Notebook detailing life of Medina woman comes home from Australia
Dorothy Cox, a teacher who later married a jeweler, wrote of her adventures
MEDINA – The Medina Historical Society has planned a season of programs designed to create interest in the organization, but the one Monday night at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library will not soon be forgotten.
Historical Society president Reinhard Rogowski welcomed the crowd which gathered at Lee-Whedon to hear library director Catherine Cooper give a presentation on the life of former Medina resident Dorothy Roberts Cox. While her life had its exciting moments, it is the circumstances under which a notebook from her family literally “fell into our laps,” which are truly intriguing, Cooper said.
“Each of us leaves a paper trail of documents that attest to our existence,” Cooper said. “We have photos, newspaper clippings, wills, birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates, some all neatly organized and others in envelopes or boxes at the back of the closet. But what if we had no close relatives? What are the chances some kind person would come in and gather your papers? And what are the chances this person will parcel them up and arrange for them to be sent to your second cousin in Australia? Then what are the chances, 35 years later, the child of that second cousin will feel compelled to save your records, arrange them, decipher them, figure out the relatives, digitize them and then reach out to your home town because he believed they belonged back where you spent your life?”
Cooper explained what happened in March 2017, when she was made aware of an e-mail on the Medina Historical Society’s website from Australia. She made contact with the person, the son of Vera Colley, Dorothy Cox’s second cousin, who lives in Western Australia. He wrote that he had this giant notebook full of pictures, newspaper clippings and other information on the life of Dorothy Roberts Cox. They had been sent to Vera after Dorothy died in 1982. Vera had visited Dorothy in Medina several times.
The fires in Australia were just becoming a worry and Vera’s son Brad decided to ship Cox’s belongings to Medina, where they would be safe and could be viewed by people who knew her.
Dorothy was born in 1896 in Rome, a daughter of Robert and Catherine Jones Roberts. Both her parents were Welsh and her father came to Medina as a quarryman. He worked as an engraver with Thomas Platt and bought the business. His shop was on East Center Street, which later was a monument business and a lawyer’s office. It was just recently purchased and remodeled by Alex and Pat Greene as an artist’s studio and space to do psychic readings.
In a picture from one of the slides from Dorothy’s cousin, there is the engraver’s shop next to the brick building on the corner of Main and East Center Street, on which can be seen the words “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco,” and “EAT,” referring to the diner which operated there until the mid 1900s’.
The Roberts bought a house at 119 Maple Ave. in 1894, and also bought two lots on Roseland Avenue, where they built a home in 1911.
Dorothy attended Medina High School, where she graduated in 1914. Graduation was held at Bent’s Opera House. At a time when many stopped going to school at grade eight, her mother insisted Dorothy continue and get an education. One year at Brockport State Teacher’s College qualified her as a teacher, and she taught in several different schools.
Her reminisces in the notebook recall World War I, war bonds and dating officers.
In 1918, she was in bed a month with the flu when armistice was declared.
Dorothy went on to complete additional training at Harvard Summer School in 1922 and 1923, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Columbia in 1937. Her first teaching job was on Long Island.
In 1923, she spent five weeks in Mount Vernon Hospital with a perforated appendix. Two nurses working 12 hour shifts attended to her at a salary of $50 per week. Her total hospital bill was $975. She came home to Medina on a sleeper car.
During the 1920s, Dorothy was involved with Camp Nundawaga at Thirty Mile Point on Lake Ontario. She was depressed when it was sold during the Depression.
Before her hospitalization, Dorothy had been saving her money to take a trip to Wales. When her doctor told her she was susceptible to tuberculosis and should go to a warmer climate, she moved to Florida.
After her mother died in 1938, she finally went on the trip she had saved for. She traveled to Toronto to catch her ship, the SS Montrose, to Liverpool. She wrote there were whales blowing quite a way to the north of the ship, then suddenly a big one appeared on the other side, about as far as Ensign Avenue was from their back window.
“Right after that, we saw a good sized iceberg,” Dorothy wrote. “I always thought they were the color of ice and hard to see, but they are the whitest things I have ever seen.”
Dorothy was in Wales when war was declared and the ship she came home on was also used for soldiers. The ship Athenia was the first English ship torpedoed by the Germans on Sept. 3, 1929, and several passengers from that ship were onboard the ship SS Importer bringing her back to America. There were 211 passengers, 28 of them Americans, on the ship with a capacity of 80. Husbands and wives were separated and the men were stuffed anywhere, Dorothy wrote in a letter home.
“There are 18 in the barroom,” she wrote. “They have to put up their own cots after the passengers are shooed out at 10 p.m. and they have to get out early in the morning.”
They described the lifeboat drill as very realistic. There were four lifeboats for 200 passengers. Four survivors of the Athenia group were making comparisons. They said when the whistle was blown on the Athenia, the boat lurched violently and two lifeboats were slowly lowered over the side and swung out.
In the disaster, they said the boats were lowered by passengers, who bungled things. The boat just nicely swung out when the ropes supporting one end broke and dropped 30 feet, tossing all onto one end of the boat. Two members of the crew received broken arms, leaving only one able-bodied man to row. The boat was overloaded and water was up to their knees. Woman bailed with toeless, heelless shoes.
Dorothy’s father, who died in 1942, had been a friend of Lloyd George, one-time prime minister of England. Lloyd George once visited Niagara Falls and Robert Jones traveled up to see him.
Dorothy worked at Curry’s Dress Shop on Main Street at one time. She married Medina jeweler Harry Cox on Sept. 3, 1944 at the First Presbyterian Church, after his first wife had died.
Harry and his first wife had an interesting connection to the Orphan Train. They had adopted two sisters from the train. One girl, Barbara, married Armand Bacon, who owned parts stores in Medina and Lockport.
Dorothy loved to golf at Shelridge Country Club. She took many trips with the Senior Center in Medina.
Another interesting connection to Medina was that with the Tony and Rose Napoli family.
Tony was born in Italy. He served in the Navy during World War II and his ship was in Australia during the war. As there were not enough sleeping quarters for all the men, some of them were billotted out to homes in town. Tony ended up in the home of Vera Colley. Vera and her husband had a son named Brian.
Brad Colley indicated to Catherine that it was Tony who had arranged for Dorothy’s papers to be sent to Vera in Australia.
The story of Dorothy Cox’s notebook brought many comments from the audience.
Jack Wasnock remembers Dorothy was a member of the Medina Historical Society. He said he bought his class ring at Cox’s Jewelry, which was later Limina’s Jewelry Store and now houses Della’s Chocolates.
Cooper commented that the wooden chairs in the library would have been there when Dorothy used to visit.
Lynn Ambrose, who lives on Ensign Avenue, said the Cox’s back yard backed up to her front yard.
“I used to see her all the time,” she said.
Monday’s program was one of several events which the Historical Society hopes will help increase its membership.
“We have been trying for several years to raise our membership, with a goal of 100 members,” Rogowski said. “We are now at 75.”
Upcoming programs include a members’ tea in May, led by Georgia Thomas; an old-time bridal show in June; and a program by sculptor Brian Porter of Pendleton on creation of the Company F monument.