21 cubic feet (64 document boxes, one oversize folder)
United States -- Race relations
Papers and photographs documenting the lives and descendants of Samuel and Mamie Anderson Bridgewater of Helena, Montana.
Scope and Contents:
The collection documents the lives of the family and descendants of Samuel and Mamie Anderson Bridgwater. The papers primarily belonged to the family and descendants of their daughter Mary Emma (1893-1981), who married Charles H. Harrell (1878-1948), a Pullman porter. The collection includes materials from collateral relatives and from those who married into the Bridgewater and Harrell families. The women of these families were extensively involved in community, religious, and social organizations. The collection contains materials about social and religious life in the relatively small African-American communities surrounding Helena, Montana. It also contains family papers including Samuel and Mamie's marriage certificate from 1892; educational memorabilia and school diplomas; scrapbooks and photogaphs documenting family members, vacations, life events and friends; baptismal records; hand-written birth and death entries; and correspondence between family members and friends living in other states.
The collection includes records of many of Montana's social and religious organizations from the 1890s to the 1950s, including the Colored Women's Clubs of America; the Pleasant Hour Club in Helena; the Helena Negro Chorus; the local chapter of the Society for the Relief of Worthy, Aged, Indigent Colored Persons, Pleasant House Club; and numerous Baptist and Roman Catholic congregations. Generations of women in the Bridgewater and Harrell families were members or officers of these organizations. The collection contains records and photographs relating to several African-American and integrated churches in Helena. Friends and community members, primarily other African-American Montanans, are represented in the collection as well.
Photographs and other documents record the lives of nearby neighbors and friends as well as lives of more distant family members and friends. Subjects covered in the collection are: the formerly enslaved parents of Samuel and Mamie Bridgwater; Samuel Bridgwater and his fellow Buffalo soldiers; Octavia Bridgewater's experiences at the Lincoln School of Nursing in New York City; Octavia Bridgewater's service with a segregated unit of the Army Nurse Corps in World War II while stationed at the Tuskegee Air Base, Alabama and her later life after returning to civilian life in Helena when she worked mostly as a midwife.
Some of the arrangement of the collection was done by family members prior to its donation to the Archives Center. The families had a vigorous and wide ranging network of family and friends in Montana and elsewhere in the United States, and materials related to all family members and friends may be found across multiple series.
Subseries 2.8: Harrell, Richard Francis, 1960-1996, undated
Subseries 2.9: Harrell, Cornelius Eckart, 1940-2001
Subseries 2.10: Harrell, Jr., Charles Henry, 1925-2005
Subseries 2.11: Family Memorabilia, 1960-1990, undated
Subseries 2.12: Photographs, 1929-1996, undated
Series 3, Trahan Family, 1923-1995, undated
Series 4, Family Friends, 1912-1979, undated
Series 5, Photographs, 1907-1992, undated
Biographical / Historical:
The Bridgewater family is a multi-generation African American family descended from Samuel (1862-1912) and Mamie Anderson Bridgwater (1872-1950) (note: later family members spelled the name with an "e"). The son of slaves, Bridgwater was born in Dixon Springs, Smith County, Tennessee, on February 25, 1862. He later enlisted in the all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment, USCI (United States Colored Infantry), one of the famous "Buffalo Soldier" regiments. The 24th Infantry served in the Department of Texas from 1869-1889, Indian Territory from 1880-1888 and following 1888 in the Department of Arizona. In 1892 he married Mamie E. Anderson the daughter of Levi Anderson and Emma Lucy in Fort Huachuca, in what later became the state of Arizona.
Bridgwater fought in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, where he was wounded. He retired from the United States Army at Fort Harrison, Montana, after twenty years of service on August 22, 1906. The family remained in Helena, Montana purchasing a home at 502 Peosta Avenue. The 1910 United States Census lists Samuel has having retired from the United States Army and lists Mamie as being a matron in the US Army hospital. They raised five children, three boys and two girls.
Samuel died on June 9, 1912. His widow and family remained in Montana becoming active in community affairs. Their descendants continued their parents' involvement in community and religious affairs as well as their fathers' tradition of military service. Their daughter Octavia 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. Members of the family continued to live in the home at 502 Peosta well into the twentieth century.
Donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian by Janet Harrell Campbell and Jules Harrell, descendants of Samuel and Mamie Anderson Bridgewater, 2016.
The collection is open for research.
Unrestricted research access on site by appointment. Unprotected photographs must be handled with gloves. Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.