Lucy McDaniel Curtis Templeton

Copyright (2002) * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

Lucy McDaniel Curtis Templeton

(1878-1971)

Photographic Archives, Knoxville News-Sentinel

The lives of a multitude of readers in all walks of life have been enriched from her vast fund of knowledge of natural history, especially as related to gardening, birds and flowers, and of folklore, literature and the humanities, written in her characteristically unique and highly entertaining style. (Menís Garden Club of Knoxville, 1955) (1)

For more than 50 of her 57 years at the Knoxville News-Sentinel Lucy Curtis Templeton penned her column, "The Country Calendar." The column was mostly about the birds and flowers of East Tennessee, especially her own birds and flowers at her home on the rim of Black Oak Ridge. However, the wide-ranging interests reflected in her stories encompassed everything from World War II history to entertainment, from radio and book reviews to local politics, from semi-precious jewels to alligators and much more. Many News-Sentinel subscribers read her column even before they read Bert Vincentís and everyone read "Strolling." For many years Fountain Citian Lucy Templeton made a positive difference in our daily lives.

Lucy McDaniel Curtis, the only daughter of Gay Street jeweler Henry William Curtis and Ida (Whitlow) Curtis, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on August 31, 1878, but came to Knoxville as an infant. Her father was a descendant of Captain William Curtis of Essex, England, who came to America in 1632 and helped found Stratford, Connecticut. Lucy attended the private schools of Miss Fannie Humes and Miss Lida M. Lee in Knoxville and Bryn Mawr Preparatory School in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1901 with a liberal arts degree (2).

In 1904 she joined the staff of the Knoxville Sentinel, the predecessor to the News-Sentinel, to learn proofreading at a salary of $5 per week. At that time she was the only woman who had ever been on the second floor of the newspaper. The printers considered this a feminine invasion of their all-male territory. She soon won them over with the characteristics that made friends for her the rest of her life--a thoroughly independent spirit, frankness to express it and, above all, her ladylike qualities. Her birthday soon came and the men presented her with an umbrella and lauded her in a speech. She had been accepted (3).

Adamson describes how her persona fit that early 1900 workplace in this way (4):

The special aura that surrounded the soft-spoken drawls that even hid the bitterness following the War Between the States, may have been a factor in the success of Tennessee newspaperwomen who preceded Mrs. Templeton.

Even while having strong historical feelings herself, Mrs. Templeton moved out of the mythical South. She, like her predecessors, could not entirely discard her Confederate heritage. In her pieces about old Knoxville and its history, she helped pass along some of the feeling for the land of magnolias that preceded industrial and social changes.

She was a dignified Southern lady and the men responded by respecting her. Her ability to handle about any situation contributed to her winning over her male cohorts at the paper. This resourcefulness is reflected in a story. Once in pre-Prohibition days, one of the printers became ill. Lucy raced to her fatherís store a block or two away and got a bottle of whiskey and administered a dose. The "medication" soon restored the printerís health.

Her status as a member of the paperís team was enhanced when an emergency pitchforked her into the post of telegraph editor, the only woman in the South to hold such a post at the time. Adamson quoted Lucy Templetonís description of how this came about (5):

... I had been working only a few weeks when someone came and asked if I supposed I could handle the telegraph copy for a few weeks. I must be kin to the man who said he had never tried to play the violin but felt he could, because I said, ĎYes.í Imagine it! I had never handled any copy in my life. I had never written a headline. I had never known one sort of type from another. ... I shall never forget my first day on the telegraph desk. Somebody made me a style sheet, wished me well and left me to it. There were times that day when I was tempted to steal downstairs and never come back. ... Well, the newspaper looked as usual when it came out and I was almost too proud to speak. I stayed on the telegraph desk for two or three weeks and then went back to reading proof. But they had found I could handle copy, so I sat at various desks, and when I came back to the Sentinel, a widow, three years after my marriage, it was to the telegraph desk, which position I held for many years.

George Mabry Templeton (1878-1909), son of Jerome and Belle P. (Mabry) Templeton, a Knoxville attorney in the firm of Templeton and Templeton (Second Floor, 612 South Gay Street), was the love of Lucyís life. George was born in Knoxville on March 17, 1878, and christened for Colonel George Mabry, an early Knoxville citizen. He was a graduate of the University of Tennessee (Class of 1899) and Cumberland University Law School. They were married on October 17, 1906, at Cedarcroft, her parentís home on Black Oak Ridge. The wedding was a highlight of the social season with the beautiful bride dressed in a white lingerie gown, embroidered with lilies of the valley and trimmed with the lace worn by her mother upon her own wedding day. She wore a veil and orange blossoms with a bouquet of lilies of the valley. Rev. Samuel Ringgold, rector of St. Johnís Episcopal Church, performed the ceremony (6).

Lucy interrupted her newspaper career to become a homemaker. Only three years later (August 18, 1909) her husband died in Morrow, Ohio, while on a business trip. The widowed Lucy Templeton soon returned to the telegraph desk (7).

Her niece, Mrs. Anne Curtis Johnson, told of one of the stories she received by telegraph and how she reacted, "(It was) in the wee hours of a summer night when over the wire came the news of the sinking of the Titanic (April 14, 1912). Alone in the newsroom, she scurried to get out an extra edition. Unable to find a headline type large enough in the news fonts, she swiped some from a toothpaste advertisement, and made up the page (8)."

In 1926 the Sentinel merged with the News-Sentinel. The editor, Edward J. Meeman, encouraged Mrs. Templeton to begin her nature column (first entitled, "Outdoors," but soon re-named "A Country Calendar") and later to edit the book page ("Books, Old and New"). She had mastered the description of the sights and sounds and the quiet beauty of nature. Her wide-ranging interest and knowledge in so many subjects, extending even to classical Latin and Greek mythology, made her stories must reading for many Knox Countians. Local history and travel would also appear in her column at times (9).

Caricature Appearing with Mrs. Templeton's Columns

Photographic Archives, Knoxville News-Sentinel

Adamson quotes a passage from one story in which her subtle sense of humor was revealed (10):

It is strange to think that a King of France once lodged in what is now a tenement on Front Street. ... From other sources we learn that the three dukes (including the late Duke of Orleans) spent the night at Chisolm Tavern. A ball was given in their honor that night and on the next day they set out for Maryville. Years later when an American would be presented at the Court of Versailles Louis Philippe would inquire, "Do they still sleep three in a bed in Tennessee?

When World War II (1939-1945) came, she went back to the telegraph desk one day a week. During one crisis she received a call to come in to assist. Her home on Black Oak Ridge was two miles from the bus stop in Fountain City. She did not own a car and a taxi was not to be had. Mrs. Templeton got up hours before dawn, walked in the pitch-black night to the bus stop and caught a bus to the office. When duty called, she responded. Carson Brewer would later write, "In a profession peopled largely by men, this remarkable woman did two menís work ... and then went blithely on to outlive most of her contemporaries (11)."

In one of her columns, written in the 1930s, Mrs. Lucy (as she preferred to be called) expressed her love for her work (12):

Always I have felt sorry for people who were glad to leave their work, though I have never had the experience and only know it vicariously. Even when I was young and a glutton for work, so anxious to find a toe-hold in journalism that I pushed for the chance to peddle out-of-town society news, I left the office with regret. Now that I am old and privileged and quit when my work is up and the afternoon sun gets hot upon my back, I have the feeling when I depart that I leave the pulse of the community behind me. ... To me the composing room is the heart of the newspaper plant, the sound of the metal dropping in the slots, the warm rain, the experience of the race against time, the quiet wave and courtesy of the men, the smell of tobacco and ink, all make up the atmosphere that is so much of the breath of life. ... And my companions--I have spent most of the past 25 years in a newspaper office and am convinced that many of the kindest, most generous and most interesting people in the world work in newspaper offices.

Even in her early 80s, recurrent illnesses rarely interrupted her book reviews and column writing. She continued to write "Country Calendar" for some time at her home on Black Oak Ridge, sending the articles into the office by the mail or sometimes calling them in by telephone. She formally retired in 1961 but maintained her interest in the outdoors. On a January day shortly after her retirement she called a colleague to report a small cabbage butterfly flitting about her dooryard, a possible harbinger of spring (13).

92-year old Mrs. Lucy Curtis Templeton died on January 14, 1971, at Brakebill Nursing Home. She had lived on Black Oak Ridge for many years in an Eden of flowers and shrubs on Curtis Road, a road which had been named for her father. Her newspaper closed an editorial honoring her memory with these words, "We think Lucy will welcome the opportunity to go to a new garden and to find more subjects for her Country Calendar."

Her life was filled with accomplishment. In 1912 she was appointed a charter member of the Lawson-McGhee Library Board and served effectively until her resignation 22 years later. She was also a charter member of the University of Tennessee Pi Chapter of Chi Omega sorority, the local branch of Colonial Dames, the Knoxville Newspaper Guild and the local Red Cross chapter, which she helped to found with her cousin, Mrs. N.E. Logan. At one time she and Eleanor Roosevelt were the only persons belonging to both the Newspaper Guild and the Colonial Dames. A long-time member of St. Johnís Episcopal Church, she is interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

Her close friend and local historian, Miss Mary U. Rothrock, wrote a tribute to her departed friend of 50 years (14):

Intensely sensitive to natural beauty, she loved the unspoiled remoteness of her Black Oak Ridge home; she reveled in mountain weekends. Many of her Country Calendars reflected life on the Ridge and in the Smokies through the passing seasons. In other columns she depicted Old Knoxville, its customs and events, the elders and youth of the early 1900ís. She was widely inclusive in her friendships. Always spirited, observant and incisive, she contributed greatly to her time.

d-tmpltn.doc (4/18/02, 5/29/02, 6/3/02, 6/22/02, 8/23/02, 8/26/05) Mannís/Greenwood

1.  Carson Brewer, "Colorful N-S Staffer, Lucy Templeton, Dies (57-Year Newspaper Career)," Knoxville News-Sentinel, January 15, 1971.

2.  Lucile Deaderick, Editor, Heart of the Valley (A History of Knoxville, Tennessee), East Tennessee Historical Society, Knoxville, 1976; June Adamson, "Lucy Templeton: A Lady in A Manís World," The Tennessee Alumnus, June 1972; Barbara Hutchison, "Fond Memories of a Favorite Aunt," Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 27, 1975.

3.  op. cit. (Brewer, 1971).

4.  op. cit. (Adamson, 1972).

5.  ibid. (Adamson, 1972); Bob Cunningham, "Lucy Templeton Retires From N-S; Work Spanned Two Wars, (Edited Book Page)," KnoxvilleNews-Sentinel, January 15, 1961.

6.  "Weddings: Templeton-Curtis," Knoxville Sentinel, October 20, 1906.

7.  op. cit. (Brewer, 1971); "George Templeton Dead in Ohio Town (Prominent Young Attorney, Son of Jerome Templeton, Expired)," Knoxville Sentinel, August 18, 1909.

8.  op. cit. (Hutchison, 1975).

9.  op. cit. (Cunningham, 1961; Hutchison, 1975).

10.  op. cit. (Adamson, 1972)

11.  op cit. (Brewer, 1971).

12.  op. cit. (Adamson, 1972)

13.  op. cit. (Cunningham, 1961).

14.  Miss Mary U. Rothrock, "Half-Century Friend of Lucy Templeton Pays Tribute to Her," Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 24, 1971.

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