Born August 31, 1867
(Much of the following is quoted from Austin Family memoirs compiled by Myra Austin Ribbel in 1940, and sent to her niece Ruth B. Connell.)
Emma was the second born child to William Henry Austin and Mary Ann Findley.
The Austin family’s roots go back to a Robert Austin, born in England around 1630. He immigrated to Kingston, Rhode Island, where he started his family. His descendants remained in the New England area up to and through the American Revolution, when Emma’s great-great-grandfather, Phinehas Austin, fought in the American Revolution. Very few people ventured into the “wilderness” during those years. Emma’s father, William Henry Austin, was born in Glens Falls, New York, on November 3, 1838.
William left his home at an early age to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. He first went to Chicago where he lived for a short while about the time Abraham Lincoln was running for president. When the Civil War broke out, William was torn with his Christian upbringing. It was hard to make up his mind to take up arms against another human being. Shades of his Revolutionary ancestors rose before him and, yes, he would answer Lincoln’s third call for recruits. He enlisted in the Civil War on March 25, 1863, at Cincinnati, Ohio, as a seaman for two years. During the war, he served under Farragutt on a gunboat. Two of the vessels that he served on were the “Clara Dolsen” and the “Choctaw.”
William was hospitalized in Tennessee because of a bullet wound to the leg close to the end of the war. While lying in the hospital, he met Mary Ann Findley, a southern girl working as a nurse. They fell in love and were married in April 1865. Mary Ann’s father was bitterly opposed to his daughter marrying a northerner and forbid him coming to their home. Mary Ann never saw her father or mother again.
William and Mary Ann moved to Philadelphia for a while but, when William got a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad, they moved to the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where at least six of seven of their children were born. (It’s not known if Mary-Bell was born in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.)
Mary-Bell Austin March 14, 1866
Emma M. Austin August 31, 1867
Harry (G.H.) Austin May 29, 1869
Phineas G. Austin August 22, 1871
Myra Austin October 23, 1873
Walter S. Austin June 28, 1876
Louella Austin July 2, 1878
William changed jobs while in Pittsburgh and the new job required the family to move into the city proper. Pittsburgh was noted at that time for its “smoky” atmosphere, and William’s new job was wearing him down, having to work between ten & 11 hours a day.
City life did not agree with anyone in the family. Myra came down with an attack of jaundice. Walter contacted typhoid fever, and was only saved because of his mother’s nursing experience during the Civil War. All the children were ailing. William and Mary Ann knew that they had to change their lifestyle. Around 1883, the family moved to a farm just 30 miles outside of Omaha, Nebraska.
Mary Ann, (Emma’s mother,) being a southerner, had raised her sons and daughters to be prim and proper. Soon after arriving in Omaha, young folks from neighboring farms began to call. Emma’s mother once said, “The young men were shy, self-conscious and sensitive, badly in need of sartorial (tailored clothes) and tonsorial (a barber’s) assistance. The metal was still in the ore, and not set free by the craftsman’s hand.”
Southern girls were taught to make those about them feel at ease and pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. When Emma practiced this psychology on the farmer boys, they wanted to marry her. She didn’t want to marry them, she just wanted gallantry and adoration.
Belle (now 18) was prudent, dignified and thoughtful and did not trifle with the young men’s hearts.
Emma (now 17) was impetuous, always burning for action and loved fun and more fun. Thus their two characters supplemented each other.
The young folks in the area loved to go to the Austin farm. Emma could think of so many things to do. She had a gift of repartee that never failed her. She was never at a loss for the comic metaphor or the vivid phrase.
One day around 1884, handbills were handed out to the school children advertising an evening of magic by Professor Reno to be held at the schoolhouse on a certain evening. Adults 25 cents, children 10 cents. There were so few diversions in farm country those days, that when anything came along of a social nature of entertainment, the farmers and their large families turned out en masse.
They packed the schoolhouse as close as herrings. The magician was young and very handsome. He looked very distinguished in his full black suit. The way he made flowers grow out of a flower pot and the tricks he did with live rabbits and ducks thrilled and baffled the spectators.
After the performance, the Austin family went up to him and told him how delighted they were with the entertainment. The younger folks lingered a little longer. Emma completely lost her head about him. It was love at first sight for both of them. Emma began to weave a romance for herself. Show people in those days were not looked upon in the same light as they are today. Perhaps he was already married. No doubt he made conquests with the ladies where he happened to entertain. No doubt he had a trunk full of photographs of young ladies and Emma’s was just another one added to his collection.
Love will have its way despite distance, rough roads and buggy travel. Ed was using all of his magic to win her. The pen is always bolder than the tongue. His letters to Emma were masterpieces of love, elegance and style. He made her the guiding star of his life.
Those precious letters and Ed’s pictures were kept under the mattress of her bed. She showered kisses on his picture. The letters were read and re-read until they were in shreds.
She realized now and was well assured of being his only love, with no rivals. She kept her glorious secret locked in her heart. Her usual lively conversation melted into dreamy silence. Her personality harmonized with the spirit within.
During the next year, Belle and Emma were living in Omaha most of the time completing their schooling. Belle was studying to be a teacher, and Emma was immerged in loving Ed and in love with magic.
After her schooling was done, Ed and Emma were married in Atchinson, Kansas on November 13, 1886. Emma was just over 19 years old.