How Giving Up Nest Eggs Made More Jobs
by Lynne Belluscio
Quite a while ago, Mary Katherine Hamilton stopped by with a copy of a photograph of Jay Lathan’s family - - seven boys, three girls and their mother, Helen Lathan. Mary Katherine told the story of Charles – “Jay” Lathan, who died in a terrible accident at the Jell-O factory on North Street, which left this family of ten children without a father. A couple of days ago, she stopped by with some additional information that she had gathered at the Woodward Library about the accident and some family notes. Like many other families who endured terrible hardships when there was no “Social Services” Jay’s wife was determined to keep her family together.
Jay Lathan was born in Meredith, New York in 1872. Helen was born in 1878. They were married in 1896 and lived in Delhi near Meredith, raising their family until Jay decided to move to LeRoy in 1907. He was looking for a better job and was seeking work selling memberships to the Order of the Golden Seal, which was a beneficial insurance company based in Roxbury, New York. (The name was changed in 1919 to the Golden Seal Assurance Company. At the end of 1921, it had 9,742 members. It operated on a “lodge” system and had a secret ritual with signs to identify members. ) The premise of these companies was to sell memberships in the organization, which in turn would guarantee survivors benefits or disability benefits to its members and their families. (One of the beneficial insurance companies that still exists today is the Modern Woodsmen, founded in the 1800s. At one time, it limited its members to rural “hard working” people and prohibited members from the city, as well as ethnic groups. The membership requirements have changed since then. In 2016, the Woodsmen had more than 750,000 members and total assets of $15.4 billion. )
So in February 1907, Jay left his family and came to LeRoy. On February 19, he wrote to his wife: “I arrived here all safe and sound last night about ten o’clock but am feeling rather blue at present for I find that I shall have to go through a course of study before I can go out to earn anything but I am going to try my best for a while if I don’t get too discouraged. I have been getting instruction from Ed all day and he has got me run clear over. I have just filled out an application membership form for him but he refuses to settle so I am not much better off except what I can --- Please let me hear from you and the boys soon but do not write anything to discourage me unless you want me to come home.” Soon after he wrote the letter, Helen and the children moved to LeRoy. He continued his involvement with the Order of the Golden Seal, but in 1912, he secured a job at the Genesee Pure Food Company on North Street as a carpenter.
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