The men of the last half of the 19th century were known for what they accomplished as citizens, businessmen, entrepreneurs and industrialists in Williamsport. As was common at that time in history, the wives of these men were less known. Since a woman’s place was in the home, as a helpmate to her husband, keeper of the house and bearer of children, many women were unable to leave a legacy except perhaps as a traveler, a participant in charitable pursuits, and a mother, bringing up children.
Who was Mrs. John R. T. Ryan? She was born either Aug. 31, 1846, or Aug. 21, 1847, depending on the source, and named Emeline, although her name was shown as Lina in many records. Her parents were Garret Tinsman and Margaret S. Saylor. The Tinsman family was well-known, having been in the lumber business for many years before Garret and Margaret moved to Williamsport. Emeline married John R. T. Ryan in 1866 in Trenton, New Jersey, and the couple had three children, all born in Williamsport.
Florence Tinsman Ryan was born Sept. 19, 1867. In 1884, she left Williamsport for Lasell Seminary in Massachusetts. Four years later she was issued a passport so that she could go abroad. On Oct. 16, 1894, she married Patrick Sarsfield Donnellan, a physician in Philadelphia. The wedding and reception took place in the home of her parents and her grandmother Margaret Tinsman. The Daily (Williamsport) Gazette & Bulletin called the wedding the most stylish event of the social season. After the honeymoon, the couple resided on Spruce Street in Philadelphia.
The second child of John and Lina Ryan was born Aug. 12, 1877, and she was named Carman Mary after her paternal grandmother. A passport was issued to Carman in 1902 so that she could go abroad. She attended the Ogontz School and married Frank Derland Houck in June of 1905. They were divorced sometime between 1910 and 1920.
On Oct. 9, 1871, a son was born to John and Lina, and he was named Garret Tinsman Ryan, after Lina’s father. He was educated at Princeton. In May of 1897, Garret married May Armstrong of Indiana. A son, John R. T. Ryan Jr., was born in Uruguay in 1898, where his father was United States vice-consul. In 1900, the Daily Gazette & Bulletin reported that Garret was recovering from an illness and would return to the United States soon. John Jr. attended high school at the prestigious Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His higher education was at Princeton. He married Prudence Cassell Cluett in 1936, and they had a son, John Garret Ryan, born 1937. Prudence’s obituary mentions three grandchildren, but nothing is known of them.
In 1901, a daughter, Catherine Ryan, was born in Indianapolis.
A letter from Lina to her brother, dated July 10, 1889, from the Victoria Hotel in Rotterdam, Holland, gives a glimpse into her view of one of the family’s grand tours. In Cologne, Germany, she finds the picture of Queen Louise “simply lovely”—“better than any picture I have seen in Europe.” She is also captivated by the road to Amsterdam, where “huge windmills began to appear on every side; they did look so picturesque and entirely different from anything I had seen before.”
Lina is skeptical, however, about the bones of the Sainted Ursula and her 11,000 maidens, saying, “I may be lacking in sentiment, but I firmly believe them to be dog, cat, ass bones and even chicken bones.”
About the inconveniences of traveling, she is even more negative: “I detest the Holland money; it is so very confusing… We scarcely become familiar with the exchange of money in one country until you pass into another.”
Twenty-five years later, John and Lina, along with their daughter Carman and their grandson John Jr., were passengers on the German passenger ship Kaiser Wilhelm II, returning from a European tour, when, according to the Sun-Gazette, a shot was fired across the bow by an English ship. World War I had started, and Germany had declared war on England a few days after the ship had left Southampton. The sailing took longer than usual because the passenger liner had to avoid other British ships. It must have been a harrowing experience, but the passengers did finally arrive safely in New York City.
Back at home, Lina devoted her attention to the War Preparedness Committee, as well as other charitable pursuits. She was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, was involved with the YWCA, and was president of the Auxiliary of the Boys’ Industrial Home.
Over the years, the names of family can be found in passport applications, in newspaper articles about their travels in Europe, Egypt and England as well as their vacations in Eagles Mere, and in ship manifests for some of these trips. While the family enjoyed the benefits of being part of the elite of Williamsport, with fine educations for the children, trips, and a social standing on a par with that of other Williamsport millionaires, starting in 1907 came the stark, cold realization that wealth could not buy everything; it could not buy health.
Between the years of 1907 and 1918, Lina lost five family members: husband John in 1918, daughter Florence in 1912, Florence’s husband Patrick in 1915, son Garret in 1907, and Garret’s daughter Catherine in 1911. Lina herself died in 1933, and her daughter Carman in 1966. All these family members were buried in Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport. Grandson John R. T. Ryan Jr. died in 1976 in California.
Mary Sieminski co-founded the Lycoming County Women’s History Project (www.lycominng.edu/lcwhp) with Janet Hurlbert. The column is published monthly, and Sieminski may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.