The life Ella Tomlinson Perry Wente

During the last two years, I set out in an attempt to pay heed to Women’s History Month by researching the lives of some of the “lesser known” women from Manistee’s past…women whose names were not as locally well-known as people like the Ramsdells or the Filers are today.

The above photo of Ella Wente was taken circa the early 1900s by local photographer Jacob Hanselman. It is listed as photo No. 105 in the Hanselman Portrait Albums 3.

As the museum is filled with photo after photo of people who we really don’t know much about, but are a part of the county’s history, I thought it might be interesting to pick a random album or folder, flip through it and with my index finger land on the first photograph of a woman that it willed and attempt to write an article about that woman employing the museum’s various research resources.

So with that in mind, I am continuing that same process again this year. For this fourth and final article in the third volume of the series, I picked an album from the museum’s collection titled, “Hanselman Portraits Album 3” and sorted through the photographs at random falling on the photo of Ella Wente.

Thinking about last week’s subjects of this column, Hilda and Hannah Sandgren and their immediate family, one has to wonder about the courage that it takes to continue on with all the tragedies their family faced. Somewhat similar to the Sandgren family is the life of Ella Wente.

Ella Tomlinson was born in Carlton, New York on April 19, 1851 to the parents of Orson and Jane Tomlinson. By the latter portion of the 1850s, her parents had moved to the St. Joseph, Michigan area where Ella grew up and attended school. Further studies found her becoming a teacher and roughly around 1870, she had moved to Manistee where she became a teacher at the first Central School building, formerly located on the corner of First and Oak streets.

A short time later she met local merchant, Perry H. Russell and in 1872 the two were married. Three children were eventually born to the couple: son Earl and daughters Alice and Edna. Tragedy the struck the family when a small boat carrying Russell and three others capsized in the Manistee River causing Perry Russell to lose his life. An article published on November 30, 1878 in the Manistee Times-Sentinel:

“It seems that a party composed of the deceased, R.G. Peters, H.S. Udell and William Hall, were coming down the river in an open boat on an inspection tour in the behalf of the River Improvement Co., that they were overtaken by the dusk on Monday, and were carefully feeling their way down the river, when the boat ran under a fallen. Mr. Hall and Mr. Russell sprung into the water, supposing they could wade ashore, and Mr. Udell along to the boat.

“The water proved to be deep, and Mr. Russell sunk to rise no more he could not swim. Mr. Hall with much difficulty swam ashore, while Mr. Udell caught on an overhanging tree and was helped out nearly exhausted.

“The deceased was in the prime of life, a thorough and upright businessman, and universally respected. He leaves a young wife wife and several small children, besides a boast of friends, to mourn his untimely end.”

Records show that for the next decade, Ella and her children lived at 453 Third St. At some point in time she met William Wente, a bookkeeper for local lumber companies, who was also a widower with several small children.

It would be interesting to know exactly how people like Ella Perry and William Wente met: Was it through friends? A chance encounter on the street? Did they know each other in their previous wedded lives? Regardless, the couple would eventually go on to wed in July, 1889. A brief article containing a few details on their wedding was published in the Manistee Advocate on July 12, 1889:

“Alderman William Wente and Mrs. Perry Russell were married, Monday evening at the residence of the bride on Third Street, by Dr. Fairfield, in the presence of a small circle of relatives. The happy couple left Tuesday evening for Chicago, where Mr. Wente was summoned as a witness in an important timber suit. The bride received a handsome present from the groom consisting of a costly case of jewelry, as a wedding gift.”

Over the years, Wente continued to be employed as a bookkeeper for several local lumber firms. Including the Dempsey, Cartier, & Co. In addition he would eventually become a large stockholder in many others. Together the couple made their home at 212 Oak St. for several decades and were hosts to countless social gatherings and get togethers for family and friends. As such, she became known as an involved, well-liked person in and around Manistee. In addition she was also active in The Lakeside Club and was a parishioner of the First Congregational Church.

After 30 plus years of marriage, William Wente passed in February of 1915. Ella continued to live at 212 Oak Street for several more years until failing health forced her to move Milwaukee in 1924. It was there were she lived out her days with her daughter Edna and son-in-law Harry Seymour.

In the meantime, the family house was sold to the Curtis Family where it became a hotel and rooming house and has remained as such for over 90 years.

On February 20, 1929, Ella passed away. That same day the Manistee News Advocate published her obituary on the front page with the headline, “Mrs. Wm. Wente, Pioneer of the City Taken by Death”. A portion of her obituary, which provides a brief description of her decency, follows:

“Mrs. Wente was one of the most charitable women of the city. She gave liberally of her material means to those in need and she also devoted much of her time to alleviation of suffering and to promoting worthwhile civic enterprises and movements.

“Mrs. Henry W. Marsh, Cedar Street, who was her close friend says of Mrs. Wente, ‘There probably was never a more beloved woman in Manistee. She was active in all that was worthwhile and she was one of the kindest and most popular residents the city has ever known. The Congregational Church owes her a big debt for what she did for it.’

A few days later Ella’s remains were brought back to Manistee arriving via train on the day of the funeral. The 3 p.m. service that was held at the First Congregational Church was described as being “brief”. She was later laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery.


Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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