Oakland Cemetery Chronicles/Ellen Jessie Poythress
Ellen Jessie Poythress (1891–1956)
One August morning, E. J. Poythress played tennis with girlfriends before having luncheon at a private home on Ross Avenue. Another day, she went to North Haskell to play hearts with Judge May’s nieces. And, at school, she appeared in the Philomathian Society’s production of Rebecca’s Triumph.
Such was the life of a young Dallas woman in 1910; that is, a young woman whose parents had the means to send her to Dallas High School, where she distinguished herself in public speaking and debate, serving as a judge in a literary society debate that, according to the Dallas Morning News, drew an audience of hundreds.
E. J. was 21* when she graduated in 1912. The next fall, she accepted a position teaching third graders at San Jacinto School, a structure demolished in 1948 to make way for the Dallas Independent School District’s administration building on Ross Avenue.
The oldest of three children, E.J. was born in Dallas. Sister Mattisu was the middle child; brother John Douglas, the youngest. Their father, John Henry Poythress , was a dry goods salesman for Sanger Brothers. When he died in 1922 of heart disease, the family was living at 3410 Asbury Street within walking distance of Southern Methodist University. As a widow Minnie (nee Brown) Poythress opened her University Park home to boarders; she preferred single female public schoolteachers.
In about 1915, E.J. married William Roy Claywell, then a floor manager at Sears Roebuck & Co. Their only child, Elizabeth “Betty” Jane, was born the following year. The 1920 census finds the family of three living in a rental house on San Jacinto Street; Roy was working as an office clerk. In 1922, E.J. suffered a blow when Mattisu, a schoolteacher like her big sister, died during a difficult pregnancy.
By 1924, E.J. and her family had moved in with mother Minnie and brother John Douglas on Asbury Street. Sometime between 1927 and 1935, the Claywells abandoned Dallas, opting for a fresh start in California. Minnie joined them for a time: She was included in their household, for example, when the 1940 census was taken, although she retained her Dallas home.
John Douglas lived in the family home on Asbury Street as late as 1953. A lifelong Dallasite, he graduated from SMU in 1930 with an engineering degree, became an executive and served on the board of Highland Park Methodist Church.
The Claywells settled in Los Angeles where, by 1942, Roy was working once more for Sears Roebuck. Betty, then 23, made ladies’ hats, while E.J. apparently maintained their home on Cherrywood Avenue. For certain, she was a Roosevelt Democrat. Her name frequently appeared on the state’s voter registration rosters. In 1951, Roy died at age 58. His body was removed to Dallas’s Restland Cemetery, where his father was buried.
Two years later, E.J. moved to San Francisco, where her then-married daughter, Betty McConnell, lived. Within a year, E.J. was suffering the effects of malignant lymphoma, which strained her heart and led to her death. She was 65 years old.
Ellen Jessie Poythress Claywell died at 7:30 a.m. September 12, 1956. Twelve hours later, she was on her way home. Her remains left San Francisco on Slick Airways and arrived in Dallas at 8:34 the next morning. She was buried in section 4 of Oakland Cemetery.
Minnie, 97, died four years later. She joined daughters E.J. and Mattisu in Oakland Cemetery, where also lie her mother Elvira Brown, brother Hugh Brown and husband John Henry Poythress.
* Although we think of 18 as the upper age limit for high-school graduates, even today Dallas public schools allow students between 5 and 21 who have not graduated from high school access to a free education. Texas has the country’s most generous maximum age (26) for remaining in secondary education, according to the Education Commission of the States (ECS).