As noted in the June 30, 1905 Minutes of the Trustees of Skidmore College at the Second Annual Meeting of the Young Women’s Industrial Club, “the first diploma ever given was awarded to Mrs. Mattie G. Lattimore for having completed the two year’s course in Domestic Science.”
The Young Women’s Industrial Club (YWIC) was the brainchild of wealthy socialite Lucy Skidmore Scribner. Scribner, wife of president of Charles Scribner’s Sons John Blair Scribner, was keenly aware of the privileges and opportunities her economic status provided her and others in her strata. The Club was the founding organization for today’s Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.
According to the Mary Lyons book on the history of Skidmore College, Make No Small Plans (2000), the YWIC was created as “non-sectarian, and open to all girls and women of good character, Protestant or Catholic, white, Negro or Indian” and “none is too poor or too rich to be a member.”
Lucy Skidmore Scribner wanted to create a place where young women of any economic status or race or age could learn the skills needed to improve their lives, earn money to support themselves and contribute to the common good. She brought together a group of like-minded women and pulled together the funding to hire a teacher and find a space.
Initially, the group considered partnering with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) whose values and goals were similar. But with concern that the school might be subsumed by joining them, the decision was made to function independently as the Young Women’s Industrial Club.
Space for classes was found in the Second Presbyterian Church on Regent Street in Saratoga Springs and the first class was admitted in January 1904. (It later moved to the building shown above).
In a note in a collection of her papers held at Skidmore, Lucy commented that “the first certificate awarded by TWIC was given to a colored girl.” The Saratogian announced Mrs. Mattie Lattimore received the first diploma granted by the Young Women’s Industrial Club.
The Skidmore College Archives have a yearbook devoted to the years 1904-1905 which highlights the programs, teachers, and student accomplishments, including Mattie’s. Yet no images have been located of this auspicious occasion.
So, who was Mrs. Mattie G. Lattimore?
How and why Mattie came to Saratoga Springs is a mystery. According to her death certificate, her name was Mattie G. White, daughter of Benjamin White and an unknown mother, and she was from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia. (This is information that would have been supplied after her passing.)
On the marriage certificate on file at the Saratoga Springs City Clerk’s Office, with information she would have provided herself, Mattie R. Guilford stated she was born in 1882 in Atlanta, Georgia and was the daughter of Richard Guilford and his wife, whose maiden name was Hightower. She gave her residence as Atlanta, GA. (Research has found Guilford’s in both the Atlanta area and the Thomaston area but nothing that could be considered definitive.)
Mattie Guilford is found once in the Saratoga City Directories in 1903. She is listed as a domestic servant in the home of Mrs. Dorcas E. Adams, a wealthy widow who resided on the corner of Caroline and Regent Streets, a block from the Second Presbyterian Church.
On February 3, 1904, Mattie married widower Benjamin F. Lattimore, son of Charles and Josephine Niles Lattimore. Josephine was born in Saratoga Springs and had worked as a dressmaker. She and Charles had six children together; Ben was the oldest, named for Charles’ father, Benjamin Lattimore, Jr. and grandfather, Benjamin Lattimore Sr., both prominent Black Abolitionists.
After Josephine died in 1887 Charles remarried in 1897 and moved to Washington, DC. The family maintained the homestead that Charles had purchased on what is now Lincoln Avenue with a mortgage obtained from his boss, John H. White, Saratoga Village President, while serving as his personal coachman.
The house appears to have been utilized by several family members as collateral for other purchases in Saratoga Springs- at one point, Lattimore family members owned upwards of nine buildings in the City and other properties in the Town of Moreau.
Benjamin and Mattie settled into a home on Van Rensselaer Street he had purchased with his late wife, Anne Henderson. And Mattie started her formal education at Lucy Scribner’s Young Women’s Industrial Club.
Mattie G. Lattimore would have presented as an ideal candidate. She was working and living a block away from the church, was a woman with considerable social standing in the Community who probably knew Lucy Skidmore Scribner. Mattie may have also known Helen J. Lattimore, Benjamin’s Aunt and a member of the YWCA.
At that time, the YWCA was a segregated group; Helen, a Saratoga County native, was an officer in the New York City branch of the organization for many years but lived on and off with other family members in Saratoga Springs throughout that time.
The yearbook of the YWIC describes Mattie Lattimore as an able student who worked diligently to complete her studies despite losing her teacher part way through the program.
She went on to use those skills, running her own business as a fine corset maker. Like many others in Saratoga, the Lattimores rented out their home to tourists during the summer season, calling it the Lattimore Cottage; they lived around the corner in a house owned by their brother-in-law, Hartaway Wayland.
During the First World War, Mattie led a group called the Dorsey Knitting Club which made socks, hats and mittens for the troops. Ben worked at a variety of jobs- coachman, night watchman at the Worden Hotel (where Hartaway was the head waiter), liquor salesman and a hack (a cab driver). They did not have any children.
Both Lattimores were registered Republicans; Mattie appears to have registered as soon as she could vote.
Mattie Lattimore died in Saratoga Springs on December 30, 1933. Upon his death in 1950, Ben was interred with his first wife and mother in the old “Colored Section” of Greenridge Cemetery. Mattie is buried in another section of Greenridge, in an unmarked grave.
Illustrations, from above: The Young Women’s Industrial Club after moving to its own building; Saratoga Springs Lattimore Cottage advertisement from the New York Era, 1926; Mrs Mattie Lattimore corset advertisement in from The Saratogian, 1914; and Mattie Lattimore’s unmarked grave in Saratoga Springs.
Lorie Wies is a semi-retired PT Local History Librarian at Saratoga Springs Public Library. Julie O’Connnor is a retired librarian and the founder of the Friends of Albany History. They are currently collaborating on a project entitled “The Lattimore Circle”- a narrative which traces the lives and the social and political contributions of a prominent multi-generational Black family.