; the Helena Negro Chorus; and the local chapter of the Society for the Relief of Worthy, Aged, Indigent Colored Persons. Often, several generations of women in the Bridgwater family were members or officers of these organizations. The collection contains records and photographs relating to several African American churches in Helena, as well as to other, integrated churches. Friends and community members-primarily other Black Montanans-are represented in the collection as well. Photographs and other documents also record the lives of nearby neighbors and friends who were not Black Montanans. Most persons in the photos have associated documents. Additional subjects covered in the collection are: the formerly enslaved parents of Samuel and Mamie Bridgwater; Samuel Bridgwater and his fellow Buffalo soldiers; Octavia Bridgwater's experiences at the Lincoln School of Nursing in New York City; Octavia Bridgwater's service with a segregated unit of the Army Nurse Corps in World War II while stationed at the Tuskegee Airbase; Octavia Bridgewater after returning to civilian life, when she returned to Helena and worked mostly as a midwife for the rest of her life.
Bridgwater Family Papers, 1880s-1970s, Archives Center, National Museum of American History