Some people leave great legacies in business, politics, or education. Others are recognized for their military service, philanthropy, or contributions to science. Mary Comfort Eberhard left a different kind of legacy—humbler, perhaps, but impressive nonetheless. She raised sixteen children to adulthood in the farmlands of Pennsylvania and Ohio at the turn of the 20th century.
One of her daughters, Nora Eberhard Ballenger, would later recall that Mary used to bake 12 to 14 loaves of bread, including her favorite pan rolls, twice a week. “My mother never baked under 16 to 20 pies and two large cakes on weekends. We always had a great crowd,” she remembered. “We grew almost everything we ate—vegetables, meats, eggs. She made her own dumplings and even churned her own butter.”
A beautifully illustrated fraktur, written in German, shows that Mary Madina Comfort was born 28 May 1875 in Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Lewis Comfort and Polly Scheirer Comfort.1 On Christmas Eve, 1891, when Mary was 16 years old, she married John Llewellyn Eberhard in Allentown.2 No doubt their Christmas that year was a merry one—and it would be the only one they celebrated without a child in the house for more than 40 years.
Mary and Llewellyn made a home for themselves in Salisbury Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a milk dealer. Their first baby was born in August 1892. Others followed, more or less every other year. By January 1902, there were six little Eberhards: Eva, Roy, Harold, Helen, Mabel, and Irma.3
In 1903, they decided to move west to the area around Bellefontaine, Ohio, where Llewellyn’s brother William Eberhard and his wife lived. They rented a farm, and Llewellyn resumed his dairy work. Mary resumed cooking, cleaning, and caring for her large brood. By 1910 she had given birth to seven more children: Emma, Enoch, Bert, Clarence, Carrie, Anna, and Nora.4
Bert and Clarence were twins, born prematurely. Mary would later tell Nora that she did her best to keep the tiny babies alive, nestling them in boxes laid in front of the open woodstove oven door. But despite her efforts, both boys died within a few days.
In 1913 the family moved again, this time to farmland between Galena and Johnstown, Ohio. There they put down roots in the community, and Mary started doing “custom hatchings”—incubating certain varieties of chicken eggs, to order, for customers. She used her egg money to supplement the income from Llewellyn’s dairy work. Meanwhile, she had five more children: Bertha, Robert, Georgia, Blanche, and, lastly, Mildred, in 1920.5
An article in the June 1929 edition of The Milky Way, published by the Moores & Ross dairy company, featured Llewellyn Eberhard and his family. “Mrs. Eberhard uses one room of the house as an incubator room, and does custom hatchings at 3½ cents an egg,” it reported. “She has been doing this for 15 years. The incubator has a capacity of 3000 eggs. Mrs. Eberhard is also quite a baker. She bakes 14 loaves of bread at one time, twice a week. It is nothing for her to bake 22 pies, four cakes, 200 doughnuts and 200 cookies at one baking.”6
Of course, Mary didn’t do everything alone. The children all had chores, either in the house, barn, or garden, depending on the season and day of the week. Nora preferred the house chores, because she didn’t like the smell of the cows. On washing day, Mary would organize several of them into a makeshift assembly line to get the clothes and sheets through the hand-cranked washer and wringer and out onto the clothesline. Nora sometimes helped her mother on baking days, and other times it was her job to tend to the younger children and keep them out from underfoot.7
Eventually, as the children grew up and moved out of the house, Mary’s baking, laundry, and egg-hatching responsibilities eased. She and Llewellyn celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with their family on December 21, 1941. He had retired three years previously, and the hard work of Mary’s earlier years was behind her as well.
On April 15, 1958, Mary Madina Comfort Eberhard passed away in Sunbury, Ohio, at the age of 82. Her obituary named her 15 surviving children (Helen predeceased her), and noted that she left 39 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. She was buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.8
Today, Mary’s legacy lives on in her many descendents, which now include an untold number of great-, great-great-, and great-great-great-grandchildren. She wasn’t rich by any monetary standard, and her days were filled with the hard, plain work of raising a family and keeping house. But somehow, I don’t think she would have changed a thing. My only regret is that I wasn’t born in time to sample her baking.
© Shelley Bishop 2013.
1. Mary Madina Comfort (Kumfert) fraktur, birth and baptism, 1875 (Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania); privately held.
2. Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, marriage certificate no. 3753 (1891), Llewellyn John Eberhard and Mary M. Comfort; Court of Common Pleas, Orphan’s Court Division, Allentown.
3. 1900 U.S. Census, Salisbury Twp., Lehigh Co., Pennsylvania, population schedule, E.D. 49, p. 5B, dwelling 95, family 97, Lwellyn J. Eberhard; digital images, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 14 Oct 2008); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1429.
4. 1910 U.S. Census, Rushcreek Twp., Logan County, Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 144, p. 9B, dwelling 216, family 222, Llewellin Eberhard; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 Aug 2008); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1205.
5. 1920 U.S. Census, Harlem Twp., Delaware Co., Ohio, population schedule, E.D. 72, p. , dwelling 99, family 99, Llewellyn Eberhard; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 Aug 2008); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1377.
6. Moores & Ross, Inc., “The Milky Way”, vol. 5 no. 6, June 1929; photograph and article on the L. J. Eberhard family (cover and p.7); privately held.
7. Personal recollections by Nora Eberhard Ballenger, collected over a period of years by Shelley Ballenger Bishop and Edward Ballenger II.
8. Mary M. Eberhard obituary, Columbus Evening Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), 16 April 1958, p. 7A.
What a nice account of Mary's life. I'll bet she was quite a baker - maybe some of her recipes have been handed down to all of those greats?ReplyDelete
Thanks, Debi. You know, the strange thing is, I don't remember my grandma Nora using recipes, so I don't know if her mother did either. I'll have to ask around and see if anyone else knows. The quantities would probably be astounding, though!Delete
Comfort is a good last name for Mary. This is a comforting post. The phrase "salt of the earth" occurs to me, especially when I look at the photo of Mary, who looks stalwart and determined and well rooted. A life spent on nurturing children, making bread, and hatching eggs is a good life by anyone's standards!ReplyDelete
Your footnotes look impeccable to me! Do they come from the instructions of Elizabeth Shown Mills??
That's a great point, Mariann, that "a life spent on nurturing children, making bread, and hatching eggs is a good life by anyone's standards." How true. Think of all the creating and shaping that are contained in those things.Delete
With the footnotes, all I can say is that I aspire to ESM's standards. It's an ongoing learning process :-)
This post particularly interested me because of the fraktur (I should practice calligraphy!) the graphic of the issue of "The Milky Way," and the baking... but the whole post is so interesting! This short essay makes me want to read a book about Mary Comfort Eberhard. Would that your elegant first paragraph had been used in her obituary! ~CarrieReplyDelete
Thanks, Carrie, that's nice of you to say! Isn't the fraktur interesting? The original is on thin rolled parchment, much larger than the segment shown. And that issue of The Milky Way is a treasure, for sure. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for reading!Delete
Very nicely written and interesting. How fortunate you are to have some first hand knowledge of Mary from a daughter. Mary sounds like an amazing woman. I especially like that you were able to develop so much information about the female side of the family. It seems so often it is the men we find the records for. Well done. JoReplyDelete
Thank you, Jo, I really appreciate the kind words. And I agree, it seems like it's much easier to find records for men than for women. Before I sat down to write this, I wasn't sure I'd have enough information for a story, but once I got started I realized how much detail there was in these few records, and it started to take shape. Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write a comment!Delete