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May Quilliam and her family

The Holy Family Orphanage in Marquette is pictured. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

The Marquette Regional History Center recently featured May Malloy Quilliam in our annual cemetery walk. Mary Bridget “May” Malloy was born in Ontonagon, Michigan on May 13, 1897. She was the oldest of Hugh and Rose (McCaully) Malloy’s nine children. The family moved around a lot before eventually settling in Marquette, probably around 1905 when Hugh went to work for Peter Anderson’s Commercial Fisheries.

Shortly after the United States entered the First World War, May married Wilfred William Quilliam on May 31, 1917. Just six days later Wilfred registered for the draft. Luckily for them, he wasn’t drafted and the young couple settled into married life.

Over the next nine and half years May and Wilfred welcomed five children: Jeanne in February 1918, Dorothy in June 1919, Leroy “Mike” in September 1920, Betty in September 1922 and Clyde in December 1924.

Then in November 1926 May developed an infection following the end of a pregnancy. Without modern antibiotics, she couldn’t fight the infection and died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Marquette on November 30. Her oldest daughter Jeanne was just 8 years old, the baby of the family, Clyde, turned two less than a week after his mother’s death.

At the time Wilfred was working on the railroad which required travelling, so he was unable to keep the children at home. The two boys were sent to live with Wilfred’s sisters, Mike with Eva and her husband, William Miller and Clyde with Florence and her husband, Robert Larson.

The three girls were initially taken in by one of their grandmothers although we’re not sure which one. But the following spring when the grandmother realized that she couldn’t cope, the girls were told that they would be going to Holy Family Orphanage.

When she was interviewed about her experiences at the orphanage in 1987, the oldest girl, Jeanne said “I don’t think I was that anxious because they [her father and grandmother] said it was just for the summer months so I believed that. I was young enough that I just adjusted.” Despite what they had been told about staying just for the summer, the three girls remained at the orphanage for a number of years.

Jeanne was 16 when she left the orphanage after seven years. In her interview, she said “When I left, I really didn’t care to go because it was all we had known, you know. Coming out was much harder than staying there I think- although a lot of children didn’t have the same attitude I had. A lot of them resented it and were very glad to leave.”

She went to work for the Donckers family, working in both their home and at their candy store. But she quickly found that growing up in the orphanage hadn’t prepared her for life outside the institution.

“You don’t have the self-confidence and when you leave there, the world is so different. Like…I worked for a lady when I left there and she says to me “Go peel some potatoes for supper.” I didn’t know how many potatoes to peel. I said to her “Well, how many do you want?” And she said, “Well, just peel enough for supper.” I said, “I don’t know how many for supper.”

We peeled two bushels of potatoes in the peeler that we dumped the potatoes in so I couldn’t even start to think of how to do this other stuff. Everything was cooked in a great big, huge kettle. Just really huge. We did very little of the cooking because the nun was there to do it.

Almost anything…and to clean a small refrigerator- we had a walk-in cooler where I worked and things like that. And I didn’t know how to iron and I couldn’t crochet. I knew enough to dust and to wipe up the floor but there were some things that were just way out…

It didn’t take me so long but she didn’t understand- the lady that I was working for- it never dawned on her, my situation. And I was too shy to say. I think I lost a lot of my self-confidence there. I was too shy to speak up. I didn’t know how to express it.

I used to tell her mother- her mother was real old and the mother- we made an agreement because she was cross with the mother, too. She’d come out in the kitchen and she’d tell me what she wanted put on the table that evening- the grandmother did. And then she would tell me what her daughter was complaining about that I didn’t do so then I did that the next day. And SHE told me how to clean the refrigerator.”

Jeanne married in 1940 and went on to have her own family.

We’re not entirely sure when Dorothy, the second oldest, left the orphanage but she married in 1939 at the age of 20. By 1940 the two youngest children had been reunited with their father. Wilfred was living in Marquette with Betty, Clyde and May’s younger brother Peter.

For some unknown reason, Mike did not rejoin the family with his younger siblings. In 1940 he was living with a foster family, Jacob and Elizabeth Coppens who do not appear to be relatives. He even listed them as the ones who would always know his whereabouts on his 1942 draft registration. (Clyde listed his sister Dorothy and Wilfred listed his sister Eva).

The three remaining children married and started their own families: Betty in 1940, Mike in 1943 and Clyde in 1948. In January 1952 Wilfred married his second wife, Edna May Olmsted, who had 12 children from two previous marriages.

If you would like to learn more about the family, May’s father, Hugh Malloy, is featured in the Marquette Regional History Center’s Historical Marquette Audio Tour (which is replacing our annual Summer Bus Tour this year). The audio tour can be purchased and downloaded at https://www.marquettehistory.org/digital-downloads.html

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