Beginnings: Zita Helen Shutts

Zita’s parents came from families who had been in the United States for more than several generations. The DeMoss line apparently originated in France while the Shutts line is thought to have come from Germany. There is a DeMossville, Kentucky, that was settled in 1852 and named after Peter DeMoss, a French immigrant who fought in the American Revolutionary War. Although an attractive, possible connection, there is no definite linkage.

William Harvey Shutts was born in Galesburg, Jasper Co., Iowa, on 4 February 1870, while his future wife Clementine Minerva DeMoss was born on 28 December 1869 in Cordova, Marion Co., Iowa.  It is not known how the couple met, but perhaps William might have been working on the DeMoss family farm. They were married on 10 December 1893, Attica, Marion Co., Iowa.

William Harvey Shutts and Clementine Minerva DeMoss Wedding photo, 1893. This is the only known picture of William Shutts

William Harvey Shutts and Clementine Minerva DeMoss Wedding photo, 1893.
This is the only known picture of William Shutts

William (known as Will) and Clementine (sometimes called ‘Jack’ or ‘Ma’m’ by her husband) then farmed in several locations in Missouri, but they later moved to a forty acre farm near Hamilton, Marion Co., Iowa. Here their first daughter Carmen Lucretia was born on November 17, 1895.
Born on 4 September 1906 in Hamilton, Marion Co., Iowa, Zita Helen was the second daughter and last child of William Harvey Shutts and Clementine Minerva DeMoss and was named after a family friend, Zita Hoy. Zita Hoy, an Irish School teacher, apparently boarded with the family during the school term. Will’s nickname for his daughter Zita was ‘Toot’. (Zita’s daughter Shirley was called ‘Little Toot’.)

As mentioned, her father William was a farmer, but he was also known to work as a coal miner. He would work Monday through Friday at the coal mine, the work on the farm evenings and on Saturdays.  Clementine kept house, but was also an accomplished seamstress. Zita mentioned that her mother sometimes served as a midwife and poignantly mentioned that Clementine would dress deceased babies and children in clothing she made for their burials.

Retouched Photo from Fractured Glass Photo Zita Helen Shutts, ca. late 1907

Retouched Photo from Fractured Glass Photo
Zita Helen Shutts, ca. late 1907

About 1909 William was injured in a mine cave-in after a piece of slate fell on him and injured his back and one leg. Other miners had carried him lying on a door to his home. Zita was allowed to carry drinks of water to her dad.  In her biography, Zita recorded this as her earliest memory.

1910 United States Federal Census, Liberty, Monroe Co., Iowa:
Last name:    First name:    Relation:    Age: Sex: Place born:
Shutts William H Head 46 M Iowa
Clementine Wife 37 F Iowa
Carmine L Daughter 14 F Iowa
Zila X [sic] Daughter 3 F Iowa
William’s occupation listed as a farmer.

Zita noted in her biography that she was always busy helping her mother with chores around the house and farm. She wrote, “Something I never did do in my life was to play since there always seemed to be some chore for me to do.  None of my friends ever came over to my house.”

Zita’s childhood home, Hamilton, Montoe Co., Iowa Her home until the second grade

Zita’s childhood home, Hamilton, Montoe Co., Iowa
Her home until the second grade

1920 United States Federal Census, Union, Monroe Co., Iowa:
Last name:    First name:    Relation:    Age: Sex: Place born:
Shutts William H Head 56 M Iowa
Clementine Wife 48 F Iowa
Zita H Daughter 13 F Iowa
Simpson Joe Boarder 49 M
Whitehouse John Boarder 58 M
Shutts Elizabeth Mother 75 F Iowa
William’s occupation listed as a farmer.

Growing up, Zita lived on a number of different farms, some of which her father rented and at least one of which her father had purchased. She learned to milk cows when she was eight years old.

In her autobiography, “The Story of Grandma J”, Zita described for several pages the tragic story of her sister Carmen’s son Billy. Zita was a frequent caregiver, having rocked and changed him when Billy was a baby. Zita wrote, “He was one of the best things that happened to me in my life because I had never before been around a baby. When I wasn’t attending school during the regular term, Carmen turned him over to me.”  In February 1916, Billy suddenly became ill with diphtheria.  Zita described the events as follows:

Carmen, who depended on Mother for everything, brought Billy to our house and placed him in the downstairs bedroom. I can remember that little Billy had such an awful odor about his breath.  Dr. Stafford came out to our house to examine Billy several times and diagnosed him with diphtheria. Billy lived for only four more days and then died there in our house!  Mother shooed me out into the kitchen while she prepared his body and dressed him. We laid him out in the bedroom. I was so broken-hearted to think of my little Billy having to be buried in that ground.  Only Dad and Ollie could go to the Hamilton cemetery for the burial because Mother, Carmen and I had to be quarantined for twenty-eight days due to the diagnosis of diphtheria.  It started to rain right after he was buried and I thought I couldn’t stand it raining on him in the ground. His death seemed more than I could bear.

At the end of the quarantine, men came in to fumigate the house. It was quite a ritual as they sprayed and turned all the furniture upside down.

Around this time the Rexfield Coal MiningCompanyconstructed a coal mine named Rexfield #5, Iowa. The company also constructed many homes, a grade school, a general store, a company store, two pool halls, and a church. Zita switched from attending a country school to the company school at Rexfield #5, while her sister Carmen became postmistress at the local post office.

Zita started attending Catholic Georgetown High School riding her brown bay horse, Skip, eight miles to and from the school. During the winter, she would board at a convent house near the school. Zita attended Georgetown for three years-the ninth through the eleventh grade; there was not a twelfth grade at Georgetown.

Zita’s sibling:

Carmen Lucretia Shutts, b. 17 November 1895, d. October 1974
    m. Oliver James Sims

 

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