Jeanette (Rapp) Dowell with granddaughter Barbara Dowell

Barbara in the late 1930s with her "Nanny".

My mother Barbara in the late 1930s with her “Nanny”.

Here is my mother as a child walking with her paternal grandmother, Jeanette (Rapp) Dowell, probably in Charleston, South Carolina. Though the metadata doesn’t say, I would put this photo sometime in the winter of 1938-39, when my mother was two and a half.

(UPDATE: It pays to click on the large versions of these photos. I just published this post five minutes ago, but then a moment later I found that there is a very distinct clue to the location of the photograph that I hadn’t previously noticed. What I had assumed was a tree in the far background is a large statue with an upraised arm, just behind Granny Dowell’s left shoulder. I did some quick researching of statues in Charleston and came up with nothing. The same search in Baltimore turned up the statue of Martin Luther, which had been erected at the Mount Royal entrance to Druid Hill Park only a couple of years earlier. That makes sense: Druid Hill Park is in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood just a few blocks from where Jeanette lived at this time. But it also means that the photo was probably taken in early 1938, because my mother’s family moved to Charleston later that year or early the next.) 

Though she was my great grandmother, I don’t know much about this woman, identified on the back of the photo as “Granny Dowell”, and neither does my mother. And what my mother remembers isn’t particularly cheery.

Jeanette was the daughter of John Henry Rapp, who in his younger days had performed on vaudeville stages. My mom says Jeanette wanted to go to a school for performing arts in New York, but her father, who knew the entertainment industry and apparently didn’t want his daughter mixed up in it, forbade it and her dream was thwarted. She married John Lewis Dowell Sr., my great grandfather. John and Jeanette’s fortunes fell at one point and they were nearly or completely broke.

I found a 1940 Federal Census form* indicating that at the time this photo was taken, Jeanette lived in a rented row house at 800 West North Avenue in Baltimore with her father, John Henry, and an old relative named Ella Rosenthal. The census lists Jeanette as 50 years old and widowed.

I asked my mom about all that, and she said that yes, John L. Dowell Sr. had died young, when she was scarcely a year old. Nanny ended up living with and looking after her old father, who was 82 in 1940 (Aunt Ella was 72). North Avenue divided the once-wealthy neighborhoods of Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill, but by 1940 these neighborhoods were in decline and this address along a busy arterial would not have been a proud one. The row houses were torn down decades ago and replaced by modern standalone apartment buildings. – mdf

*Almost didn’t find it but for dumb luck, because her handwritten last name Dowell had been interpreted and indexed as “Dorrell”.

Image archive ID:

About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
“Barbara & Granny Dowell”
Barbara supplied info, mdf wrote:
“Jeannette (Rapp) Dowell”


3 thoughts on “Jeanette (Rapp) Dowell with granddaughter Barbara Dowell

  1. Pingback: Young Jeanette Rapp | Fleagle Family History in Photos

  2. Pingback: John Lewis Dowell Jr., Puget Sound, 1979 | Fleagle and Dowell Family History in Photos

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