Monday, January 23, 2012

The Search For and Discovery of Madam Martha Danner Hockenhull

Madame Martha Hockenhull

Six months ago I had never heard of Madame Hockenhull.  I came upon her name while attending the AAHGS conference in Little Rock Arkansas in October 2011. While walking around looking at the displays, I visited the table reflecting the Black memorabilia owned by Archie Moore a well known collector in Arkansas.

On his display of many artifacts, he had three booklets, which were devoted to health, hair care and hygiene.  I glanced at the pages, and became curious. The pamphlets were written in 1917, by a rather dignified looking woman who was identified as Mme. M.E. Hockenhull, of Pine Bluff Arkansas. I asked Mr. Moore, the collector about her, and he said that he knew very little. In addition, he mentioned that he had spoken with people in the city of Pine Bluff, and they too knew nothing about her.

But I was curious---she had produced a series of publications in 1917.  

Pamphlets written and published by Martha Hockenhull
(Photo courtesy of Archie Moore, Little Rock Arkansas.)

I looked through the brochures and kept thinking, "this was a successful enterprising business woman and today, no one knows her name, and no one knows who she was."

I examined her books closely and was fascinated by them.


So Madame (Mme.) Hockenhull had her own system. 

Was she or had she been trained by Madame C.J.Walker? She apparently had her own product line I learned while reading the booklets, and in addition to the booklets, there were many services that she provided for women in the community. So I wanted to know--where did she go? What else could I learn?

Her history intrigued me. In the weeks after the conference, I began to look for her in the census. I knew that she must have owned her own beauty business, and possibly beauty school, as she used the title "madam" which was common for many women who were in the standard beauty culture of the day.

But I was also intrigued for other reasons. These booklets were published in 1917 when women could not even vote, and she lived in the deep south where there were so many restrictions placed upon people of color. And yet she--was a business woman. So--who was she?  I really wanted to know more.

Since the booklets were published in 1917, I hoped I might find her in the census still living in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. So, I checked the 1910 Federal Census for Jefferson County.

Federal Census 1910
Jefferson County Arkansas, Pine Bluff Township

At that time she was married to Mr. Robert Hockenhull.  Apparently Mrs. Mattie Hockenhull had been married before and therefore there was a child by the first marriage was living with them, listed as a stepson.

So could I find them in 1920?  This was more difficult, especially searching online. I kept thinking that a  microfilm soundex search would have revealed the family more easily. But I continued to put in the data online. In 1920, no Robert, no Mattie, and no Isaac Gray.  Had they  left the community and moved away?  And if so, where?

And what else could I learn about this lady, who was a business woman, author and proprietor? And was Mattie Hockenhull the same person as Martha Hockenhull, and were they the same person as Mme M.E. Hockenhull?

Well, other than finding Robert and Mattie and son Isaac, in 1910, and image in the pamphlet nothing more was known.

On a whim, on Saturday January 21st, Martha Hockenhull was still on my mind, so I decided to search again for her. This time I used Google and put in the name Hockenhull. Lots of links to people of British origin, but nothing caught my attention.

Images from a Google Search for Hockenhull

I tried again, but this time I put in the name of Martha Hockenhull in the Google Search and again I decided to look for images.

Well quite a few Hockenhull photos appeared, but this time, I saw a photo of a woman in the upper left hand corner---the very first image. It was a portrait of a dignified woman, and the photo looked familiar.

As I hovered the mouse over the image I saw her name--Martha Hockenhull!

Martha Hockenhull Appeared on the Google Search

And the image kind of resembled the lady in the pamphlets. But more surprisingly, the image came from It was an image uploaded to the Precious Photos section of AfriGeneas.  But there was more!  The person who shared this image was my cousin and fellow genealogist Melvin Collier! 

What??? Melvin???  Cousin Mel???

(Melvin Collier's page on Google+)

Well, I decided to contact Melvin and found him on Facebook at the time. I sent him a quick message asking if he knew anything about Martha Hockenhull. He said yes, she was his gr. grandmother's sister.


I sat there looking at the screen trying to digest this. Of course I was not sure if this was the same lady that had been a business woman in Arkansas. And first I need to also learn if  Martha, was also Mattie, and if so--what could he tell me?  

He quickly explained that he did indeed have a gr. gr. aunt called Martha (also called Mattie) Hockenhull! 

He wanted to know why I asked and I mentioned that I wondered if she could be the person I was curious about.  

I then asked him, "do you  know what her husband's name was?"  He said, said that he did know his name. It was Robert.

He went on to mention that "Aunt Mattie" was married before and that her husband Robert later adopted her son Isaac Gray, and that Isaac later went by the name of Isaac Hockenhull. And the one thing that was known about "Aunt Mattie" was that she had lived for a while in Arkansas, and that she had a business of some kind when she lived in Arkansas. Wow!!! He thought that perhaps she was a seamstress or owned a shop of some kind. Aunt Mattie died around 1937 in Chicago.

So---this WAS the same lady! Martha, known as Mattie (or Aunt Mattie) had a son Isaac. And Martha, known as Mattie was the same person that I had identified in the 1910 census. 

Well, by that time, we had to get off the computer and speak in real time, so he phoned me, and I told him about my interest in Martha Hockenhull, the business woman in Pine Bluff Arkansas. He mentioned that she left Arkansas in the late 1920s and moved with her son Isaac to Chicago where she spent the rest of her life. That also explained to me why there was no one living today in Pine Bluff who had any memory of her. Too many years had passed.
And of course I was still shocked (and delighted) and amazed, to find out that Cousin Melvin was related to this woman who had been haunting me for several months!

He pointed out that Martha (Aunt Mattie) was born to the Danner family of Panola County Mississippi. He even mentioned Mattie Danner Hockenhull in his book Mississippi to Africa. He went on to tell me that Isaac, Martha's son, had married Mahalia Jackson in the early years of her career. That's right THE Mahalia Jackson!

Well, I also had to re-contact Mr. Moore, in Little Rock who graciously started sharing images from her books.  And to my surprise---when I closely examined the image that Melvin had uploaded to AfriGeneas, I realized that it was the same image of Mattie Hockenhull that was used in her books!  They were truly the same woman!!!!

And Melvin reminded me about something else. About 10 years ago, I had done a simple favor for him, by obtaining the Civil War Pension file for a Civil war soldier on one of  his family lines.  Well the widow who was making a claim---was Martha Hockenhull's mother, Lou Danner.  So Martha Hockenhull was the daughter of a Civil War soldier as well--she was the daughter of a freedom fighter!

So ten years earlier, I had actually indirectly handled documents that were directly connected to the Danner family--Mattie Danner Hockenhull's own family!!!   Who knew?

Thankfully Mr. Moore shared with me even more pages  from the books that Mattie Hockenhull had authored, and some were quite revealing. She provided a number  services from her own special system for hair care that she presented to the community in Pine Bluff Arkansas.

Price List for Goods and Services provided by Martha Hockenhull 

But my day was not to end there---Mr. Moore gave me the phone number of a retired teacher who lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas.  And this lady is a member of the Arkansas based Hockenhull family. 

Well, talking to this gracious lady was a joy. She had the same degree of curiosity and like many, she was not certain who Madame Hockenhull was. But, this lady knew much of the rest of the Hockenhull history and of Hockenhull's around the country. She too had read that Mahalia Jackson had married an Isaac Hockenhull, but she was not able to place Isaac in the family line. Since I had spoken with Melvin earlier, and had told me that Robert had adopted Isaac, and  that he was the same person as was Isaac Gray in the census records--she then realized that this was also her cousin who had married Mahalia Jackson. 

What a day! I was thrilled to suddenly know so much more about this lady, and thanks to the good will of Archie Moore, and Melvin Collier, and Mrs. Bynum, I was able to piece much more of the story together.

Of course---more of her personality deserves to be told. Her entrepreneurial spirit speaks for itself. She was also one of the enterprising women who came out of the Beauty Culturalist era--and was similar in presentation of herself and her style to that of  Madame C. J. Walker. Had Madam Martha Hockenhull perhaps studied under her?  

Where did she get her training?  And when did she start her own business?  How long did it last?  And what can be learned about her personality, her personal strength  and her other attributes?

Melvin mentioned that her son Isaac, attended Tuskegee, and had earned a degree in Chemistry. Mrs. Bynum in Arkansas confirmed that many of the Hockenhulls of Arkansas had, by tradition attended Tuskegee. Later upon returning to Chicago after his Tuskegee years, Isaac would meet and eventually marry the gifted Mahalia Jackson. I began to read a bit about Mahalia Jackson's life and was amused to find a children's book about her life, and the book spoke about her marriage to Isaac. Apparently in the early days of their marriage, the two of them used his mother's formulas to make hair cosmetics

Source: Mahalia Jackson, Gospel Singer & Civil Rights Champion
by Montrew Dunham, Carmel Indiana 2003, Patria Press

I shared this story of Martha Hockenhull  and my search for her. My genealogy friend, mentioned that singer Mahalia Jackson had also been trained in beauty culture. Of course my mind asked more questions---
was that possibly how Isaac and Mahalia met? Did she and her mother in law Martha not only have the interest in hair care, but could Martha have had an influence upon her daughter-in-law as well?  

Of course there is no answer to these questions, but I am happy to feel that somehow more of the mystery of this business woman will be told.  

Yesterday, while relishing this confirmation about her history, I accidentally found Mattie and son Isaac in the1920 census in Jefferson County Arkansas.  

Source: Year: 1920; Census Place: Pine Bluff Ward 1JeffersonArkansas; Roll: T625_67; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 134; Image: 801.

And her status as a business woman was clearly indicated in that year's census

Source: Year: 1920; Census Place: Pine Bluff Ward 1JeffersonArkansas; Roll: T625_67; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 134; Image: 801.

The facts about this enterprising lady are noteworthy.

Her books were published in a time when options for people of color were limited. And she was a businesswoman in a time when women had not even obtained voting rights.

Her business took place in a place where entrepreneurial endeavors among people of color were often prevented from being successful.  

Her son was sent to Fisk and later to Tuskegee, and Madam Hockenhull was able to insist upon and insure a good education for her son.

Her strength and fortitude carried her well into a new life. 

Well, all those attached to her, from the Danners of Mississippi to the Hockenhulls of Arkansas, should all be proud of this remarkable woman.

* * * * *

Needless to say, my head was spinning all weekend, and I have truly doing the Genealogy Happy Dance!


Regina said...

Great job Angela!!!!

MissDazey said...

I do love your stories, however this one fascinates me. I know you will research more...there has to be a book in all of this, yes?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you so much, Regina!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I am glad that you enjoy reading the stories on the blog. A book? Hmm I have been thinking about writing about my genealogical adventures. I have had some amazing finds and they have truly taken me to unexpected places.

Melvin Collier said...

Beautiful!! Simply beautiful! Aunt Mattie is smiling!

LindaRe said...

What inspiring research, enjoyed reading.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, indeed, Aunt Mattie is smiling today!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thanks LindaRe!

Susan Clark said...

Outstanding work and post! She's fascinating on so many different levels and the connections are amazing and delightful.

Carol said...

Great story, well told. Left me wordless, thank you for sharing this great happy dance story, she was a remarkable woman.

Patricia Armstrong Watkins said...

Thank you for sharing your amazing find and how you connected the pieces. The ancestors were definitely at work!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thanks Susan! Yes she is interesting on so many levels. I truly have learned a lot from a research perspective as well as admiring her own perseverance.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Yes, Pat, truly putting together the pieces has been a pleasure. I am still finding more about her.

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Now that is truly Serendipity! What a wonderful story and you are the one who really put it all together. It's like Mattie whispered in your ear...

Kristin said...

Great research, great connections and great write up!

Anonymous said...


I love how you massage the story of Aunt Mattie into this multi-layered mosaic of African Ancestored family history.

Your research methodology and story-telling abilities certainly shine in this post. Salute!

Martine Brennan said...

What an amazing woman she was, beautifully researched and beautifully told. Thanks you

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you Martine, for visiting the blog and appreciating her story.

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Excellent work, Angela! Thanks for sharing this great story!


Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thanks Renate!! I found researching her story to be so enlightening!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am trying to find more information about my Hockenhull family from Altheimer, Arkansas, so I am wondering if somehow I am related to Martha Hockenhull.