Mrs. Juliet Calhoun Blakeley was born at Williamson, Wayne County, New York, May 13, 1818, and died at her home in Albion, corner Center and Clinton Streets, November 29. 1920, at the ripe old age of 102 years. She is known as “The Original Mother of Mother’s Day,” and as “Mother of Albion Methodism.”
Mrs. Blakely arrived in Albion, a bride of nineteen, just twenty days before Michigan was admitted to statehood, January 26, 1837. There were only five buildings in Albion, Tenney Peabody‘s block house of logs,Finch’s boarding house, Maitland’s general store, a sawmill, and one other building.Her father, James Calhoun, located here two years before she arrived.
Soon after Mrs. Blakeley came, the LittleRed School House was built and also used for a church. “Grandma” Blakeley was a charter member of the Albion Methodist Episcopal Church, and a regular attendant as long as her health permitted.
She was here at the birth of Albion College, and for a time lived in the seminary and boarded the handful of students. Her interest in the collegenever waned as long as she lived. Mr. Blakeley was a carpenter and helped to build the Seminary and also the Stone Mill in 1844-1845.
The entire city of Albion celebrated her 100th birthday, an account of which was printed in the Detroit Free Press, Sunday, April 14, 1918. On this occasion her devoted son, Charles Calhoun Blakeley, (her other son died in early life), honored the anniversary of her birth, by presenting to the Albion Methodist Church on Sunday, May 12, abeautiful bulletin board which stands in front of the church.
May 10, 1908, was the official birth of “Mother’s Day” in the United States, Miss Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphiaclubwoman, having succeeded in having Congress set aside the second Sunday in May to be known as “Mother’s Day.” On May 9, 1914, President Wilson issued the first proclamation containing such an order. To Miss Jarvis belongs the credit of securing national attention, but for twenty years before this, it had been the custom in the Blakely family through the influence of her son, to observe this day. “Uncle Blake,” as he was called, was a traveling man and was known from coast to coast and from Winnipeg to Mexico, and thousands of people have known of this special tribute to motherhood.
When 99 years of age she drove her own automobile for some distance, under the guidance of her son. we are told that she appeared on the platform of the Methodist Church at some special occasion, once after passing her 1000th birthday.
Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Blakely lived for over fifty years at the corner of West Cass and Clinton, then moved tothe corner of Center and Clinton Streets, where Mr. Blakeley died in 1899, aged 92, the couple having enjoyed the rareprivilege of 62 years of companionship. K10
Source: Michigan Avenue. Albion’s Milestones and Memories. Albion, MI: Art Craft Press. 1932.
Juliet Calhoun was born May 13, 1818, in Williamson, Wayne County, New York, to James Calhoun. Her father was a cousin of the statesman John C. Calhoun for whom Calhoun County, Michigan, was later named. The Calhoun family moved to Michigan in 1832, leaving Juliet in New York with her grandparents. There she met and married Alphonzo Blakeley in 1837.
She arrived in Michigan only twenty days before it became a state, earning the nickname “The First Daughter of Michigan.” The Blakeleys lived first in Detroit, then with Juliet’s parents in Homer, and ultimately, in Albion. While still in Homer, Juliet traveled to Albion on a blazed trail through forests where wolves, bears, and wildcats roamed freely. She became an expert shot to meet these perils and regularly brought game birds to the dinner table.
Alphonzo helped construct the first building of the Ladies Seminary in Albion, which became Albion College. The family moved into this building and Juliet became housemother for the students. Alphonzo built the Blakeleys’ first house at the corner of Cass and Clinton Streets. Here Juliet raised two sons, Moses A. and Charles C., who both became traveling salesmen.
According to local legend, on the second Friday in May, 1877, local anti-temperance forces in town abducted the son of Rev. Daugherty, presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and two other sons of prominent temperance families. They were forced to “indulge in liquor” and set loose on the streets of downtown Albion at midday on Saturday. On Sunday, the Rev. Daugherty began the worship service, but was so overcome with emotion caused by the previous day’s events that he left the pulpit. Juliet, seated near the front of the church, came forward to finish the service, calling on the other mothers in the congregation to help her.
After this incident, Charles and Moses vowed to return from their travels on the second Sunday in May each year to honor their mother’s birthday and pay tribute to her. They also urged business associates and fellow travelers to honor their mothers on the same day. At their urging, in the 1880s, the Methodist Episcopal Church set this day aside to remember all mothers. Juliet was the honored guest at the local services, and was often in the pulpit. Thus she became known as “The Original Mother of Mother’s Day.” As a charter (and very active) member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion, Juliet Blakeley was also nicknamed the “Mother of Albion Methodists.”
As a sidelight to this story, the evening following the original sermon, Juliet was awakened by a noisy crowd of anti-temperance men ripping up the sidewalk outside her home and throwing the boards into the Kalamazoo River. She reportedly grabbed an old French rifle and threatened tofire. Recognizing some of Albion’s prominent citizens, Juliet called them by name. The crowd dispersed and many returned the next day to rebuild her sidewalk.
Juliet Calhoun Blakeley died in 1920 at the age of 102, earning her one last title, “Albion’s Grand Old Lady.”
Sources: The Albion Leader, January 16, 1908;The Journal of Albion, December 17, 1966; Battle Creek Enquirer and News, May 12, 1965
From: Albion AAUW. Some Notable Women of the Albion Area. Albion, Michigan: American Association of University Women. 1998.