Forgotten Women of History Friday: Lulu Marie Sayer

As this blog has evolved and grown over the past couple of months, I’ve tried to consolidate all of my genealogical-type posts in one place, here at The Hipster Historian. One of these types of posts was my feminist-centered blog on Tumblr called Forgotten Women of History, which I am reviving here at The Hipster Historian.  You can check out a former post about Philena Mae Fairbanks here.

Forgotten Women of History

Today we are bringing you the story of Lulu Marie Sayer.

Lulu Marie Sayer

Lulu Marie Sayer (1892 – 1968) ~~ The Mother Who Abandoned Her Child

It is hard to imagine that any mother would ever abandon their child, but in the time before reproductive rights for women, this was very common for many reasons. It was during this troubled time of rights for women, just a year before the 19th amendment was passed that a young mother by the name of Lulu Marie had a child in the city of Rome in upstate New York.

Ms. Sayer had already give been birth two children to her first husband, Arthur J. Tanner before he died in October 1917 from a freak accident after being hit by a passenger train, breaking his leg. Only being married seven years, Lulu was widowed at age 25 with two small children in the early 20th century where she had no rights.

Working in Rome while she tried to figure out how to support her small family, Lulu became pregnant by an unnamed man, the only clue we have is the newspapers clippings at the time. The authorities had identified him (through Lulu) as a man residing in Whitesboro, New York.

At this time we will never know if the child produced from this meeting was one of consent or not, but during the early 1900′s rape was not widely reported due to the stigma in our culture.

After she became pregnant with her son, Lulu gave birth to him in May of 1919 and left him at the House of the Good Shepherd in Utica, New York at their home on 1700 Genesee Street.

The young boy remained there until Lulu came back for him after she married her second husband, Theodore D. Spencer on the 24th of September of 1919.

After she brought back the infant back home the story complicates a tad – depending on who you talked to, it certainly made headlines in the Syracuse Post-Standard.

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Lulu was quoted by the Watertown Daily Times in 1919  as saying that she loved the baby, but that her new husband, Theodore would not accept another man’s baby around, even though he accepted her as his wife. She insisted that she had told her husband everything about the origins.

Theodore has another story to tell. According to the report from the Daily Times, Theodore told authorities that Lulu was lying and he assumed the child to be from an illegitimate union of one of his new bride’s sisters.

Either way, it went, the couple decided to get rid of the infant in the best way they could deem possible – by leaving him in the woods near Parish, New York, hoping the child would be found by someone willing to take care of it.

Luckily, to hunters in the area found the baby boy and were able to take him to get greatly needed medical care. The only reason they were able to identify Lulu as the mother was a hand embroidered handkerchief left with the child.

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What would have happened at any other time in history? It is hard to really say, but one thing is for certain – the rights that Lulu possessed not only to be in charge of her reproductive choices and what to do when face when faced with what seems like an insurmountable problem was challenged.

Back in the day, we didn’t have anything like Planned Parenthood or access to birth control, which would have helped Lulu. I greatly encourage all of you to support reproductive rights by donating to Planned Parenthood and click here.
Sources Cited:

  • Year: 1900; Census Place: Richland, Oswego, New York; Roll: 1144; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0141; FHL microfilm: 1241144
  • Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
  • Spencer Couple Who Abandoned Baby Say They Didn’t Want Tiny Thing to Die. (1919, November 13). Syracuse Post-Standard, p. 1.
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2 Replies to “Forgotten Women of History Friday: Lulu Marie Sayer”

  1. It’s odd that she retrieved the child four months after his birth (and her marriage) only to turn around and leave him in the woods. You would think that Theodore would be on board with bringing the child into the family at that point. And why leave a baby in the woods? Surely a church or even back to the House of Good Shepherd (although she and her deed likely wouldn’t have been anonymous then) would have been a better idea.

    Thank you for sharing, Becky. It was a good read!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michael. From what I understand, Theodore didn’t want another man’s child in the house and didn’t want the child, and to be honest, I think he had a lot to do with the abandonment. But in this case, a she said, he said is all we have.

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