According to the urban dictionary, a betty “epitomizes a modern day queen, commonly associated with increased levels of self-worth (because she continues to create it.) She has the power and agency to be irresistibly sexy and feminine minutes after effortlessly emasculating a mere dozen men with her intellect and ability to deliver.” I think this is a case of a Betty who was a betty. At least, this is how I imagine Betty Meyers, the woman in this series of photos.
The back of this photograph reads “Oliver His Friend and Betty (sic).” I thought the trio were posing with horses. However, upon closer inspection, the long ears lead me to believe they are mules, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. Of course, I’m not an animal expert, so let’s get back to discussing the people.
Before we can talk about Betty, we need to discuss Oliver Fendler, the other main character in these photographs. I never imagined I’d be able to identify the photos I found in the antique shop that day. Although this baby photo (look at those “high top” crochet booties!) supplied me with Oliver’s full name, I had no surname for Betty, no idea how the two were related, and no location. Then the shop owner looked at the photos and said “Fendler. That was my Grandmother’s sister.”
She went on to tell me how, as a girl, her Grandmother came to the US from Germany, and how the Fendler family owned and operated the Fendler Funeral Home in St. Louis, Missouri. Her Grandmother was Alvina Meyeranowitz, which was later Americanized to Meyers. Why would she want to part with family photos? I asked her, and she said she had many more.
In this photo, we get a glimpse of Alvina’s sister, Florence Fendler. The reverse reads “Oliver His Friend His Mother and Kitty (sic).” Florence and Kitty are holding ducks! I wonder if Betty was behind the camera.
A quick look on Ancestry and I was able to find Oliver. I estimate he is about 16 in the photos, which would date them to around 1934. Oliver’s father, Theodore, was in the undertaking business most of his life, and Oliver followed in his footsteps, taking over ownership of the Ted Fendler Funeral Home. Oliver died in 2000, aged 81 years.
Back to the star of this show, Betty, although, I have to admit the Pekinese stole a bit of the spotlight in this photo shoot. The reverse reads “Taken last Sunday on the roof where we live,” and in a different person’s handwriting “Aunt Betty.”
I began searching for Betty Fendler. After no success, I realized the likely answer was that she was a Meyeranowitz, and I was right. Betty was Alvina’s and Florence’s younger sister. Betty’s father, Julius, arrived in the United States about 1903 and her mother and older siblings followed in 1905. Betty was born in St. Louis two years later.
Betty’s mother, Johanna (nee Herr), died when Betty was six years old. I wish I could make out the name on the headstone Betty is visiting in this photo. Is it her mother’s gravesite? According to Find A Grave, her mother’s headstone is shaped in this manner. I wish the picture on Johanna’s Find A Grave memorial showed more of the surroundings.
After her mother’s death, Betty lived for a time with an Uncle, Herman Meyeranowitz, in Black Hawk, Iowa. Her life after 1920, however, is a mystery. These photos show us that she was in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s. Was she visiting? Was she living there?
Betty died, age 42, the day after Christmas 1949. Her obituary doesn’t give the location of her death. I found a Betty Meyers on a Manhattan, New York death index (death date Dec 27, 1949) and suspect it may be her. Betty’s sister, Helen Cataro, was living in New York City in 1940, and later in Binghampton, New York, so it’s possible Betty ventured to New York as well.
I have a feeling that Betty was a fascinating woman, and I wish I could have known her.
Find A Grave
Manhattan New York death records
Various St. Louis Dispatch (MO) newspaper articles