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March 02, 2017

Beatrice O’Niel and “The Future”

A picture of Olivia Roper taken from “The Future” article.

Beatrice O’Niel and “The Future”

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Thanks to La Vella Hyter and Bryan Glover for bringing this to my attention.

As a follow up to last week’s community leader, Olivia Roper, I thought I would look at another notable African American woman for Women’s History Month – Beatrice O’Niel.  (That is the correct spelling of her last name.)

She was born Beatrice Edmonds on February 7, 1894 in Marion County and her family had moved to Noblesville by 1900.  She married Thomas O’Niel, a teamster from Sheridan area, on January 31, 1918.  For some reason, his family had always spelled their last name with the vowels reversed from the usual spelling.  The couple had three children – Francis, Garland (who died at 3 months) and Beatrice (Jr.).

Beatrice and Thomas were both local correspondents for Indianapolis Recorder and the family was mentioned often in the column for Noblesville.   It might have been this newspaper connection that lead to the creation of “The Future”.   This was a newspaper published by Beatrice in June of 1929.  It may have been a single issue created for that state-wide Dorcas Mite Missionary convention that was held in Noblesville in late June.  However, even if there are no other issues, it still has fascinating information.

The first page has an essay called “Business” by Oliva Roper with her photograph.  On page two, the Roper Boarding house and Grocery is featured in a piece which talks about the five weeks spent cleaning the fifteen available rooms.

Besides the regular delegates, the convention had speakers from outside the African American community.  Two Noblesville people who spoke were Rev. G. E. Jones of the Presbyterian Church and auto dealer Walter Duckwall, who offered a free driving tour of the city.

The key speaker was Hastings Banda.  At that time, he was simply a student from British Central Africa.  After getting his education in America, he would eventually return to Africa and become President of his home territory after it became independent and called itself Malawi.

After the convention, Beatrice continued to be involved in the community.  A pageant was organized by the Noblesville First Baptist Church in November of 1930 and called “The Congress of Nations”.  The performers portrayed historical figures who were often overlooked because, as the Recorder said, they were “usually called the darker races”.  Beatrice portrayed the Queen of Sheba, Thomas portrayed Booker T. Washington, Audrey Hardrick portrayed Anita Patti Brown, and Professor Irven Armstrong portrayed Oscar DePriest.

(Irven Armstrong was a notable figure in his own right.  Born in Westfield, He became a teacher in the Indianapolis public schools.  While he served in the Army in World War I, his students wrote letters to him which have been preserved at the Indiana Historical Society.)

In the late 1930’s, Beatrice would organize the Busy Bee 4-H Club for African American girls.  A photograph of the group was featured in Brad Cook’s column in the Noblesville Times some time ago.  Beatrice died of a heart attack at the age of 47 in April of 1941 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery.